(Editor-at-Large Walter Wasacz writes a weekly column on life in Hamtramck. A version of this article first appeared in modeldmedia.com)
By Walter Wasacz
Of all the seasons, springtime in Hamtramck for me has always been the most distinct and memorable. Maybe my inner slugger, the kid who lived for the thrill of the baseball season to begin, is always reawakened at this time of year. That’s part of it, I’m sure.
Hamtramck was a baseball town when I was growing up, and I was caught up in the excitement of playing competitively with some talented kids, a lot from my own neighborhood near Dickinson School playground (now Dickinson East Elementary).
Strikeouts, played with a rubber ball against the wall of the building, was our game.
We also did pretty well when we played tournament hardball against kids from Grosse Pointe Park, Grosse Pointe Woods or what used to be called Utica-Shelby. But we were also competing against our own legacy. In the 1950s and 1960s, Hamtramck fielded some of the best youth baseball teams in the country, winning World Series titles in Little League and Pony League, and coming close in Colt League. It was so important to be a part of all this that I left my own Communion party, held in my mom’s beauty salon, to play in a game at Veterans Memorial Park. Or it might have just been to practice with my team, the Giants. No matter, I wanted to where the real action was.
But that’s not all of it. Spring later became a time of anticipation, when I looked forward to graduating from high school and college; and after graduation, when I threw some of my best backyard parties. One of them, I confess, was pretty rowdy. To celebrate finishing college, I set up a little sound system in my garage and played records for my friends. Some of them were in bands like the Mutants, the Romantics and the Reruns, among the best on the Detroit scene.
It wasn’t really that loud, but it was the style of the music — new wave, power pop, maybe a bit of the noisier punk-disco funk that was becoming all the rage — that motivated the old lady across the street to call the police. She did, they came and we dialed it down. We were all good kids, so open-air punk rock parties at my house weren’t repeated.
Most of the fun was indoors, at a bar called the Misty Inn, later renamed the Crest Lounge. This is where the creative Hamtramck music scene of the late 1970s was born, nurtured and flourished. The building is gone now. It was on the east side of Jos. Campau, south of Commor St. Another place was the Bel-Con Lounge, soon to become the Bowery, at the corner of Belmont and Conant (the same building now houses the 88 Avenue Bar).
It was here that I first saw a band called Kompanie, made up of some guys from St. Florian High School. They were good. They wore Beatles and Monkees influences on their sleeves and had the girls up and dancing, always a plus.
Things were moving quickly in the direction of fast and loud back then, and finding the right image was crucial. The Romantics found it in red leather suits and perfectly coiffed hair.
Kompanie found it in modified seersucker suits and a name change to the Reruns, based around a theme of popular television shows of that era. One of the band’s singles, on Spider Records (the label launched by the Romantics before they were signed to Nemperor, a sub-label of Epic Records), was “Since You Gotta Cheat/So So Alone,” a small slice of vibrant Hamtramck life that was as good as anything being produced in Detroit at that time. These guys are going somewhere, I thought. And I was right. They banged around for a few years playing clubs like Bookie’s on W. McNichols, toured around the MIdwest, putting out a few more singles from 1978 to 1981, getting one of their tracks included on a compilation for a French label in the late 1990s.
So why am I thinking of the Reruns on a sunny morning in late April?
Well, the prime movers of that band — Ken Kondrat, Al Phife and Dave Uchalik (who also did a shift with the infamous Mutants) — evolved into the Polish Muslims, one of the most popular local music franchises of last quarter century.
The band is synonymous with Hamtramck-based events like Paczki Day, Labor Day weekend performances and the annual springtime Strawberry Festival, which takes place this Saturday and Sunday at St. Florian.
The PMs perform an infectiously danceable four-hour set beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 2. If you’ve seen them before, you know what I’m talking about. If not, get over there and bust a move or two to the (sort of) covers of the Ramone’s “Sophie is a Punk Rocker” and the Beach Boys’ “Bowling U.S.A.” They’ve been doing it for over 30 years and show no signs of slowing down yet. Good for them, good for us.
It should be just as much fun as Little League Baseball in the ’60s, maybe better.
The Strawberry Festival is May 1-2 on the grounds of St. Florian Parish, 2626 Poland St.