It Happened in Bath: The Story Behind the Song

It Happened in Bath: The Story Behind the Song

(C. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, June 1, 2012 ed)

For a time headlines across the county shared the tragic news of school shootings.  The Columbine rampage of April 20, 1999 was the commonly cited start of school violence in the media.  In Columbine High School, Colorado, two students killed 12 other students, one teacher, and themselves.

But the events also drummed up interest in a horrible incident much closer to home.  On May 18, 1927, the small Michigan town of Bath, near Lansing, was rocked by an explosion of dynamite at the school.

According to reports, 55 year old Andrew Kehoe was upset that a property tax had been levied to help pay for the school, and he blamed the tax for foreclosure proceedings against his farm.  Over a period of several months he snuck dynamite and pytotol throughout the school building.  On the fateful day in May he beat his wife to death, left her body in a wheel barrel in the barn and set the barn on fire.  He drove towards the school as firefighters were busy rushing to his property.  As he was driving toward the school a timer went off on some of the explosives, destroying the South wing of the building. Later as rescuers were gathering at the scene, he drove up with his car full of metal odds and ends – essentially shrapnel – and explosives.  He shot into the back seat, exploding the car with him in it and killing people nearby.  By the time it was over there were 38 kids dead, 2 teachers, 4 other adults, himself and 58 injured.

The incident inspired Ferndale songwriter Kris McLonis and fellow writer David Moody from Detroit to write a song about Bath and the lives that were lost there.  Together with John Sase of Royal Oak and producer Mike Canjar, Michigan Minstrel Music created a song and music video that she says “reminds people that there was always evil in the world, and this generation was not the first to face violence.”

The video for “It Happened in Bath” shows historical photos, and McLonis even visited Bath to help capture the essence of the town.  “They kept the school site as it was in their memory.  It’s a nice place but when you visit the site it has a heaviness to it,” she said.

Most of the songs on Michigan Minstrel Music’s CD “Idolitry” are cheerful, and even humorous.

“Horrible quiche was the first song McLonis and Moody ever wrote together.  Back in 1999 they were both working for University of Detroit Mercy, although in different locations.  McLonis visited the McNichols campus to assist in conducting job interviews and while there was fed institutional-style food by the University.

“It was a nice place and most of the food was good, but every day I was there they had this quiche that was just horrible,” she said.

Moody remembers. “I met Kris while she was there,” he said.  “You were one of the most interesting people in the cafeteria, that’s why I came and sat with you,” he added, turning to McLonis during the interview.

Moody challenged McLonis to come up with as many words to rhyme with ‘horrible quiche’ as possible, and then they made a song of it.  They’ve been doing open mic nights and recording sessions ever since.

Their dream with Michigan Minstrel Music is to create a unique Michigan sound, full of storytelling and all emotions, from humor to sadness and everything in between.  “How the Enemy Won” is a song written about the aftermath of the 9/11 [2001] explosions of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. She said it’s about “how all our efforts to find ‘justice’ can turn us into aggressors and take away our freedoms.  I was watching the reaction of our county and it was so over-the-top it frightened me.”

“Idolitry” is about the industrial world, and how people could become slaves to technology.  “Shrink Wrap World” is about the loss of individuality, and “Super Duper Blackout of 2003” is about an event that many the Midwest may remember.

The friends were content playing songs in their basements and open mic nights, but a Math Professor from University of Detroit named Mike Canjar came on board with higher aspirations for the musicians.  Canjar was nearing the end of his life, when he decided he wanted to produce an album.  “He invested the money for us to produce a CD, and was hoping he would be around for it,” McLonis said.  “Our voices clicked like butter and we’d banter between songs about political topic.  He used to be a Marxist, now a Libertarian who also voted Democrat, and we’d pick back and forth with each other about Occupy Wallstreet or whatever else was in the news.

“We have finished recording the CD, but he didn’t make it to see it released.”

Canjar passed away in early May, but Michigan Minstrel Music lives on.  Their first music video, Bath, can be viewed on You Tube and their CD is expected to be ready by fall.

Check them out at http://michiganminstrelmusic.com.

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