(Crystal A. Proxmire, 3/21/2011)
With a thick Australian accent, a golden heart and the passion of a man who has witnessed decades of injustice, Robert Thorton – along with wife Sharon and new-found friend Danny B. on keyboard – handled hour #50 of the third World Record-breaking concert attempt at AJs Music Café.
The Assembly Line Concert Third Shift is reminiscent of previous Assembly Line Concerts. In 2009 AJs owner AJ O’Neill came up with the idea to break the world record for “Longest Continuous Concert” in order to bring attention to the plight of the American auto worker, and those who are suffering because of the poor economy and downsizing of the automotive industry.
In 2010, Assembly Line broke its own record, only to be quickly over-taken in July 2010 by a suburban Atlanta pizza pub. This year’s concert attempts to reach 360 hours of non-stop musical performances. The one-hour segments span all types of music and feature over 200 local and regional musicians.
Attendees on Monday night, March 21, 2011, were treated to a mix of Australian ballads mixed with tales of union politics both in the US and Down Under.
Thorton wove the story of Australian/American union leader Harry Bridges in to the songs he sang about hope, freedom, and the value of caring for fellow human beings. “In Australia they’re going in a different direction, and some union leaders go on to end up in politic and on the Boards of Corporations and they represent the people. Here in America we are sold out to the companies. We have bought into conservative ideas.”
Bridges blamed both the corporations and the media for the lack of worker rights and the economic woes of our Country. “The way Americans handed the newspapers over to the companies was unheard of in Australia,” he said. “What Robert Murdoch did here they would never allow in Australia.” He told stories of how the media in America tried to disparage Bridges in his attempts to unionize longshoremen in Hawaii and how the newspapers painted him as a criminal, though he was a hero in Australia. According to Bridges, The U.S. Government too did all it could to deter unionization, and harassed Bridges whenever they had a chance.
“It’s not just the newspapers though,” he said. “The unions in America are weak.” He recalled that at some point a British Prime Minister came to Australia and had an altercation with a female reporter. The leader called the reporter words that we won’t even print (one starts with a “w” and rhymes with store). Though his advisers recommended that he apologize to the reporter, he refused. For the next two weeks or so the Prime Minister experienced the cold shoulder not just from the reporter’s union, but union workers in all trades. “No one would serve him food, or carry his luggage…The union workers refused to refuel his plane… It was union solidarity every where he went.”
The stories Thorton told mixed well with the working man’s songs he sang and the spirit of the Assembly Line Concert. Not all of the performances are political in nature. In fact most are local singers and musicians who are there to have a good time with only the goal of breaking the record in mind.
Each day the concert has a theme, and several have a charity focus to them. On March 21, donors were able to purchase a paper gear that they could sign and tape to the wall. The gears were sold for a dollar (or more) with the money going to benefit The Autism Society of Michigan. Ken Veenstra, Treasurer of ASM, and his wife Lisa were on hand to pass out information about the group and to raise money to help fund its services. The couple has an 18-year-old Autistic son named Kurt. “Years ago when I was just a guy working as a pastry chef and my son was really young, my wife and I didn’t know where to turn for help. The Autism Society of Michigan was a great resource. So now fast forward all these years later and I’ve got my Masters Degree in Social Work and my son is grown, and I’ve got time on my hands to give back. ASM was a no-brainer,” Veenstra said.
ASM focuses on independent living for those with Autism. They provide a 9-5 helpline with a full time staff person to answer questions and give people the resources they need about the condition. They also educate around the state, and are involved in special education advocacy. “There are a lot of myths about Autism too,” Veenstra said. “For example, people think that you can get Autism from vaccines and that’s just not true. We’ll probably spend the next ten years just trying to dispel that one myth, which is about how long it took for people to accept that Autism is a real thing.”
The group is one of many that will be benefiting from Assembly Line Third Shift. On March 31, sales of paper gears will benefit South East Oakland Coalition. On April 2 it will be for FernCare. And on April 3 sales will help Community Living Services. If successful, the show will run through April 3.
For more information on the Assembly Line Third Shift concert, go to http://assemblylineconcerts.com or stop in at 175 W. 9 Mile any time through April 3. To learn more about the Autism Society of Michigan, go to http://www.autism-mi.org/.
PREVIOUS ASSEMBLY LINE STORIES:
Volunteerism is the Heart of Our Nation: My Involvement with The Assembly Line Concert Second Shift (Carol Jackson, March 15, 2010) (http://www.ferndale115.com/19p7ajs.html)
AJs Assembly Line Wraps up Second Shift (April 1, 2010) (http://www.ferndale115.com/20100401ajs.html)
AJs Assembly Line Second Shift Totals In, $925 to FernCare (April 10, 2010) (http://www.ferndale115.com/20100413ajs.html)
Custom Guitar Exhibit at Paramount (Aug. 25, 2010) (http://www.ferndale115.com/20100825guitar.html)
Assembly Line Concerts Lose Guinness Record to 343 Hour Long Show in Georgia (AJ O’Neil, Aug. 31, 2010) (http://www.ferndale115.com/20100831record.html)
Music, Art & Love at AJs Cafe (Feb. 14, 2011) (https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/02/14/music-art-love-at-ajs-cafe/)
Assembly Line Third Shift Starts March 18 (https://oaklandcounty115.com/2011/03/10/assembly-line-third-shift-march-18/)