Gangs in Madison, it is said, are a relatively new phenomenon. But they are here and some people have been paying attention to them, notably the police and some ex-gang members who work with the groups to try and channel their energies into productive activities. All this I know from staff writer Joe Tarr's cover story, "Life After Gangs."
Gangs fill the void left when either society or family fail young people and they are left to fend for themselves. Gangs are generally regarded as an urban problem, so maybe the fact that gang problems have evolved in Madison is a sign of the city's growing up. Until the last decade or two, gangs in Madison meant that someone was mounting a production of West Side Story and the Sharks and the Jets ran wild on stage. The action is in the streets these days, and Tarr's story tells how the police are trying to keep the lid on while former gangbangers counsel at-risk youth to choose a better path.
In Detroit, where I came up, gangs were in full flower in the '60s. In the southwest part of the city, where I went to high school, the turf was disputed between the Junior Crows and the Bagley Street Boys. They occasionally harassed kids on their way to our school, Holy Redeemer High School, relieving them of lunch money. I remember one confrontation between about 40 Holy Redeemer helmet-swinging football players and a half-dozen bicycle-chain wielding Junior Crows. A nun came out of a school building and broke it up before any real blood was shed. Now there was a tough bunch, those nuns.
In my remarks last week introducing Andy Moore as a music columnist, I neglected a few pertinent facts. Moore has written for other music publications, including No Depression out of Seattle and Bluegrass Unlimited. He also plays guitar, banjo and ukulele in the trio Winn Dixie after helping found and playing for six years in the Cork n' Bottle String Band. I also neglected to say that he conceived and hosts Wisconsin Public Television's 30 Minute Music Hour. I did remember to tell you that he wrote the "Close to Home" column monthly for Isthmus, which appears this week.