The Heart and Brain of Dan Wickett


Emma Guzman, Entertainment Editor

If you go to a show or open mic in the Detroit area, you can usually bet on Dan Wickett being in attendance. From his daily visits to the Detroit zoo, to his ever-welcomed presence at performances, galleries, and readings, Dan proves his avid support of the Detroit arts scene. For someone who doesn’t have an art or music endeavor to promote, Dan plugs a vast amount of local literature, art, and music. His support goes much deeper than simply showing up; keep reading to find out just how much he does to stimulate the Detroit art and music scene, and to gain a little insight into his life.  

Q: When and why did you start your showcase, Brain Candy?

A: Brain Candy to begin with was the idea of having four different types of artists together in some sort of showcase. The idea had been bouncing around in my head for 7 or 8 years, but I just never had the wherewithal to actually set it up somewhere. I didn’t have an idea of where to do it, either. At some point I started to go to a lot more readings, and I was writing about them on Facebook, or the Emerging Writers Network blog. Then, Dan Merritt from Green Brain Comics noticed, and he mentioned to me that he and Katie were thinking about starting a reading series at the store, and they wanted to know if I’d like to help. That’s when I pitched my idea- I said, yeah, I would really like to, but I have a different idea… what do you think of this? Dan loved it, so he bounced it past Katie, and she loved it, too. The rest is history.

Q: What lead you to become so involved in the local art and music scene?

A: I had a heart issue about four years ago now, and it came back about three years afterwards. I ended up having a massive arrhythmia attack two Augusts ago. My pacemaker went off 31 times over a four or five hour period. I don’t remember any of it. I don’t even remember the next few days after it happened. After that, I really kind of decided that there are certain things that I like to do, and that I’m going to try and do them as much as I possibly can. I figured, who knows how long I’m going to be able to? Going to the zoo has always been something I’ve enjoyed, and I’m supposed to walk. It’s the only exercise I can do anymore. I don’t do it nearly as much as I should around my home, because it’s my neighborhood- I’ve been there for 50 years. It’s just not exciting. But there’s always something different at the zoo, and every day something new happens. You can see kangaroos box from 10 feet away, or wildebeests stampede around the woods. It’s always interesting, plus it’s a two to three mile walk that I wouldn’t be doing otherwise. It’s the same with music. The reason that I set Brain Candy up for having a poet, a prose writer, a musician or musical act, and a visual artist is that I’ve always liked going to see all four things. I like going to art galleries. I love going to see local bands or small band concerts. I would go to readings, and I’d see some people over and over. I would go to see bands play and I would see people, again and again. And same for poetry. Same for art galleries. And I kept thinking, this doesn’t make any sense. I cannot be the only person that likes all four, or at least two or three of the different shows. That’s a long winded way of getting back to the original idea that it’s stuff that I love to do. And so if I can do it, if I can get out and get away, it helps. I think that’s the best lesson learned in life, is that you have to do what you love while you have the chance to do it. It’s definitely improved my life.  

Q: You don’t work in the arts, so I’m curious- what is your career? 

A: My career has always been in quality control- mostly automotive, aluminum or something of that nature. I got my degree in BS Statistics at the University of Michigan. Being active in the arts has always been, for me, a get away from the daily work. In 2000, the old teacher of the last creative writing class that I had taken, who I’d kept in touch with, let me know that she had both a novel and a short story collection coming out right around the same time. One of the classmates from that class also had a novel coming up. And looked back at the five years since my oldest had been born, and I might’ve read one book, which was a ridiculous pace for my life up until then. All my life I had always read so much. So I decided I was going to get all three books, I read them, and I wrote reviews of them just for the hell of it. I put them on Amazon, and then realized that the only people who were going to see the reviews were people already going to that book’s page. So I emailed the reviews to everyone who I thought might be interested. At that point it was 21 or so family members and friends, three of whom ended up telling me, oh, this is pretty cool- what else are you reading? And that was all I really needed to create a monster. So the email list grew to about 2,500 people over a five year period, most of whom were authors who were kind of baffled as to why somebody who had nothing to do with the publishing industry was writing about their books. It spawned into something that did spin into a career type thing for awhile. In 2006 I cofounded Dzanc Books with a friend, and that’s still a very viable publishing company. I still do some work for them, but after about six years, I was kind of burnt out and wasn’t helping either the company or our authors very much anymore. And so I had to step down and let somebody else run it. That little six year window is the only time that the arts have ever been a career, but it was not intended. It’s something I lucked into, and I had a great time. So it’s really not my career, it’s just a love of the four or five different art forms that I follow and try to promote. 

Q: Is it hard to be so involved in the art and music scene while keeping up your career?

A: No, because everything I do that I’m posting about happens in the evenings or on the weekends. The internet and email have made things so easy to do overnight- I can shoot out an email at 11 at night, and I don’t need an answer in five minutes. So if I’m contacting an artist, or of course somebody to ask if they would like to be a participant in a future Brain Candy- it’s not like I need an answer immediately. Brain Candy is booked down a little ways, too, so that helps. But to get back to the question, it’s what I’m doing instead of whatever else I might be doing at night, like watching TV. It’s my entertainment- my hobby. I still waste time watching television, don’t get me wrong, but seeing live shows and readings outweighs that entirely. 

Q: Is there an experience that you’ve had with the arts that influenced you as a person?

A: I don’t know that there has to be very honest. No. Again, the biggest thing was the life altering health issue. But there have been little bits and pieces, you know, knowing that there are artists out there that are not extroverts, but they’re still able to get up on stage and perform, or write books and publish them, or whatever the case may be. Knowing that has helped me try to come out of my shell more. It’s not working completely, but I’m getting better. Even with Brain Candy, I mean I talk as little as possible, and even during intermission, I tend to go to the back wall, and if someone comes up to me, I will be happy to talk to them. But I rarely initiate conversation. There’s been times where I caught myself going to a concert where I’ll leave my house at 8:00 and get home at 1:00 AM, realizing I never said one word that whole time. That’s insane. But artists of all kinds inspire me to get out there more.

Q: All these high schoolers are getting interested in the art scene-what’s your advice to them on how to dive in and start seeing shows?

A: It’s when I really finally started paying attention to the back pages and the Metro Times that I realized that a lot of shows and readings are promoted there. And I do think the Metro Times website is helpful. There’s a podcast called The D Brief, which I think is very informative. It’s a podcast strictly about the local art scene- their website is in changeover right now. And I think I’ll selfishly say: come to Brain Candy! There’s no age limit or fee to get in. We’ve had predominantly singer songwriters playing their guitars, but we’ve also been bringing in bands recently. Great poets, great prose writers and comic book writers. The artists have been phenomenal. Aside from Brain Candy, I definitely think there’s things out there to explore if you’re interested. There’s free readings going on all around in Hamtramck. Go to art galleries and meet people- go to the DIA. You’re going to bump into other people that like the same kind of thing. The arts are a great source of social and mental stimulation. 

You can follow Dan on Facebook through his Emerging Writers Network, or come on out to Brain Candy at Green Brain Comics on the 3rd Monday of every month!