Dee-troit city, 50 years ago

Published 7:35 am Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Coincidentally, with all the news about the city of Detroit, this year is the 50th anniversary of country singer Bobby Bare’s first major hit, “Detroit City.” “Detroit City” also garnered the Grammy Award for Bare for Best Country and Western Recording in 1963.

Many of you will recall that the most memorable line from the song is “I wanna go home.” I wonder just how many Detroit residents, these days, are lamenting, “Oh, Lord, I wanna go home?”

Fifty years ago, Detroit was a city sitting in the catbird seat. The catbird seat is an idiom for something that is in a very enviable position and in 1963 Detroit was one of the world’s great cities. Readily associated with the automobile industry, another business was just beginning to hit its stride.

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Motown Records had a stable of stars and a formula for music that would take the country by storm and it would not be too long before “Hitsville USA” would introduce the entire world to a sound that would last for decades.

Detroit might have “made its bones” by making cars with names like Chevrolet, Ford, and Chrysler, but soon the names of Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, the Four Tops, and the Miracles would be just as famous.

With all of that going on in 1963, I wonder how a Detroiter would have looked at someone who would have said, “Within 50 years, Motown Records will be gone, General Motors and Chrysler will file for bankruptcy, and even the city of Detroit will be panhandling on the streets of America, singing ‘Buddy, can you spare a dime?’” My, how the mighty have fallen.

In returning to the song “Detroit City,” let me suggest that the most appropriate line for today is not the memorable “I wanna go home,” but “If they could only read between the lines.”

With all of its golden geese, Detroit never figured on any of them dying. The powers that were, private industry and public administration, felt that the good times would never end so let them roll! It simply doesn’t work that way — not then or now.

Making good decisions is never wrong whether the times are good, but particularly when the times are tough. Detroit and many other cities, big and small, are facing the same problems. As we saw with General Motors, so are businesses.

Promises that could not be kept were made. There is an old saying. “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” There is another saying. “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Detroit’s woes seem to be a matter of too many promises and too many expectations. It took less than 50 years for a great city to go from the penthouse to the outhouse. That should be a warning to the rest of us, but for some reason, I don’t hear a clarion call.

In the back of my mind, I’m waiting for someone to tell me how it’s all my fault and that in this great country of ours, “We are all Detroiters!”

Save your breath. I’ll be too busy listening to Bobby Bare. “Last night I went to sleep in Dee-troit City.”