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x foreword xi We were young and proud We were makin’ Thunderbirds —Bob Seger T he ores came from West Virginia, Bolivia, Asia. The rubber from Africa,then Akron.The men who made the steel and aluminum were from Eastern Europe, China, Mexico,Tennessee, and Alabama, not to mention most of the places in between.Sometimes, the fathers of the men who assembled the finished parts were men whose own fathers (or grandfathers,or both) had done the same. Sometimes they were newly arrived from Lebanon, Oklahoma, Latvia, or Louisiana .Sometimes their families had come many generations past from Scotland or the west coast of Africa or Central America. Ships, trains, and trucks moved the raw materials, down from Lake Superior or across the Atlantic or up through Kentucky and Indiana, where many of the men who manned those vessels had their origins. Men from Canada and the Michigan thumb, Georgia, Greece, South Carolina,Traverse City, operated the trucks that took the finished cars all over the United States and,ultimately,all over the world.A significant number of “the men,” which is how everyone referred to the workers,were women. They were the richest working people in the history of the world, if they didn’t get laid off or replaced by machinery, fall into the foundry furnace, punch a foreman,show up drunk (well,drunk enough),or have their fingers smashed or their legs broken by the machines or the line that crawled by, never quite slowly enough. They had, most of the time, not a damned thing in common. But most of them shared a pride in the cars they produced, a love of how they looked and their speed,not to mention their sex appeal.Some grew so besotted that they went home and tinkered with their own vehicles, creating a whole culture of cruising cars.This hobby allowed them to pay the close attention to detail—from the motors to the paint— that the line prevented them from exercising, no matter how slowly it sped by. Even those who prayed every night that their kids would never have to work in a place “so loud it really hurt,” as Bob Seger sang in “Makin’Thunderbirds,” sometimes shared in this attitude .They were proud that autoworkers could come up with designs more beautiful, and far faster, than those of the company’s big shots. Detroit music shares a lot with the auto world. (Not that anyone who’s made it in this scene was only in it for a paycheck.) The music comes with all sorts of personalities—and when I say “all sorts,” I don’t mean many or more than a few; I mean every one of them (that I know anything about) is neither a leader nor a follower. What’s come out of the Motor City, onstageandonrecord,isnothingliketheimmediately recognizable musical signatures of New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, or even Austin, or in certain periods Kansas City, San Francisco, and Hollywood. Detroit has an attitude, but it’s not necessarily, as some have claimed, that the music is particularly aggressive (although the aggressive music is truly aggressive); or oriented to madmen; or even that most of those who’ve made their mark were working class, except in the very broadest sense. Even then, Berry Gordy’s family members were very successful strivers, Makin’ Thunder xii foreword and Aretha Franklin’s father was the best-known preacher in town, even to white people. But Stevie Wonder’s talent was first discovered on the doorstep of a housing project, Eminem’s mother was straight out of Eight Mile (the street if not the movie), and I could give you two dozen other examples, none of them obscure. It isn’t where you come from, not here. It’s where you wind up. I have thought and written about this subject— Detroit music as a generality—for going on fifty years, and I still cannot find the place where Iggy Pop’s scabrous screams unite with the cool elegance of Tommy Flanagan’s jazz piano. Nor where Levi Stubbs’s psychodrama on “Bernadette” intersects in any musical (or perhaps diagnostic) sense with Del Shannon’s psychodrama on “Stranger in Town.”I can explain the blackness of Mitch Ryder’s soul-rock singing and the whiteness of the Funkadelic’s funkrock , insofar as illusions can be explained, but not what Bootsy Collins and Anita Baker share that is somehow distinctively Detroit. I can hear it, sure enough,but...


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