Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

No Town Like Motown

Written by Rebecca Zietlow on March 12th, 2009

In many ways, the city of Detroit, Michigan, embodies the American dream – and its failings.  In the Twentieth Century, Detroit was a center of industry – and not just any industry.   The American romance with the automobile is centrdetroit-skyline.jpgal to the American dream, and for much of the Twentieth Century, most of our cars were made in or around Detroit.  Automobile enthusiasts looked forward to the Detroit auto show every year, and one need only scan the titles of popular songs to understand how much we loved cars made in Detroit – Mustangs, Cadillacs, Mercuries, the list goes on and on.  Of course, the cars made in Detroit were not just important in popular culture – they also provided thousands of people with well-paying jobs.  As a result, immigrants flocked to Detroit from other countries and  African Americans migrated from the south of this country, fleeing Jim Crow and seeking a new prosperous life.  Detroit became the center of the union movement, and automobile workers prospered.  Until the mid-1960s, Detroit really was a city in which the American dream came to life for thousands of people.

The decline of Detroit is an all-too-familiar story.  The race riots in the 1960s, the white migration to the suburbs, the arrival of Japanese cars, and the decline of the American automobile industry.  GM was once the number one employer in this country, but GM, and its well-paying union jobs, has now been replaced in that role by Walmart and its low-paying no-benefits positions.  To look at how the American dream has failed so many workers in this country, one need only look at Detroit.  In these dark days of economic recession, no place is darker than Detroit.  GM and Chrysler are on the brink of economic disaster, and the third of the Big Three, Ford, is struggling as well.  The rate of unemployment in Detroit is over 10%, and it is one of the cities worst hit by the housing crisis.  I have heard reports of houses selling for as little as $100 in Detroit.

Ironically, the low cost of housing in Detroit is also cause for a strange sort of optimism.  Artists have started buying houses in Detroit, moving from more prosperous cities like Chicago to find a place they can afford to live.  The sheer economic devastation in that city thus leaves open the possibility of a new urban colony with renovated housing, green energy, community gardens, and artistic renewal.  Sound crazy?  Maybe, but there is that spirit about Detroit, that spirit of hope and optimism that reflects the remnants of the American dream.  The 1960s were a decade of turmoil and racial strife in Detroit, arguably the beginning of the downward spiral that is culminating today.  But they were also the decade of Motown music.  Could artists alone save Detroit?  Of course not, but we also can’t expect the automobile industry alone to do the job.  Cities like Detroit need imagination and vision, small businesses and “knowledge jobs.”  For that reason, this new migration of artists to Detroit may be what’s needed to start the city moving in a new direction.

The New Southern Strategy

Written by Henry L. Chambers, Jr. on December 17th, 2008

This has a been an historic few months in American history.  In the last few months, the country has etmpphpk5l5c21.giflected an African American man president of the United States of America.  That alone makes for sufficient history.  However, the country has undergone a financial meltdown the likes of which have not been seen in the past several decades.   The president-elect has noted that America will need to pull together to beat back adversity.   Though it would be nice to imagine our country pulling together, it is fair to say that some groups will tend to pull together in one direction and others will pull together in another direction.  Given that we have just ended an election cycle, which always tends to make us think of factions and groups, it is worthwhile to consider what how groups might align or realign in these times of economic crisis.

Put simply, could economics trump race once and for all, leading to combinations that could not have occurred before the 1965 Voting Rights Act and have not occurred in the wake of that law?  We might think that the wealthy of all colors, or at least those making more than the magical $250,000 per year, would pull together to defeat any rise in their taxes called for in the President-elect’s pre-election tax plan.  Similarly, we might think that the poor of all colors might rise up to  protect what little they have and whatever they wish to have in the future.  If the economic becomes the political in the same way the personal often becomes the political, we could see a new Southern unity strategy based on racial and economic unity.

The suggestion that the poor of all stripes ought to band together is nothing new.  However, in this time, when the nearly unthinkable has become thinkable, it may be sensible to consider a new Southern strategy that could lead to a dominant political party for the next several decades.  If the Obama presidency is about problem-solving and one believes that the same economic medicine that cures the ills of the poor of one race will do so for the ills of the poor of other races, economic solidarity could lead to political realignment.

Rather than present the basics of a political strategy, I suggest that you listen to stories of the poor, the dispossessed and the hurting.  As a start, listen to the stories of the blues and the stories of country music.  Listen to one of my favorite albums, “Rhythm, Country and Blues.”  It is a compilation of songs sung by groups of R&B and country artists.  Though “Somethin’ Else” sung by Little Richard and Tanya Tucker is inspired, “Patches” sung by George Jones and B.B. King goes to the heart.  The story in song is both timeless and cross racial.  Any politician who can provide structural help to the family described in the song ought to be able to win a majority of the votes of similar families of all colors for years to come.

I suggest a new Southern strategy rather than a new Rust Belt strategy because the South is where R&B and country music often meet, for example, in Memphis and Nashville.  More importantly, even if you do not believe in music as the precursor of political strategy, you should listen to the album just because it is great American art.

Hat Tip to Jim Chen!

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on September 26th, 2007

Jim Chen has posted the following video with the lyrics of the wonderful musical conclusion–“Our Town”–to one of the most conspicuously endearing television series, “Northern Exposure.” At the end of the final episode, “Our Town” was played along with a spell-binding video summation of the series, beautifully punctuating the series’ finale.


“Northern Exposure” depicted life in a small Alaskan town, but it also resonates with city life in a neighborhood where low crime and full employment reign. The sense of community that is created defines who you are and does so probably better than subsequent episodes in your life.