Maybe John Rich Doesn’t Know His Friend Bob is From Detroit?

Everything Jim Malec says in this post is almost spot on.  From his take on John Rich’s apparently never having considered what people in Detroit are actually like, even though he hangs out with Kid Rock enough, you’d think he’d, oh, I don’t know, play the song for him and see what he thinks to…

Okay, we’ll get to the “to” but let’s stick for a second with the Detroit stuff.  My dad is always saying to me “people are people” and “who the hell knows what’s going on in your mother’s head?”  I find this hilarious because, though they contradict–people are people, no matter what our differences, it’s not that hard to imagine what’s going on in another person’s head, if you take the time to try to understand him; and yet, you can live with someone for 40 years and still have no clue about them–it’s just the truth.  Both things are true.  We know each other better than we like to admit, but we really don’t know each other at all.

So, fine, yes, if one takes the position that people are people, John Rich’s song makes sense.  He imagines that the person in Detroit whose voice he’s using is just like him.  But they’re not.  Who has ever, ever, ever in the history of the Midwest, heard a grown man call his father “Daddy”?  (Except maybe in a time of extreme grief, but that’s the exception that proves the rule, I think.)  Do Southern men call their fathers “Daddy”?  Sure, some.  And it sounds really weird at first to a Midwestern ear; it’s just not something grown men in our part of the world do.  Shoot, it’s not something Midwestern boys do much after they start grade school.  But the very first line of Rich’s song?  “My daddy taught me in this country…”

Or the phrase “pardon me?”  We say “excuse me” unless we’re talking to the Governor.  And “exqueeze me” if we live in Aurora and have a cable access show.  Ha.  Sorry.  Where was I?

“Boss man”?  Again, not a phrase I’ve ever heard my Michigan relatives use.

And “in that New York City town”?!

I mean, I know I tease all the time about Michigan being the Arkansas of the north, but Jesus Christ, you’re singing a song about Detroit, which is a city.  In fact, it’s such a city that even people in Michigan refer to it as Detroit City (though this may be dying off) and Kiss fans refer to it as Detroit Rock City.  People in Detroit know about cities.  Why would someone who lives in Detroit, which is a city, refer to another city as “that New York City town”?  Would a Southerner who was using feigned bumpkin-ness to condescend to NYC call it “that New York City town”?  Yes.  But someone from Detroit?

Ha, no.

Malec says

It never gets to the heart of what it’s like to live in that society. Rich never makes us feel like we should care about what happens to the average Detroiter. Instead of making the Detroiter human, he reaffirms the stereotype.

And rightly notes that it’s because Rich is not as good a songwriter as he should be.  But I think it’s worse than that; Rich doesn’t make us feel like we should care about the average guy from Detroit, because it hasn’t occured to him to care.

A good song-writer, or a good artist in general, makes an outward motion–here’s how I recognize in others the humanity I share with them.  A bad one assumes that everyone is just like him.  Those might look similar, but they sound very different.

(Also, I don’t think that song sounds that good.  I mean, it sounds fine, but the sound of it doesn’t fit the song and there’s not any sense that the singer is aware and intentionally exploiting that dissonance.)


38 thoughts on “Maybe John Rich Doesn’t Know His Friend Bob is From Detroit?

  1. Who has ever, ever, ever in the history of the Midwest, heard a grown man call his father “Daddy”?

    Not me.

    Twenty years after moving away from Michigan to Tennessee, I still have to “correct” myself from assuming that something is severely wrong with an adult who calls their parents “Mama” or “Daddy.” It still sounds really weird to me, though.

  2. Exactly. It’s very common down here. Nonexistent in the Midwest. One of those things that, if you’re writing a song about a guy from Detroit, you might want to know.

    When I was in school, we read this novel about a Midwestern woman who was babysitting for a neighbor and the kids got outside and one of them drowned–because the woman didn’t latch the screen door.

    I could not believe any woman I knew growing up or know now would ever have left a screen door unlatched that I never was able to suspend disbelief to read the rest of the book.

    It’s an automatic thing, if only to keep the cats and dogs from coming in and out all day–you have the screen door shut, it’s latched.

    Same with this. I need to feel like you understand the people you’re writing about so that I can get into the song. If you don’t, I can’t.

  3. Also, the whole “Detroit City” also reminds me of “Chicagoland.” Is it perhaps a Midwestern thing to add gratuitous endings on things?

  4. It’s just a hack song. You spent more time thinking about it than he did and he’s counting on his fan base to have same “so the fuck what?” that he does.

  5. Yeah, but isn’t that a shame? There’s a good song to be written there and a good history of country songs about Detroit. I wish this could have been a part of it.

  6. Do Southern men call their fathers “Daddy”?
    I rarely hear this from men. Haven’t refered to my own that way since I got into high school.

    I do, however, refer to myself that way. But that’s a hazard of being around one year olds. And the wife and I have a bet going about which one of us the deadly duo actually asks for first.

  7. “Chicagoland” is the equivalent of “the bi-state area” (St. Louis) or “the tri-state area” (NYC) or “middle Tennessee.” It’s not the city, it’s the city plus the surrounding region. As such, it’s completely different from “Detroit City.”

    Just this morning the Tennessean had a headlines about “Moms.” Not Moms Mabley, just the plural of “mom.” And my husband and I were talking about how strange that sounds to us, since we would only say “mothers.” I recall that part of what was difficult for Cindy Sheehan in meeting with GW Bush was that he kept referring to “moms” instead of “mothers.” I think that each region of the country is so used to it’s own locutions in referring to parents in the third person that we get bothered when someone uses a different regionalism.

    Finally, I figure that everything John Rich knows (or thinks he knows) about auto workers he learned from Bobby Bare. Which is why it hasn’t occurred to him that the children of the narrator of “Detroit City” might be … oh, you know, Michiganders or something, and not still displaced southerners. Plus, that bit about autoworkers never blaming others when things don’t go their way; I’m laughing too hard to listen to any more of the song.

  8. Yeah, but that was a different day. In the 1950s and 1960s, a lot of the people on the assembly lines were from the upland South — they had migrated there for defense jobs and stayed for the post-war boom. They were living in the North but driving back “home” every chance they got. Now, their kids and grandkids are like KidRock — not exactly country, even if they are country-influenced. They don’t listen to John Rich, though.

    Another way to look at it is the big disconnect between the GOP and who they thought were their base in Michigan. Sumbitch, lookie there — they lost and lost pretty big, if memory serves. It’s no coincidence that Rich is completely out of touch about Detroit; his party doesn’t seem to know who they are talking to either.

  9. Yeah, I laughed at that, too. If people in the auto industry had to quit complaining about even other people in the auto industry ruining it for everyone (union guys complaining about suits; suits complaining about the unions), I don’ t know what they’d have to talk about.

    Ha, I hadn’t thought about that, but I do hear the term “moms” as slightly cutesy and condescending.

  10. Bridgett, because the people I know in Michigan who are firm Republicans are people who’ve scratched out a little wealth for themselves and the Republicans keep trying to insist that they’re the party of people who get the wealth scratched out of them. Until they admit otherwise, they’ll always be missing their demographic, I think.

  11. I heard several commercials this morning that referred to the “Greater Chicagoland area” which seems pretty gratuitous to me – Chicagoland seems to imply some greater area.

    Through marriage, I accquired many relatives in Detroit Rock City and not so many in New York City. I’ve never heard anyone in Detroit refer to New York City as anything other than that. They’re a fairly upper Midwest urban bunch, so I can’t imagine any of them calling their fathers daddy – to the point that it would be truly weird if they did.

  12. I still call my mom “Ma” because that’s what the kids I grew up with all called their mothers and I know it bugs her. She thinks it sounds like a bleating goat.

    And, funny enough, my mom and my aunts all called my grandma “Mother” and their grandma “Grandmother,” but two of them (my mom and my Aunt B.) married into less formal families and so they call their mother “mom” now, but it sounds weird. My aunt S. still calls her “Mother.”

  13. Oh, see, I call my mother “Mom,” and my husband called his “Ma.” But when either of us refers to our mother in the third person, it’s always “my mother.”

  14. nm, we cross-posted and basically said the same thing (though you were faster!). I was referring to B’s remark at 1:13, not yours at 1:20.

    “Moms” in my neighborhood is a term of endearment for one’s mother (only sounds plural). “Moms, I’m going out. Got a twenty?”

  15. I still call my mom “Ma” because that’s what the kids I grew up with all called their mothers and I know it bugs her. She thinks it sounds like a bleating goat.

    I thought my dad and his siblings were the only ones who did that!

    FWIW, my husband, my brother and I say “Mom” and “Dad” (see above). My husband’s sisters say “Mama” and “Daddy.” Some of it is obviously personal preference – which is why it took me so long to see it as a regionalism. I’d like to know more about the familial relationships and how they correlate with all this.

  16. Yes, you say “my moms.” This creates some confusion for the kids of lesbian couples, because you don’t know without context whether they are talking about their moms (singular) or their moms (plural).

  17. Bridgett, I meant to tell you that my sister was able to use the “moms” argument in persuading my older nephew not to get a tattoo. “You’d have to get one that says ‘MOMS’ and everyone would laugh at you.” — worked like a charm.

  18. I could not believe any woman I knew growing up or know now would ever have left a screen door unlatched

    either screen doors have changed at some point, or i don’t know what you mean by “latch”.

    my screen door is built like a thin, flimsy door. it’s got a bolt just like the front door does, slides into the doorframe through a strike plate just the same way, you have to press a handle to push it back open again. if that’s the “latch”, you could not leave it unlatched without propping it ajar — which admittedly is easy to do, there’s a foot button right on the closer spring for that.

    or you might mean the little twisty thing you can use to lock it shut so the handle doesn’t push down. but that’s more of an actual lock, honestly. i never use that; if that were useful or needed, it’d be time to close and lock the actual front door.

    …and about Detroit being a city… yeah, but it’s a city that’s got this in it, where things like this happen. i’m quite happy to be a rural, upstate Michigander.

  19. No, I’m talking about if you have a wooden screen door that you just put on in the summer, the ones that don’t have a handle. If you want them to stay shut, you have to hook the little hook and eye lock. And since they don’t stay shut any other way, you have to hook the latch.

    Like this, but less fancy

    with a latch like this

    Do people not have screen doors like that anymore? Where has my youth gone?

  20. I don’t think the song was suppose to be about Detroit. I f you listen it is about the financial irresponsiblities of the government and the CEO’s that are taking advantage of the tax payer bailouts. You can tear apart this song all you want, but I coming off as quite petty and childish. I get that you don’t like John Rich. So don’t like him. I don’t think it will change his life much.

  21. You don’t think a song that is specifically about Detroit is supposed to be about Detroit?! Are you kidding? Now I can’t even listen to John Rich’s songs and take what he says at face value? What should I have substituted for “Detroit” every time he said it?

    And you don’t know. Once I can walk over that hill without dying, I might toilet paper his house. Unless he moves into town before that happens, which, honestly, he might.

    But, I can childishly show him I don’t like him by toiletpapering his house, hypothetically, once I get my lazy ass off the couch. And it might change his life. Might change mine. Let’s not underestimate fate.

  22. The thing is, country lyrics tend to take their strength from the lyrical details. And when the details are that far off there’s a problem. And people who enjoy country music tend to pay attention to that sort of stuff, just naturally.

  23. Hey now, I’m a professional singer and songwriter. That’s how I make a living for my family-you guys are beating his song to death. I don’t call my father “daddy”, but I do write that in my songs because its part of my artistry-I understand where you guys are coming from in Detroit, but I think you want to Bitch about anything that makes you feel more important. At least the man is tipping his hat to you guys! And John rich has always been more about the arrangement and power in the production of a song than the words anyways. If any of you self righteous bastards writes a better song, then copyright it and post it here or send it to me-till then, keep tearing down someones work who is (only God know why) concerned about yours. Learn RESPECT

  24. No, he’s tipping his hat to the fantasy folks in his fantasy of Detroit. When he respects the midwest enough to write a song about the real place and people, midwesterners will respect him right back.

  25. Yes, he’s a better producer than a songwriter. This post was about his songwriting, which in this instance is pretty weak. There’s an audience for a good song about Detroit, IzzI; you’ve just gotten a tutorial on how to write one. Since you’re looking to feed your family, go forth and write that hit record we’re all eager to hear. You’re welcome.

  26. I think I may write one, actually. It may be called “Entitled in Detroit”, or maybe “The unions should secede from the Union”. I personally don’t really even like a lot of John Rich’s songs, but I do respect him. Songs are not always 100 percent real life: they are a product of opinion from the writer, who in this case was not trying to offend anyone. In fact, this should be one of the most least offensive songs anyone has listened to in a while. He isn’t rapping about the crack addicted mothers who raise gang banging kids who rob and kill productive members of society. (I know you guys have songs about that up there). So give the guy a break: not everything has to get a stamp of approval from society-especially this song

  27. Ok, well I was gonna write a song for Detroit, but I got done and saw it was a little offensive, so I am keeping it to myself. I didn’t mean to get snippy, but I really hate it when people that don’t write songs tear them apart, but can’t offer an alternative. That is total hypocrisy-it is the fear of unnecessary criticism that’s keeps a lot of good folks from publishing things, or running for office. Good criticism is usually welcomed by professionals, but usually from other professionals. We could talk about bad songs all day, but please don’t anybody mention the crappy cars Detroit has been making for decades…..

  28. Wait, you’re saying only politicians can criticize what the government does? Only novelists get to have an opinion on the book they just read? Only automakers get to mention gas-guzzlers?

    People who like music talk about it. Sometimes in great detail. Sometimes, if they don’t like what they’re hearing, critically. If you’re a songwriter, this is going to bother you? I think you may be in the wrong field. It isn’t criticism that keeps people from publishing, it’s not being able to accept it, take what’s worthwhile from it, and dismiss the rest.

  29. Wow, how about we all just NOT say a word about the inequality of the Execs of these companies & the employees who are REALLY suffering just because some piddling petty person might criticize whether we use the correct slang about the city or doesn’t like someone saying daddy versus father or dad or pops ?! This song & the video are poignant to what is happening, the mismanagement of fat cat execs who are still sitting pretty after the companies that go down despite the lower level employee’s losing it all with the domino effect to their lives, family & this country. Get over yourself & the need to hear yourself speak, anything that keeps this in the eye of the public is a positive…use your criticisms to be an English teacher, or can you pay your bills on that salary, if your not getting laied off ?

  30. Michele, it’s a blog. The author talks about what she wants to talk about. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll know that in other posts, she has written extensively about the very things you are railing about. Jumping in two months later to a blog you don’t regularly read and whining about what one post didn’t say makes you look pretty clueless. If you want more attention drawn to it, get your own damn blog.

    By the way, you could use one of those English teachers you are knocking. If you’re really going to be down with the workers, be down with all the workers, ‘k?

  31. I haven’t been laied off, but then again, I haven’t been to Hawaii.

    When I do go, I’ll try to bring less baggage than Michele.

  32. I missed this convo first time around. If John Rich had heard Telegraph Road he’d know that the quintessential Detroit song was already written.

    And if some British dudes wrote a better Detroit song than he…

    Rich is a poseur.

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