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?
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.)