Detroit: Motown and Corvettes and Tigers, Oh My!

by Bob Schwartz

Stingray 1963

Sometimes the best way to tell a story is not to tell it. The news about Detroit’s municipal bankruptcy, the biggest ever in America, is like that. Others will tell it at length. Sometimes the best way is to offer a few items that are interesting and related, and let readers and listeners make the connections, draw the lines, complete the picture.

Just in case your dot-connecting doesn’t make it clear, the story of Detroit’s bankruptcy is the biggest American story of the day, and possibly one of the biggest in many years. It is bigger than the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, bigger than last fall’s story of the rich son of a former Michigan governor disastrously running for President (and loving those Michigan trees, though not Detroit), bigger than the continuing economic malaise, but related to all of them.

Fifty years ago, in July 1963, Motown Records, Hitsville U.S.A., released the single Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas. It reached #4 on the Billboard Top 100, but did top the R&B chart. Like so many Motown records, who cares about the numbers? Motown is some of the best pop music ever produced in America. Want proof? Just play Heat Wave, or other irresistible tracks by the Vandellas, the Temps, the Tops, or put on another Motown single from fifty years ago that did go to #1, the astonishing Fingertips (Part 2) by 11-year-old phenomenon Little Stevie Wonder. Motown founder Berry Gordy was not just a model of black entrepreneurship in a white country, at a time when black voting rights had still not been established, but was the model for some of the hugest entertainment moguls in the world, including Jay-Z. But that was fifty years ago in Detroit.

Fifty years ago, the Corvette Stingray was introduced. Edmunds not only rates it the best Corvette of all time; it says “A full half-century after its debut, the 1963 Corvette coupe remains one of the most alluring automotive designs ever conceived.” The ad above shows an airline pilot in Los Angeles (back when being a pilot was super-special manly, and LA was the city of the future) ogling the new Stingray. He was envying the Motor City vision. But that was fifty years ago.

This very day, as the second half of baseball season begins, the Detroit Tigers are one of the best teams in baseball, with maybe the best pitcher (Max Scherzer) and certainly the best hitter (Miguel Cabrera), who may be on his way to becoming the first player to win consecutive Triple Crowns. Detroit fans appreciate this, and have been showing up for home games at a solid pace, about 37,000 a game—equal to the attendance for the Los Angeles Angels and way more than the 17,000 fans per game that show up in “ultra cool” Miami.

Saying that Detroit will be back from beyond the brink isn’t just wishful thinking. The idea that Detroit can fail but that everybody else in America will be alright is all wrong. The 17th century poet John Donne said it:

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

And if you don’t go for old poetry that you hated in high school, and would rather forget the troubles of Detroit and the world, Motown has lots to offer, especially on a sweltering July day.

Whenever I’m with him
Something inside starts to burning
And I’m filled with desire
Could it be a devil in me
Or is this the way love’s supposed to be?

It’s like a heat wave, burning in my heart
I can’t keep from crying, it’s tearing me apart