August 8, 2012
The soundtrack of the Motor City.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 8/7, 4:30 p.m.) Detroit. Anyone who has grown up in this town and been part of this business has enjoyed a spectacular soundtrack accompanying day-to-day life around here. How could you not when Motown was percolating its rhythms throughout the 60s? And local radio riveted avid listeners with playlists that rocked the town from sun up to sun down and long into the night? And the fact that this area has been home to countless rock acts from Bob Seger and Mitch Ryder to the White Stripes and countless others didn’t exactly hurt, either, right?
Yes, as much as we live and breathe horsepower and chrome around here, music has been and still is the soundtrack of the business, perfectly encapsulating what it means to live and work here while toiling away in “the biz.” So today I thought we’d get in the car and put the radio on (at 5:00 a.m.), and listen to some musical stylings, while pairing them up with what’s happening in the business right now. There is no specific format, just a blend of a decade's worth of tunes that waft in the air…
I feel it’s a must to start with Lee Dorsey’s “Working in a Coal Mine.” Nothing conveys the daunting 24/7 slog facing the denizens of this business like Dorsey’s classic tune.
“Five o’clock in the mornin’
I’m up before the sun’
When my work day is over
I’m too tired for havin’ fun…”
I’ve heard this from the “outside” a lot: “You guys get to fool around with cars and horsepower for a living, how hard can it be?” Or something to that effect. When it is put like that I would agree, how hard could it be? But in reality we’re talking hard. A relentlessly mind-numbing pursuit that never ends. In the super-hot and competitive global arena that this business has become, you’re not even as good as your last accomplishment; it’s what you bring to the table right this minute that matters. No, there’s no rest for the weary here. If you sign up for this deal, you better be ready to bring it – even in your sleep.
Let’s take a swing by Dearborn, where the Ford folk crank it out all the time, led by The Man, Alan Mulally, the guy who transformed the company and set the standard for executive leadership in this business for decades to come. I can hear the chords from The Who’s “I Can See For Miles” drifting out of the Glass House (Ford’s World Headquarters) as Alan surveys GM off to the east, and Chrysler to the northeast up in Auburn Hills.
Maybe we should do a drive-by of Solidarity House, where we’ll find Bob “I still matter!” King probably slumped over in his chair lamenting the fact that no import auto manufacturing facility is going to hand over the keys to the UAW anytime soon. What’s that? Yes, if I’m not mistaken I can hear Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” hanging over King & Co. like a bad dream.
From there we wend our way over by the gleaming “Silver Silos” - aka the RenCen – hard by the Detroit River, where Dan Akerson has his hand on the tiller for GM, and just in case you’re wonderin’, he’s not going to let go anytime soon. After all, when you’re dealing with a perpetual loop of unfinished business, the job is never done, right? As we ease past the south entrance, I’m pretty sure I can hear Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” coming over the loud speakers in the lobby…
“Well I won't back down, no I won't back down
You could stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won't back down…”
That’s Akerson in a nutshell and he won’t let you forget it. And he’ll be oh so quick to remind you if you do. As for the recent departures of key executives, including CMO Joel Ewanick, Akerson probably reminds his troops that “we’re moving on without him” followed by a quick snippet of Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know” (featuring Kimbra)…
“You can get addicted to a certain kinda sadness
Like resignation to the end, always the end
So when we found that we could not make sense
Well you said that we would still be friends
But I'll admit that I was glad that it was over…”
We have about a 28-minute drive out to Auburn Hills from the RenCen, where today we can hear everything from Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” to Usher’s “Scream” and Flo Rida’s “Whistle” and anything and everything in-between, including Maroon 5’s “Payphone,” which is uncannily appropriate today, especially given the recent news that Spyker is suing GM for basically ruining Saab’s corporate life…
“You turned your back on tomorrow
Cause you forgot yesterday
I gave you my love to borrow
But you just gave it away
You can't expect me to be fine
I don't expect you to care
I know I've said it before
But all of our bridges burned down…”
Ah well, all is fair in love and war when multi-billions are at stake, right? Continuing on, we next have David Guetta (featuring Sia) doing “Titanium”…
“You shout it out, but I can't hear a word you say
I'm talking loud not saying much
I'm criticized but all your bullets ricochet
You shoot me down, but I get up…”
Wait just a minute, could it be that we’re channeling Dan Akerson’s iPod again somehow? Could be.
As we approach the exit off of I-75 to get to Fiat-Chrysler’s soon-to-be World Headquarters (as soon as Fiat is reduced to an afterthought), the SiriusXM seems to go nuts. First with “Lose Yourself” by the indefatigable Marshall Mathers, aka Eminem, Detroit’s Poet Prophet, who delivers the perfect personal anthem for Sergio “The Great” Marchionne…
“His soul's escaping, through this hole that is gaping
This world is mine for the taking, make me king
As we move toward a new world order, a normal life is boring
But superstardom's close to post mortem
It only grows harder, only grows hotter
He blows it's all over, these hoes is all on him
Coast to coast shows, he's known as the Globetrotter lonely roads...”
As we pull through the entry gate we can hear strains of “Piove” from the Italian artist and sometimes rapper Lorenzo Jovanotti, who came to be known in the U.S. from his appearance on one of the soundtrack compilations of “The Sopranos.”
But rather than drive in we just drive on, because when all is said and done Sergio only listens to the dulcet tones of his own voice. After all there isn’t a music track grand enough for his ambitions or encompassing enough for his massive ego. (I could suggest “King of Nothing” by Seals & Croft here, but why bother?)
So that’s a brief listen to the soundtrack of the Motor City, the constant thrum and buzz and rhythm that moves with us as we churn our way through the 24/7 thrash that defines this crazy business as we know it.
Oh, I almost forgot, there’s one tune that’s always a channel change away around these parts. “Papa Hobo” by Paul Simon. And even though he may never understand how his words captured the experience and essence of living around here, we do...
“It's carbon and monoxide
The ol' Detroit perfume
It hangs on the highways in the mornin'
And it lays you down by noon...
Detroit, Detroit got a hell of a hockey team
Got a left-handed way
Of makin' a man sign up on that automotive dream...”
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.