Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Journey's "South Detroit" Mystery Explained

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We're all familiar with the song. Even those of us who were born in the 1980's but didn't necessarily grow up in the '80's. Yes, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" remains a requirement at almost all Red Wings home games, wedding receptions, and karoakee bars (want to here it at Grand Rapids dueling piano bar, Mojo's, better bring $20) thirty years after its debut. And while Detroiters and Michiganders always find a few extra decibels when signing along at the beginning of the song to the line "Just a city boy/born and raised in South Detroit" (emphasis added to belabor point), it has remained something of an ironic mystery, since "South Detroit" isn't really a real place.

Well, we have an answer for you. Actually, songwriter and Journey lead-singer, Steve Perry, has an answer. I'm quoting from Detroit Free Press' article by B.J. Hammerstein quoting a New York Magazine article that originally featured the Perry interview (isn't internet journalism great).

Perry admits that a visit to Detroit during the band's 1980 Departure Tour inspired the song and that "South Detroit" just ended up sounding better than any other cardinal direction.

Perry: “I was digging the idea of how the lights were facing down so that you couldn’t see anything,” he said as he recalled looking out a hotel room window at 2 a.m. “All of a sudden I’d see people walking out of the dark, and into the light. And the term ‘streetlight people’ came to me. So Detroit was very much in my consciousness when we started writing.” (The song includes the line: “Streetlight people/ Living just to find emotion/ Hiding somewhere in the night.”
“I ran the phonetics of east, west, and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit,” Perry said. “The syntax just sounded right. I fell in love with the line. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that there is no South Detroit. But it doesn’t matter.”

And because I know you want to listen to the song know that it's stuck in your head, here it is...

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