I think I've been pretty open about my love for Journey in recent months on this blog. Most people who know me how much I've loved that band since childhood. Of course, that means the anthem of my life has been "Don't Stop Believin'."
I always dug that there was a line about "South Detroit" in that song. Hey, they're singing about my city! (Well, so to speak; I grew up in Ann Arbor.)
But now the song is a stadium anthem, played virtually everywhere — including Michigan Stadium, which I still can't quite abide — and the "born and raised in South Detroit" line always gets a shout-out from local sports fans.
In recent years, however, that particular lyric has been dissected by metro Detroiters. Where exactly is "South Detroit"? Because it's not a part of the city anyone is familiar with, nor could find on a map.
"South Detroit" has also taken on life as a Twitter meme, thanks largely to Detroit Tigers beat writers, local sports reporters and fans on Twitter. (I'm looking at you, @matthewbmowery and @stareagle.) Not only was it a fictional neighborhood, but through Twitter, "South Detroit" practically became an alternate universe where magical things happened.
During a Tigers game, a ball that an opposing hitter would hit into the gap would be a great catch by center fielder Austin Jackson in "South Detroit." Instead of striking out on an eye-high fastball, third baseman Brandon Inge would get a base hit in "South Detroit." And so on. Maybe beer prices at the concession stands were cheaper, too. Whatever beautiful thing you could imagine.
It was amusing. And will probably continue to be this spring and summer. But I never really jumped on with the uproar over the non-existence of a "South Detroit." It sounded fine to me. I still thought of it as a shout-out to a city I was familiar with in one of my all-time favorite songs.
But for those who needed answers, Peter Hyman did what writers (reporters?) should do: Go to the source and find out the truth. In a post for NY Mag's Vulture, Hyman contacted former Journey lead singer Steve Perry to ask him about "South Detroit." Did he realize no such location existed? Was it a faux-pas from an out-of-towner? Or did he take artistic license for the sake of a good song lyric?
Perry explained that he came up with the lyric while staring out of his hotel window during a 1980 five-night stand in Detroit. (Oh, if only such things happened anymore with rock tours.) The city was on his mind, so he put it in "Don't Stop Believin'." And yes, "South Detroit" just sounded right.
“I ran the phonetics of east, west, and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit,” he says. “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.”
Of course, he's exactly right. It doesn't matter.
Well, except maybe it does. Because the question of "South Detroit" has helped give the song continued life among music fans, sports fans and metro Detroit residents alike. Its popularity and resonance never ends. It goes on and on and on and on...