“Feels Like Detroit”—A Rock and Roll Love Story of Sorts

River Teeth — Winter 2008

Every love story is also a tragedy.

Or at least someone once told me that. One of my favorite love stories is the song “What I Like About You” by The Romantics. It’s one of the top money-earning songs in rock and roll history. The tragedy is the story of where the money went, and how.

“Feels Like Detroit” started as an essay for a seminar in my doctoral program. We’d been challenged to write about something that was non-academic in a decidedly non-academic way. And what could be less academic than a band that wore red leather suits and wrote three chord songs.

That challenge came from David Kirby. David, then and now, favors the act of looking, of exploring, of trying. You see it in his poems, as they wander across the south and head to the Italian hospital where his child was born, or to a cafe in France where he eavesdrops on the diners seated next to him.

This essay is all about eavesdropping. I met a guy who knew a guy; that second guy had worked at Criteria Studios in Miami, and for the price of a beer, the stories could be mine.

Criteria started out of a station wagon back in 1958, the owner driving from beachfront estate to beachfront estate, recording the big orchestra warblings of Gleason and Arthur Godfrey. Derek and the Dominoes cut Layla here; the brothers Gibb put together their disco juggernaut in the back room. 

It helped that I knew so many of the people he was talking about. And somehow, during the conversation, I realized that the story of the music recorded at Criteria was also the story of me, the high school me who owned black and white guitars and played three-chord songs and was prone to bouts of melancholia and obsession. I listened for a while, or I eavesdropped, and I came away with a far more universal story than I ever imagined.