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Steve Perry: A wayward Journey of Detroit geography

Published January 19, 2012 1:21 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Most Detroiters cringe at the line in Journey's "Don't Stop Believin' " in which singer Steve Perry croons about being "just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit." That is, when they're not cheering the blunder when the song is played at local sports arenas.

With downtown Detroit right on the river, there is no "South Detroit," of course. That would put the singer's home somewhere in the murky green depths of the Detroit River.

We do have Southwest Detroit — the gateway to Downriver.

In an interview with New York magazine's Vulture website, Perry explained that the words "South Detroit" roll trippingly off the tongue, even if the location is wrong. "I ran the phonetics of east, west and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit," Perry told Vulture. "The syntax just sounded right."

The singer claims he didn't know it was geographically incorrect until a few years ago.

In his Vulture story on the infamous "South Detroit" lyric mistake, writer Peter Hyman initially referred to "East Detroit" as being where Eminem spent his adolescence, and "North Detroit" where Motown is (he's since corrected it).

"East Detroit" used to exist years ago, until it changed its name to "Eastpointe" (and Eminem lived closer to Eight Mile). As for Motown being in "North Detroit" (a phrase few around here use), it's more accurate to say 2648 W. Grand Blvd., is on Detroit's west side.

Detroit is famously divided along east/west lines, which is why we savor such local witticisms as the late member of Detroit City Council, Kay Everett's, when she vowed to "go all east side" on Sharon McPhail (much worse, it would seem, than a west side beatdown).

Like Journey, Hollywood has also had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude about the realities of Michigan geography.

The 1990 Goldie Hawn/Mel Gibson movie "Bird on a Wire" featured a ferry boat that went from Detroit directly across some mythical Great Lake to Racine, Wis.

But let the last word on "Don't Stop Believin' " and Metro Detroit geography be from our neighbors to the south.

"This only proves why 'Windsorites' have adopted the song as ours," Sandy Papineau emailed from across the river. "Windsor is actually South Detroit. Everybody here knows that Canada doesn't really start until you get to London, Ontario."