DETROIT — Six days after returning home, two of the June 23-26 columnist conference’s field trips burn in me, tours of the Motown Historical Museum and the new heart-of-downtown home office of Quicken Loans.
The museum, informally called “Hitsville,” is in the two original houses in which Berry Gordy created the Motown recording label. Poverty, youth and convenience apparently led Gordy to set up in a residential block, eventually buying most houses there, each with a different business function. This also was a Malcolm Gladwell Outliers sort of monument: Its original stars (and writers and producers) were born within a few years of one another and many grew up in this neighborhood.
The one negative is this museum is it’s like a presidential library. You get only the good stuff about Gordy. He was no monster but neither was he a saint. The exuberance of the exhibits and most of all, the staff, overwhelm that predictable flaw. Museum visitors are organized into groups, guided to see a mini-documentary film then led through the rooms by guides who, besides lecture, sing and dance. By the end of the 30-40 minutes all visitors will have been persuaded to sing and dance a bit.
How else besides participating can one understand the genius of the analog sound effects Gordy used? (No one was recorded.) The most interesting is a 4×4-foot square hole in an upstairs ceiling exposing an unfinished attic. Singing or clapping under it created an echo — scratch that, created reverb, which would be recorded and used as a track. “Hey, young lady,” the tour guide said to a columnist, and he got her to sing the chorus of “My Girl” in the well. Little had we known that Tracy Beckerman could not only fill the room but sing on pitch. In the studio itself, he led the men in a Temptations-style clap and kick, and the women in a Supremes-like clap and shimmy.
Unlike most museums, we were not herded at the end to the gift shop, which I resent. But this is one time I might have bought a souvenir if I had had the time.The private museum allows no photography; there’s few photos online. But here is an AP picture of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee doing the guys’ step in the studio.
Quicken Loans hosted a lunch of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in its new headquarters, the top floors of the CompuServe building in downtown Detroit. Its executives want a lively urban atmosphere to enliven their young staff. They want to do right by Detroit and help revitalize its center, hit so hard this past decade. And the real estate there, plus government incentives, on this scale, is very affordable. Click here for a Detroit News report and a Detroit Free Press article. Quicken Loans had been in a suburb, overlooking a parking lot and a Costco, we were told. Now, staff had a view of the city skyline, the Detroit River and beyond.
It’s reminiscent of the high-tech campuses of Silicon Valley and Austin, but instead of sprawling horizontally, it’s vertical, several stories (20th through 23rd floors?). “We” are supposed to want to work in such environments. They’re said to be designed for creative people like us. My Beloved loved her Alltel Financial Services in west Little Rock and in other years IBM Global Services offices around the country.
When I am downsized from newspapers, this is what I am supposed to covet.
I was creeped out.
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