John Rich: Nation’s Financial Crisis Inspired “Shuttin’ Detroit Down”

Singer-Songwriter Talks Economics, Politics in CMT Insider Interview

Earlier this week, John Rich sat down with CMT Insider producer Tim Hardiman to explain the inspiration behind his latest hit, “Shuttin’ Detroit Down,” a track from his new solo album, Son of a Preacher Man. Here, in his own words, the outspoken singer-songwriter talks about the moment the nation’s financial crisis inspired him to write the song. He also calls out people who waste taxpayers’ money and explains why Americans need to stay informed.

I used Detroit as the emblem of hard-working America. There’s not one other singular city in our country that is more devastated by the financial crisis that we are going through right now. Where I come from, it’s farmers. Up there, it’s auto workers. You go around the country, it’s different wherever you go, but the sentiment is the same. People are upset. They are scared. They are either losing their jobs or might lose their job. Their confidence is non-existent. And when they turn on the news and they see some of the abuse going on with their tax dollars … disrespect. That’s the big word. Disrespect, more than anything, is what prompted me to write the song. I see, for the most part, people chiming in with me on that and going, “Hell, yeah. That’s what I think.”

I guess what finally pushed me over the edge to write this song was, I’m sitting on the couch one night with my bulldog, Frank. We’re sitting there watching the news together, and I see that the CEO of Merrill Lynch has taken $1.2 million of his bailout money — our money, yours and mine — and remodeled his office in New York. Complete with a $38,000 toilet. [Editor’s note: Merrill Lynch CEO John A. Thain was fired from the position in January after the company was purchased by Bank of America.] And I just shook my head and went, “They make $38,000 toilets?” That’s the first thing I thought. Then I thought, “That guy bought one with our tax dollars that we bailed him out with? What is going on?” And my blood pressure went up. I sat down with a blank piece of paper and wrote the chorus to “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.”

A couple weeks later, I was with John Anderson — the great John Anderson, “Seminole Wind,” “Swingin'” — and he was over at the house. I sang him the chorus, and he said, “You know what that is?” And I said, “What’s that, John?” And he said, “That’s the by God honky-tonk truth!” I said, “Do you want to help me write the verses?” and he said, “Absolutely.” So we sat down and finished the song together. And I do think calling out people like CEOs … and calling out people in our government that keep giving them the money is fine to do. That’s what being an American is all about. It’s OK. You don’t have to be some maniac out here acting crazy, but a little common sense goes a long way nowadays. I don’t see a lot of it out there.

The ironic thing to me is watching our government give, let’s say for instance, $200 billion to AIG with no strings attached. I mean, letting Timothy Geithner be the treasury secretary is like letting Dracula run the blood bank. I mean, seriously, $200 billion, no strings attached? Then Detroit comes up, comes into town, and they actually hire all these hardworking blue-collar Americans, and they’re begging and screaming and whatever we gotta do just to get a small [amount] — not even 1 percent — of $200 billion. I think there is a double standard. I think there is a lust affair going on between D.C. and Wall Street that we all see now plain as day, and none of us like it.

This is something that everybody … needs to remember: If the government gives it to you, the government can take it away from you. Today on the news, we see that our government fired the CEO of GM. A private sector job. The government fired him. Well, why did they do that? Because they accepted a lot of money from the government, so that gives the government the ability to now take things away. I think it’s a very slippery slope. I think it’s a dangerous time in America. I think it’s incumbent upon every American to educate themselves. Watch the news, read the newspapers, have discussions with your neighbors, with your kids, with your parents, with your brothers and sisters. Talk about what’s going on, and let’s get a handle on this thing because nobody has a handle on it right now, and it is frightening to watch. I think that’s part of the reason why you see a song like “Shuttin’ Detroit Down” striking such a chord with people because it pretty much just lays it out in a country music song.

What’s interesting is there are so many corrupt people right now. You saw the Bernie Madoff thing? The [former] CEO of Merrill Lynch, who I consider to be corrupt as well, actually was the guy who inspired me to write “Shuttin’ Detroit Down.” And then you find out that John McCain — who I went out and campaigned with for a year — that one of his financial advisors was the Merrill Lynch guy, right? And you just go, “When does this end?” So many great people like John McCain or all these actors and people that have done so much charitable work for people, see a guy like Bernie Madoff come in and just wreck — wreck — their finances. Just steal their money, and they’ll never get it back. And taking it from charities. It is an enraging thing. I bet John McCain — knowing him like I do and being around him — if he could go in there and put that guy in a chokehold for about three minutes, I bet he’d do it. I guarantee he’s not happy about it. And if you’ll notice, John McCain is one of those guys leading the fight up on the Hill to try to get a handle on this stuff.

Listen, like I said before, educate yourself, read the newspaper, follow the news. This is a big time for America. Stand up and be strong.