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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Of course another Midwestern city working to reinvent itself after the near-collapse of the auto industry is Detroit. And as part of our continuing look at how people hear the American Dream through music, we couldn't resist calling Detroit music writer Dream Hampton. Her song pick is a short one.

DREAM HAMPTON: The White Stripes' "Little Room" is only 50 seconds long. It's meant to be a manifesto on success. Jack White sings about working on something good in his little room, only to have that something good move him to a bigger room, where he's lost and has to consider downsizing to re-center.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE ROOM")

WHITE STRIPES: (Singing) Well, you're in your little room and you're working on something good. But if it's really good, you're gonna need a bigger room. And when you're in the bigger room, you might not know what to do. You might have to think of how you got started sitting in your little room...

HAMPTON: While the song is almost certainly an inventory of personal success, for me, in this moment, it is also about Detroit. I moved back to my much-maligned hometown just after my homeboy, Jack White, moved to Nashville. Despite its downturn, I've always been proud of my Motor City.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LITTLE ROOM")

HAMPTON: Yet recapturing or reclaiming the city's industrial past when manufacturing was booming is neither possible nor desirable. I moved home because another Detroit is happening. Instead of working to re-attract new, large factories that are almost always disconnected to the health of the land and the air, many Detroiters are focused on making something instead of manufacturing something. One example are the food deserts that force local residents to plant hundreds of urban gardens on the city's thousands of vacant lots. Those farms provide fresh produce, but they also help to create a space for much-needed healing after decades of crime and violence. They help to put the neighbor back in the hood, as former gang member and local activist Yusef Shakur likes to say. Jack White uses the little room as a metaphor for simple living. The outsized room that he'd associated with success is ultimately empty and uninspiring. My big home city has shrunk into a town now small enough to reimagine a more sustainable American Dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DETROIT CITY")

BOBBY BARE: (Singing) Last night, I went to sleep in Detroit City...

GREENE: Dream Hampton is a music writer once again back in Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DETROIT CITY")

BARE: ...about those problem fields back home. I dreamed about my mother, my daddy, sisters and brothers, and I dreamed about that girl...

GREENE: This is NPR News.

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