I’m reading about the troubles of Boeing’s grounded 787 airliners. And I’m thinking that, somewhere, Gordon Sinclair must be bitterly disappointed in us.
Sinclair, for the non-pop-obsessives in the crowd, was the Toronto radio commentator who stuck up for the beleaguered United States in his spoken-word editorial “The Americans.”
Sinclair’s narration, set to stentorian patriotic music, became a surprise U.S. Top 40 hit early in 1974.
Detroit radio newsreader Byron MacGregor released a similar version at around the same time. Such was America’s hunger for reassurance that both records rode the U.S. Top 40 at the same time, with MacGregor’s reaching the Top 10.
(“The Americans” has resurfaced since then at times of great national distress, most notably after the 9/11 attacks. It is sometimes passed off as a new commentary, presumably by non-pop-obsessives unaware of its once inescapable radio presence.)
“The Americans” is a rambling ham-handed mess of a record — sort of a John Wayne-meets-Barry-Goldwater cocktail, with a dimly discernible aftertaste of Howard Cosell.
Over the course of four minutes and 40 seconds, Sinclair orates all over the place, ending with a wedged-in news item about the American Red Cross that totally defuses what would have been a much stronger closing statement 20 seconds earlier.
For whatever reason, the part of “The Americans” that always sticks with me is a random detour in which Sinclair champions America’s mastery of the airplane industry.
Go on, he hectors the listener (I’m paraphrasing here.) Show me an airplane the equal of a Boeing, a Lockheed, or a McDonnell-Douglas. Every commercial airline in the world except the Russians buys American planes. If anyone else can build planes as well as we do, why don’t they fly them?
It’s a factual enough boast, I suppose. But it always baffles me — maybe because it comes out of left field and is set in contradictory context.
One moment, Sinclair is mentioning the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine; the next, he’s going on about the glories of America’s jumbo jets. U.S. government policies meant to restore war-torn nations have no particular parallel with the aerospace industry, which was and is a for-profit enterprise devoted to no greater good than the bottom line.
(Put more simply: America didn’t get good at making planes because it wanted to help everybody else.)
I also can’t help but interpret it as a tacit acknowledgement that the U.S. auto industry wasn’t what it used to be.
Lots of other countries built cars, but few of them did so with the style, grace and quality of America at its best. I wonder if Sinclair’s failure to doff his cap toward Detroit was more than coincidental. (I would guess the average American in those days would have boasted about Ford Mustangs or Chevrolet Corvettes long before Boeing jumbo jets.)
Fast-forward to 2013, anyway, and now it doesn’t even seem like we build planes like we used to.
Gordon Sinclair is long dead. But it tickles me to imagine him sitting doughtily behind his mic, despairing about America’s loss of aerospatial reputation, and perhaps even throwing in the towel:
You know what? You can’t even trust American airplanes any more. I wash my hands of that country. The devil take the bunch of ‘em.
Say, how ’bout them Leafs?
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I wasn’t gonna put this in here, but just for the sheer hell of it, here’s a link to “The Americans.” The part about airplanes starts about 1:50 in, if you want to skip there.