Five years ago Motown celebrated its golden anniversary. From the moment I started this blog Motown was one of the first subjects that came to mind for discussion within it. As with many writers/bloggers I do tend to write from a certain framework. Most of the time its inspiration. Sometimes its based on a current event. Other times its based on a recent conversation with someone whose ideas and viewpoints I value greatly. And in that spirit I would like to dedicate this article to three people. I would like to thank Henrique Hopkins in Oakland California,whose WordPress blog Riquespeaks is more than worth checking out for all of you readers out there. To Thomas Carley,former Tower Records employing in Aloha Oregon who has devoted much time to using online social media to create more humanistic relations between musicians/singers and their admirers and to my family-the people who first endowed me with the love of music which has shaped the best moments of my life. With the exception of my family,having of course known them all my life, me seeking out strong bonds with Mr.Hopkins and Mr.Carley have much to do with my personal connection to Motown. And I’ll start with a story you’ll hopefully enjoy.
This story is a rewind into the past,when I was 11 years old and inspired by a nostalgia inducing family car ride into the area I am about to talk about. It was the summer of 1991. My mother was working part time that year at a local health food store. As part of my family’s interest in non institutionalized hands on education,it was suggested I accompany her to see how that type of job operated. As that turned out it became another place of play for a young person like me. However it was what happened on the way there that was interesting. At that time my family summered by a lake that was a good 25 minutes to half an hour car ride from that store. The route took you through quaint rural communities. And it was early in the morning,around 7AM and I could see the sun coming up. Never having been a morning person,apparently since infancy my mother kept the radio on so I’d stay at least somewhat awake. Her favorite station during this time would tend to be WGUY,an oldies station which at the time operated on 102.1 on the FM dial and was run by local personality Chuck Foster. Since I’d travel with her at the beginning of the week,the first thing I’d hear was Motown Monday’s.
In all honesty I perceived Motown as a group at that time-with people such as Diana Ross,Smokey Robinson,Marvin Gaye,Stevie Wonder and Martha Reeves being its members. So on this half hour journey between night and day,sleep and consciousness I would hear “Dancing In The Street”,”Tears Of A Clown”,”I Heard It Through The Grape Vine” and my personal favorite “Reach Out I’ll Be There”. Even at that age this was unlike any music I’d heard before. Some of the musical ideas seemed as if they derived from a foreign country. The vocals and rhythms were more powerful and happy than anything else I’d heard to that day. Remember the context created a unique atmosphere for all of this. I would hear this songs with my eyes half open,in a near dream state-the sky around me different shades of purple,blue and magenta. I remember looking over with half open eyes at the little multi colored houses on either side of the road-spread out here and there with elements of an old abandoned road in front of them. Though people commonly fantasize on their youth in revision,I can genuinely remember wondering how these people in these little houses felt about this music I was hearing if they too had this radio station on.
Of course a few years later,it was my mother-not half the musical historian my father is by her own admission,told me what Motown really was. I found out about Berry Gordy,the Hitsville building-all of that. Seeing the Motown artists perform and having to endure the consistent barrage of 1990’s era trash talking about Motown artists and Gordy’s business practices had no effect on my appreciation of the music. Even if out of spite for such venom,they only increased my genuine appreciated on Motown’s music. So what has Motown bought to my life? Well I would describe it as something a bit magical-no hyperbole intended at all. Even as I was deeply involved in my discovery of heavy funk in adolescence,it always seemed that my favorite music of the sort was (and still is) based on carefully crafted melodies and unique rhythmic ideas. Of course those are both traits that,among other things,is one of Motown’s hallmarks. Not to mention the seriously funky groove that Motown produced with the Temptations,Undisputed Truth, Commodores,Jackson 5 and Rick James. Yet somehow or other,it was hearing these Motor City hits at dawn on a Maine rural route that actually made the Motown sound such an important reference point in my life. Even to the extent the many stories I learned about it’s history influenced who I seek out for musically based conversation and companionship. So another thank you to my family and friends. And a big thank you to Motown itself.