Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Before other items intrude, let's hear it for our Iowa Hawkeyes who took advantage of their opportunity in the Outback Bowl by turning the South Carolina Gamecocks into Aussie Chicken Soup. Final score, 31-10. I love it, I admit, when those Dixie boys get sent back to their fiddle fests and stock car races wearing a big "L" on their foreheads.

When the weather you're living with is pretty benign - some rain, no snow, no bitter winds, no need for multiple layers to save the skin on your face from reddening, then losing all feeling, no treacherous ice on the roads to deal with - it's sometimes easy to forget that others are dealing with precisely those things AND must pay more for the privilege of not shivering at home by using the TV as an extra heating appliance. I do recall these things along with shrieking blizzards, uncleared parking lots and the lists of school cancellations. To those tough people obliged to deal with these things I offer my moral support and good wishes. As Jimmy Carter said, "Life is unfair". Amen to that.

Last week this space was full of serious stuff. I won't risk the chance of hearing anything like "Haven't you talked about this stuff before?" Maybe next week we can parse the words of Obama's Inaugural address.
But this week we celebrate an anniversary the media has noted. Motown Records had its beginning fifty years ago. Not to seem too sentimental, but the company's beginnings really were humble. The whole operation was run from a smallish home in Detroit, with enough room left over to house founder Barry Gordy's family on the top floor. You can tour the place today in about two minutes.
True, things get started in humble ways about every minute in this country. Most die a quick, unnoticed death. A few hang on over the years to provide the means of living for one or several
families. A tiny number find a way to combine skill, talent, timing and luck to produce something which changes the world.
Is that an overstatement? I'll grant that it IS a subjective kind of statement, tough to prove with numbers alone. Motown had competitors who supplied plenty of great soul music. But Motown's goal wasn't to supply just one category of music, but in marketing their music to the whole country, hence the slogan "The music of young America" not of "ethnic" or "black" America.
Consider just a sampling of names of those who worked for this record label: Diana Ross (and, of course, the Supremes), The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gay, Smokey Robinson, the Jackson family, including Michael, Martha Reeves and so on. Even without these, there are dozens of Motown songs that have entered our brains so thoroughly that we know the words and tunes even though we couldn't guess if it was the Ronettes, the Chffons or the Marvelettes who first recoded them. The Beatles did Motown songs. So did the Rolling Stones along with other groups you might know.
Maybe someone else could have come along to give us "Dancing in the Streets" or "My Girl", but it wasn't. I guess it's not the Grand Canyon or the Mississippi River, but if we ever had a cultural export that made people around the world smile, it would include the Motown song library. My thanks to Barry, Smoky and all the others for making the world better.


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