Thursday, 30 May 2019
Come See About Me
I've been reading Stuart Cosgrove's Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul,the best music related book I've read for some time (and have Jon Savage's recent Joy Division book lined up next which promises to equally good). In Detroit 67 Stuart Cosgrove takes the reader through 1967, month by month, starting with the city almost completely shut down due to snow. From there on we see the year largely through the prism of Motown and the disintegrating relationships within The Supremes which led to Flo Ballard being removed from the group (and she then takes some dreadful advice and makes some poor decisions which would contribute to her tragically early death at the age of just 32 in 1976). Throughout the year Berry Gordy faces further simmering discontent from his writing team Holland- Dozier- Holland, multiple lawsuits, the death of Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye's desire to move into recording socially conscious, politically aware songs (something Gordy tried to resist) and ructions within The Temptations (who would shift stylistically themselves as Norman Whtifiled began writng and recording their songs, making widescreen psychedelic soul). The year ends with the suicide of writer Rodger Penzabene, the lyricist of I Wish It Would Rain. John Sinclair and the MC5 are present, the hippy counter-culture battling police harassment, drug laws and right wing attitudes and violence. Central to the year and the book are the riots of July, five days of rebellion against a racist police force which culminate with the terrible events at the Algiers Motel and the subsequent court case and smouldering injustice. The Vietnam war, white flight from the centre of the city, a rising murder rate- it's a wonder the city survived at all. Detroit 67 is a meticulously researched, well written and fascinating study of a record label, individuals, a city, society and the USA as a whole.
There are times when the more you know about a musician/singer/writer/pop star, the less you like them. You can insert your own recent examples here I'm sure. Does it taint the music? Sometimes I think it does but then I put The Supremes on, and the thundering backing of The Funk Brothers comes into earshot and the combined talents of Holland- Dozier -Holland and Wells, Ross and Ballard for three minutes make the doubts fade away.
Come See About Me