Coincidentally coming on the heels of the Nutella to my spoon's post about the Beatles and revisionist history, comes Idolator's post about Vanity Fair's December 2008 feature, "It Happened in Hitsville," an oral history of Motown. And while Paul McCartney's jive turkey approach to life irks me, what really grinds my gears is the enigma that is wrapped in a riddle that is covered in a David Lynch film that is rolled in a pile of bullshit that is the "real story" of Motown. Over 50 books have been written about the rise and fall of the greatest pop label in music history (I like this one) and Berry Gordy's 1995 autobiography was his big attempt to "set the record straight." But it seems like every time the record needs to get straightened (most recently with the release of the film Dreamgirls, and FYI Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson are still pissed) the same song and dance gets performed, and it's no Cholly Atkins routine either.
It comes down to this: I am sick and tired of Berry Gordy fellating himself. Yes, he did the unthinkable and created a black owned musical dynasty that united races via the magic of pop music. He paved the way for so so so many people in the music industry and with an $800 loan from his family he managed to create one of the greatest legacies the music world will ever know. But at the same time, he isn't playing fair. When he says "set the record straight" he means telling us that he wasn't involved in the Mafia, didn't believe in payola and is in no way shape or form portrayed accurately by Jamie Foxx. But that isn't the real story of Motown. His part in the oral history only focuses on what a victim he was and spends little time talking about the music. And Martha Reeves, Smokey, Stevie Wonder and Holland-Dozier-Holland all come out and defend Gordy, be it about the various artist lawsuits he was involved in (HDH's being rather significant, but the composers say that they have nothing but love for their former boss), his decision to move the label to L.A. (the biggest fail of all time) or about special treatment that Diana Ross, whose testimony is noticeably absent from the piece, may or may not have received. Gordy on Ross and the Supremes from the VF article:
"It just came time when it was best for them to split up. I don’t really remember my part in that—I was always objective. The fact that I went with Diana Ross—she never took advantage of that and I never gave her an advantage. She didn’t want any favors; she wanted to do what was right. If she got more attention at Motown, it was because she was good; it was all about the work. That’s why we broke up. We always said [we would] if [the relationship] came in the way of her work. I knew she wanted to be a superstar."Bitch PLEASE. Ross got no special treatment? You didn't groom her to be a star? I find that very hard to believe, especially when you say things like:
"It’s very clear why I fell in love with Diana—because she was my star, and she came from the bottom up. With her it was not only fun, it was just like heaven working with her because she would surpass anything … and she always kept her self-esteem. She always told me, “If you think it, I can do it.” And she did."Everybody at Motown came from the bottom up you clownshoe. She was no better and no different than most girls there. I love a good Diana tune every now and again but she is not the reason I love those songs. HDH and the Funk Brothers are the reason why I love those songs. I love a Marvin Gaye song FOR Marvin Gaye. Same with Stevie. But she was not an artist. She was just a singer, a puppet, a style, a look. She was the face of Motown in many ways, but that doesn't mean she was an actual musician. Her Tweety Bird shtick was never my bag and as long as we're being honest, I think the Supremes were the least interesting and provocative group musically at Hitsville. But that's just me.
Don't get me wrong. I don't think Motown's remaining alums are all liars or that they live in fear of angering Chairman Gordy (well, maybe a little bit) but reading this piece just reminds me that certain people, namely the Funk Brothers and Marvin Gaye (and what about Tammi? Poor Tammi Terrell. While I have to read more snooze inducing anecdotes about Diana and Berry's special and magical union, I could be reading about Tammi and Marvin's heartbreaking secret/rumored but confirmed by many in the Motown circle, notably Martha Reeves and Brenda Holloway, affair), get a very specific kind of treatment when Gordy decides to take a trip down memory lane. And while Gaye and most of the Brothers aren't here to tell their experience, it pisses me off that some of the labels greatest contributors get pat remarks from Gordy like:
"Marvin had a divided soul. He looked upon me as a father figure and friend, but he wanted to have his own independence, and he would disagree with you all the time just for the sake of disagreeing. At the same time, he was a pure, wonderful, spiritual person who was looking for truth, honesty, and love. But I had major fights with Marvin Gaye because he did not think it was legal to have to pay taxes. He was convinced that it was not lawful, and I said, “Well, I don’t want to debate that with you, Marvin, but I do know if you don’t pay your taxes, you’re going to jail.”
Really Berry? Is tax evasion what you guys fought about? Not about him being married to your sister Anna who was 17 years his senior and the complications that grew out of your brother-in-law/boss role? Not about the cluster fuck that was his divorce from your sister and the ensuing legal battle that produced the greatest break-up and fuck you album of all time, Here, My Dear? And about What's Going On, the watershed album that ushered in Gaye's musical independence?:
"I heard the album [What’s Going On], and I thought it was really meaningful, but he was a pop singer, and I told him, “Marvin, think about your great image that you built up: do you really want to talk about police brutality?” I could see he had pain and passion and he wanted to awaken the minds of men. He said, “B.G., you gotta let me do this,” and I was really hesitant. Not for me, but for him. I didn’t want his career to be gone. I said, “O.K., Marvin, but if it doesn’t work, you’ll learn something, and if it does work, I’ll learn something.” So I learned something."Stop B.G., you're making me blush. Your modesty is truly inspiring. Quit playing. You were about as hesitant for him as I am hesitant to eat a burrito right now. And if you knew me, you would know: I am never hesitant to eat a burrito.
It's OK though. I just know not to turn to the label's founder for true insight. I have Standing in the Shadows of Motown for that. And I have this to cheer me up:
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It Happened in Hitsville [Vanity Fair]
Today's Must-Read [idolator]