Motown Was the Soundtrack of My Generation
So I am finally going to address a big part of my youth I have too often been remiss in mentioning, a house on Grand Blvd. in Detroit, Michigan with a sign reading Hitsville USA.
In case you think for a minute that the Motown sound is now only part of music history I would suggest you watch a replay of the Grammys and notice at what point the place went crazy, rose to their feet danced and sang along with the music.
Nope it wasn’t Lizzo, it was when Stevie Wonder started playing, Smokey sang and the audience young and old knew every word and moved every part of their body.
That house on Grand Blvd. was far more than just a place where some of the greatest rock and roll music was created and sung, it was a symbol of the sixties and that something great was happening.
Let it be known this is not a political piece and forgive me if I sound preachy; it is merely a reminder of what Motown gave the world. It is a recap of how far we came and are now slipping back from.
My generation grew up in the fifties and sixties. We were guided through these decades by the advent of television and its huge impact on our lives.
For the first time we could actually watch history occurring in front of us as when Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered in a Dallas police station after he shot the president; which we also saw first hand. In a way it sensitized us to certain aspects of life. Yet it also gave us a front row seat to our own destiny.
I ate breakfast in front of a tiny black and white television, but despite its size it didn’t preclude me from watching enormous historical events that shaped our lives.
I observed a black girl in Mississippi escorted into school by the National Guard. Of course I was young and didn’t understand why anyone would go to such lengths to attend school when I would have welcomed a day off. To this day I can see the scene in my mind’s eye for that day brought an awareness of a world of which we were all now a part.
The sixties were turbulent times. Viet Nam divided the country but united a generation. Blacks and whites marched together in unison to stop a war.
The Civil Rights marches in the south, especially in Selma with Martin Luther King saw blacks and whites bonding for a cause. And the soundtrack to this upheaval was born in a white house in Detroit, Michigan.
To my generation especially Detroiters, there was a sense of pride in our contribution. We felt we were a part of something much greater and while we spent our days in school actually learning math and civics, we also rushed home to listen to the music of The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas and so many more.
Motown artists like the Temptations recorded songs like Ball of Confusion, Edwin Starr’s Warand Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On? Each made a political statement and sent a strong message with their lyrics.
And the message resonated from that white house in Detroit to the entire country that transformation needed to come.
Our generation took up the mantel of change and wore it proudly; Peace love and Rock‘n’Roll. We were the hippies, the love generation and although many later turned yuppie their values for their fellow man never shifted.
Now I’m not saying there weren’t still problems and issues that needed to be solved. Of course I’m aware that those who hate can’t be legislated out of existence. That is a problem that will exist as long as man is the primitive creature he remains. Yet, so much was accomplished and the future looked so much brighter then.
When I hear how bad race relations are in America, I wonder what generation dropped the ball. I know it wasn’t mine. It wasn’t the Baby Boomers who still listen to Motown with a sense of pride and affirmation and have kept its message alive and well.
I believe for the first time music truly defined a generation, and of course although it always had in many ways, to the Baby Boomers it was the mantra of peace, solidarity and renewal. It was Abraham, Martin and John and carrying their torch into the future.
Motown signaled acceptance and coexistence between all races and the dancing and marching, and what the hell happened?
Which generation started hating again? Which lost Martin’s message and tossed away all the principals and pacifism we had embedded in society?
Motown brought us together through music and a realization blacks and whites are not separate and can embrace unity. My generation listened, learned and discovered a way to make it all work.
Somewhere along the way others stole the message and corrupted and reinvented it into hatred and marginalization.
I won’t go into how political leaders from both parties were most guilty of this bastardization, but I can tell you it wasn’t the Baby Boomers.
The bond between our generation and Motown was and still is as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. That was quite evident the other night at the Grammys when everyone stood and danced to the music, just as mesmerized by the sounds and lyrics as ever.
I hear too many groups espouse the theory today that blacks and whites are incapable of peaceful coexistence, of accomplishing great things together and ending racial hatred. That the malice and anger was below the surface and festering all these years.
I must wonder where all this is coming from?
Who dredged it up from its burial plot and resurrected all this resentment? I know it wasn’t Baby Boomers because we are still very much in tune with our message.
Motown was no fluke that simply arrived on the music scene to create eternal music; it was much more. It was proof positive that race is no barrier to understanding and unity, that all people can stand together, dance together and sing together in unison.
Perhaps the generation that now declares this coexistence is impossible needs a lesson or two in history. While they are learning they need a soundtrack of Motown to validate it is possible and Baby Boomers were the ones to give peace a chance. Maybe they should drive by that Hitsville, USA house and see for themselves how it’s done. And if I sound like I’m baking pie in the sky here, check out the lyrics to Gladys Knight and the Pips’ Friendship Train and hop the hell on.