Dear Michael and Caroline,
Out we strutted in front of the curtain, right up to the mikes, and on came “Cloud Nine” over the public address system. It was probably a Saturday night and the high school auditorium was packed with a few hundred spectators.
We lip-synched all the lyrics, just as we had practiced, and danced our number, stepping left, then right, forward, then back. We mimicked the Temps, who had some patented moves, hands flung overhead, hands gliding from side to side.
All along we tried to look super-cool, like we really were the very embodiment of Motown soul. We were all singing together and then I stepped out for my solo. I was pretending to be Eddie Kendricks, who sang falsetto.
And now came my lyrics: “And every man, every man, has to be free.” And I flung my hands aloft, trying to look like Mr. Soul.
I swear the entire auditorium broke into a laugh, surprising me with its force, a tidal wave of raucous laughing. Maybe it was because the solo was so flamboyantly, flamingly falsetto. Maybe it was because my moves were so heartfelt that I really sold the number in. Or maybe it was just the utter absurdity of a white Jewish boy from a split-level making like some funky ghetto dude from the down-and-dirty projects.
Or all three.
But whatever the explanation, I got a big kick out of it, unforgettably so. Someone else won the competition, I forget who, but it made no different to me, or to us. Larry and Eric and I caught kudos around the school for weeks, attaining a modest measure of celebrity, and you can be sure we thrived on it.
And as you’ve probably noticed, I love Motown still, no less today than I did that night almost 38 years ago. Still dance to it, too, either on the steps or the terrace.
And once, back around 1993, I got to meet Motown’s founder, Berry Gordy. It was an annual dinner on Ellis Island for something called the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations.
And coming toward me I saw none other than Mr. Gordy, instantly recognizable. He was the entrepreneur who had engineered it all.
And without hesitating for even a second, I went right over to him and put out my hand. “You’re responsible for a lot of great music,” I said, and shook his hand.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile, as if hearing this compliment for the first time in his life.
The big deal for me here went well beyond meeting Gordy. It was getting a chance to express my appreciation to him. To pay my respects.
In retrospect, I realize that I could have taken another minute to tell him about that talent show in my youth, and how we had paid our respects back then, too. But I must have thought better of doing that, and it’s probably just as well. Maybe, somehow, he knew anyway.
P.S. – Do you dance? Do your kids dance? Where do you stand on the whole dance issue?