Duct Taped Women And Orange Men


by Roxanne Tellier

I started writing this column days ago, and then it suddenly made a “left or a right turn into the United States, with a cargo of duct taped women tied up in the back of the car ” … january has 973 days

oh no, hang on – sorry!  .. that was Trump’s porno fantasy from Friday when he finally set the government workers free from their 35 day enslavement.

But I digress ….

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day 2019

Apparently we have learned very little, in these 74 years since the end of a war that showed us exactly what happens to humanity when racism becomes the approved government policy. (Spoiler alert: those in charge abandon their own humanity and blame it on sadism being a work requirement.)

moment of silence holocaust

Apparently we can’t see the similarities between the vilification of millions of human beings that occurred in Germany under Hitler, and the vilification of millions of human beings that is occurring right now, in America under Trump.

 

Too harsh? Consider what went down during the shutdown, as the Dems and Republicans wrangled over what ‘sop’ Herr Trump would have to receive before rescinding what was essentially a temporary enslavement (forced work without pay) of 800,000 government workers.

While he continued to demand the arbitrary hostage payment of $5.7 Billion for his magic wall, he also wanted to make it clear that there would be no amnesty on the table, no path to citizenship, for either the DACA kids, or the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have become valuable taxpaying residents of America since receiving Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

In fact, in his rebuttals to the FOX network talking heads who thought his offerings of a temporary respite meant that he was going soft, he made it quite clear that, whatever security he might extend to either the DACA kids or the TPS refugees, it would only be short-term – three years tops – and that he would pull back that protection whenever it suited his whim. trump wall kidnapped children

Say – after the next election, should he remain in power.

That whimsy also extended to about eleven million people who live in America illegally –  your neighbours and friends, who will likely eventually wind up as passengers on a bus, sent back to who knows where, on your tax dollar. He’s got plans to round them all up and deport them at some point. You are gonna miss them – they’ve been members of your community. Maybe you miss them already.

The truth is, illegal immigrants actually pay a lot of money in taxes;  the $11.2 billion in taxes paid by illegal immigrants in 2010 included $8.4 billion in sales taxes, $1.6 billion in property taxes and $1.2 billion in state personal income taxes.

Rich people pay next to nothing in taxes. Between tax shelters, trump’s new tax laws that only benefit the wealthy, and accountants that have never found a taxable dollar they couldn’t dress up as an expense, the wealthy pay a great deal less than pretty much anybody. Oh … and when the IRS or the Canadian equivalent go after tax dodgers, they’re far more likely to go after people with a middle class income than a millionaire’s income. (What they lose in quantity, they make up for in volume .. there’s just so many of us to shake down!)

Rich white people are not used to being held accountable; justice wears a different face for them.

maga hat wearers racistAnd, despite the argument that immigrants bring crime, the truth is that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crimes, if only to bring less attention to themselves and their families.

The rudimentary camps and tent cities that have been erected at the southern border are not concentration camps, at least, not yet. But there are just too many similarities in tone and in the mistreatment of human beings for the camps not to be considered fraternal if not identical twins.

Racism is like mother’s milk to many Americans – they imbibe it from birth, and it’s very hard to go cold turkey as you age, even when common sense, facts and science keep telling you that the milk has gone sour.

trayvon martin and killerThinking back to some of the ugliest of quasi Jim Crow laws still plaguing America in the twenty first century … Stand Your Ground, anyone? … there’s an irony in a George Zimmerman, ecstatic to have fulfilled his cop fantasy by killing a 17 year old boy whose only crime was wearing a hoodie and of bringing home some snacks to eat while he did his homework, quite possibly being someone whose looks get him ‘accidentally’ rounded up and deported for looking like someone they’d grab in an ICE sting..

President Obama once said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” and a whole lot of ‘not me! I’m no racist!’ types lost their minds. Because American audiences have been conditioned to see young black guys as bad guys – no matter what situation those kids might be in. They’ve been taught that black people are, as a group or individually, and of any age, creatures of whom you could honestly claim to see as being dangerous under even the most innocuous situations or in the most innocuous of places. Which then makes it logical that you might ‘fear for your life‘ of such a creature, even if it’s just a little twelve year old boy, playing with a toy gun, all by himself in a snowy park. That’s enough for someone to call 911, and suddenly, there’s a police car driving by, and a police gun that has a bullet with your name on it. And the cop doesn’t even have to get out of his car to kill you.

white people don't expect to be treated like black people‘Teenagers are teenagers, and they do stupid stuff’ only applies to white kids, apparently. Try to imagine if all of those 15, 16,and 17 year old ‘nice young men’ who terrorized their schools with AR-15s had been black.

Which reminds me … how old is Smirkboy, er .. I mean Nick Sandmann? Smirkboy, whose up close and personal encounter with a Native elder has kept him in the news for yet another week, is sixteen. He looked a little older when he was up in the elder’s face, but oh my how he’d changed in appearance by the time a good PR firm had taken him in hand.

This is what 16 looks like when you are being racist

maga hat teen smirking native elder vet

 

And this is what 16 looks like when you’ve been coached in how to make excuses for being racist. I can almost smell the peach fuzz. nick sandmann interview

 

 

 

 

 

 

politicians before and aferIt reminded me of nothing so much as how politicians present themselves before and after elections.

 

 

 

Yes, he was pretty young, just sweet sixteen, and yet, his Catholic school sent him off with his all boy school group to protest abortions at a Right to Life event. These kids were sent to be political actors. Rumour has it, the school actually provided them with the MAGA hats, which, if true, would be a pretty good reason to pull the school’s religious tax exemption.

The MAGA hats also show a genuine lack of logical thinking on the part of all who thought it appropriate gear when declaring the right to decide who has a ‘right to life’ … the hat supports a president who denigrates immigrants and refugees, and celebrates taking children from their parents and separating families.

Can you show me where the ‘right to life’ hurt you, on this doll? I mean .. MAGA hat?

The racism seems pretty much baked into the American cake, overall, despite Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court declaring the end of racism in America in 2013, largely based on one half black man becoming president of the United States.

trump would have torn down an obama wall

Well, it’s just over six years later, and the orange man is spending all of his time overturning everything the black man accomplished in his two terms.

 

 

So I’m gonna say Justice Roberts kinda jumped the gun there.

The orange man really can’t stand people of colour. Perhaps he is unaware that orange is a colour as well.

ms45 trump and mcconnell in prison

And with any luck, and based on his many crimes against a different colour of humanity, time will prove that orange IS the new black …

 

………………………….

 

while I think of it.. it’s that time of year again! The 2019 Overgrow Canada campaign has begun, and it’s time to sign up for your 100 free cannabis seeds! These are a low-THC, high-CBD strain called Freedom Dream

The goal of this campaign is to get these plants growing in public places. Sprout them at home and get them started, then put the seedlings in traffic circles, community parks, city hall gardens, and anywhere else where they can be seen and enjoyed by everyone.

Many people have been growing these plants at home, to produce a source of CBD. That’s fine too!”

Clink the link to get started!

https://sensiblebc.nationbuilder.com/free_cannabis_seeds?utm_campaign=on_og_with_poppies

 

Watching The Dream Die


lbj lowest black man

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.
— Lyndon Johnson, 36th President of the United States of America

Martin Luther King Jr had a dream. And he died for it, along with the many others, of all colours, who fought to bring the civil rights movement to America.

Norman Rockwell Murder in MississippiIt took many years, and many lives, but the leaders of the civil rights movement persevered with the goal of securing legal rights for African Americans, rights that other Americans had already held. The movement resulted in large legislative impacts, including the installment of the first black U.S. Supreme Court justice. Mountains were moved to accomplish their goals of ending legal racial segregation and discrimination. Using non-violent campaigns, they achieved new recognitions in the legal, federal protection of ALL Americans.

 

Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) was a U.S. Supreme Court justice and civil rights advocate. Marshall earned an important place in American history on the basis of two accomplishments. First, as legal counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he guided the litigation that destroyed the legal underpinnings of Jim Crow segregation. Second, as an associate justice of the Supreme Court–the nation’s first black justice–he crafted a distinctive jurisprudence marked by uncompromising liberalism, unusual attentiveness to practical considerations beyond the formalities of law, and an indefatigable willingness to dissent.” 

Norman Rockwell Right to Know

Donald Trump is the nightmare that people of colour have wrestled with all of their lives, the creature that haunts their dreams and makes them hold their babies closer. And his minions, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and most especially that evil gnome Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, have waited patiently for decades for just this moment in time to arrive, and vindicate their most malevolent, bigoted thoughts. At first, he was just the fool who egged on racists throughout Barack Obama‘s presidency with his ridiculous birtherism theory, but now Trump’s tweets and rants have galvanized fear and ignorance, like a lit match dropped into the gasoline of repressed racism. To his base’s clear delight, they are relaxing into an overt racism in which they can lawfully and openly show their hatred of people of colour, supported by their horrific master.

trump supports hate facesTrump’s tweeting is beyond a dog whistle to his racist supporters – it’s even beyond a bull horn. It’s an IV of disgusting, depraved poison, that is constant and inescapable and that excites the part of his follower’s brain that delights in cruelty and chaos.

By contrast, consider the struggle for civil rights in America. I’m old enough to remember how violently so many struggled to prevent integration. There were threats, there were beatings, there were murders. We in Canada watched from afar as the country battled it’s way to a new view on human rights and human dignity.

rosa parks on busEverything that Trump does and says is another giant step towards obliterating that essential moment in American history.

Now, even if you are someone that believes that free speech, even hate speech, is your right, what has to be remembered is that this division of the population is not just unsettling – it’s fundamentally a national security issue. The nation is weaker when the people are fighting against each other.

This weekend is the one year anniversary of the murder of an innocent woman who had been counter-protesting racists marching on Charlottesville. A group of white supremacists, screaming racist, ethnic and misogynistic slogans and carrying tiki torches, rallied to “Unite The Right“. During that protest, one person was killed and 19 others were injured when a car sped into a group of counter-protesters.

charlottesville nazisThe original reason for the 2017 march centered around, amongst other things, protesting the removal of statues of Confederate leaders. Unless you are a pigeon with no other options, the removal of a statue should not really be either cause for alarm, or a reason to hurt another person.

And here’s the most interesting thing about those statues. The Confederacy was a treasonous attack on the United States of America. It was only because of Lincoln’s decision not to ’embarrass’ the people who’d supported the Confederate Army that the leaders escaped being hung for treason.

Northerners took a pragmatic approach to the war’s end. They realized the impracticality of trying thousands of Southerners for disloyalty in states where juries were unlikely to deliver guilty verdicts, and that continued cries of treason would interfere with the more important task of nation-building.

Ironically, the lenient approach allowed Robert E. Lee and other Confederate leaders to become heroic figures to later generations of Americans of all sections, says Blair, citing words written by Union Gen. George Thomas in 1868: “The crime of treason might be covered with a counterfeit varnish of patriotism, so that the precipitators of the rebellion might go down in history hand-in-hand with the defenders of the (US) Government.”  (see: www.futurity.org.)

After the Charlottesville riots, Trump refused to call out the militant right marching under a Nazi banner. Instead, the President of the United States said :

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

david duke kkk tweetAs CNN explained in an editorial in August 2017, “ Both sides don’t scream racist and anti-Semitic things at people with whom they disagree. They don’t base a belief system on the superiority of one race over others. They don’t get into fistfights with people who don’t see things their way. They don’t create chaos and leave a trail of injured behind them.

 Arguing that “both sides do it” deeply misunderstands the hate and intolerance at the core of this “Unite the Right” rally. These people are bigots. They are hate-filled. This is not just a protest where things, unfortunately, got violent. Violence sits at the heart of their warped belief system.

 Trying to fit these hate-mongers into the political/ideological spectrum — which appears to be what Trump is doing — speaks to his failure to grasp what’s at play here. This is not a “conservatives say this, liberals say that” sort of situation. We all should stand against this sort of violent intolerance and work to eradicate it from our society — whether Democrat, Republican, Independent or not political in the least.”

And as actor/director Spike Lee told an interviewer just this week,  “The President of the United States had a chance to denounce hate. The whole world saw what happened and he didn’t do it.”

There is no “other side” to racism if you live in a democracy. There is no “right” to be racist. There is no ‘racist amendment’ that would allow racists to be tolerated in any situation. There is NO validity to their arguments of white superiority, only anti-social activity that tears apart society.

Norman Rockwell 1964 young girl

However, the climate fomented and nurtured by Trump’s administration not only encourages overt racism, it is tacitly welcomed and rarely held accountable for the pain and discomfort of those upon whom this abuse is waged.

This new fad of calling 911 on people living their life while being black will most certainly, inevitably, eventually, get someone killed. People of colour know that siccing the cops on a person of colour can and will often devolve into a life or death situation.

Just ask actor Ving Rhames, who was a target of racial profiling earlier this year. A neighbour called the LAPD  after a neighbour claimed to have seen a ‘large black man breaking into a house.”

Rhames, who had been watching television in his Santa Monica home with his two English bulldogs, answered the door.

“I get up, I open the door, there’s a red dot pointed at my face from a 9 millimeter,” Rhames. “And they say, ‘Put up your hands.'”

Last year, NBA All-Star Lebron James’ Los Angeles home was vandalized with N-word graffitti, and in March of this year, Milwaukee Bucks player Sterling Brown was seen in a video being tackled to the ground for a parking infraction.

bbqing while blackJust being AWBAlive While Black – has lead to a fad of white people calling 911 to report their fear of black people golfing too slowly, eating waffles, waiting for a client in a Starbucks, handing out campaign literature, napping at lunch, barbecuing at a public park, asking to use a valid coupon, eating their lunch, being a real estate agent, swimming in their public community pool, checking out of an AirBnB without acknowledging a wave, or seeing an 8 year old child selling cold bottled water on a warm day.

And in response to these frantic calls from white people, most of these innocent people had to deal with the police showing up, with flashing sirens and guns blazing. After all, the steadfast perspective of white callers seems to always be far more trustworthy than the potentially criminal actions of law-abiding, tax- paying, black citizens.

I’ve yet to hear of any accountability being demanded of the people who are wasting precious police resources by calling the police on innocent parties. Nor have I heard of any of those who’ve had their lives put into danger, successfully suing the callers or their employers. But I hope that becomes a fad, and soon.

From his first speech on the campaign trail, Trump has been overtly, aggressively, racist, condemning and dismissing people of colour. Although an elected president is supposed to be the president of all of the people, he is selective about whom he chooses to favour or flay.  As if his spoken and tweeted attacks on (black) football players for their non-violent protest of taking a knee during the National Anthem, despite their repeated explanations of what the protest means, weren’t annoying enough, his continued attacks actually break two laws.

law on kneeling for flag

A federal law, enacted in 1943, says that no citizen can be forced to participate in rituals that are used with the flag or any other symbol of the United States.

And 18 U.S. Code 227 is a law that could be used against Trump in response to his various statements about private businesses, including the NFL. This law prohibits “the President, as well as members of Congress and other federal officials, from “wrongfully influencing a private entity’s employment decisions.” Persons convicted under this statute face up to 15 years in prison and disqualification from public office.

Trump continuously recommending, even commanding, that protesting players be fired or punished seems to fit 18 U.S. Code § 227’s basic definition.”

Racism, white supremacy, and white nationalism; when the president and his administration tell the country to turn against a huge segment of their own people, that country is ripe for exploitation by those that will use that division for their own purposes and gain. When the president demonizes certain segments of the working population as somehow being less fit, less trustworthy or less capable, the enemies of the United States have their toehold into an internal, fractured, weakness that can be used against the country.

But I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for anyone in this administration to call him on either of these crimes. They are all too busy dismantling America and democracy.

And killing that beautiful dream….

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day, CMW and This is America


mum with r and j 1960.jpg 001My mother has been gone since April of 1992 … 26 years now. There are days when it feels like we were playing a spirited game of Rummoli only yesterday, and other days when I can’t remember what it was like to have my own little family. After my mum and grandmother died just days apart in that horrible year, the tenuous link we had with Montreal was broken. While I’ve been ‘home’ a few times since then, Quebec hasn’t really drawn me back for decades.

I thought of my mum on Thursday, when I spoke with a small boy who was waiting for the bus, holding a plant pot with one pansy growing in it. He told me, with great joy, that he also had a poem written in French for her, and that he’d drawn her a card. His face lit up as he told me “she’s gonna have so many presents!

mum with r and j 1964 001There was such a lot of delight in his expression as he counted up the riches he’d prepared for his precious mother. We forget, over the years, how good it used to feel to be able to gift our loved ones with something that we’d made specially for them. It might have been a paper plate with some glittered macaroni pasted to it, or a wobbly cut out paper heart, with our shaky handwriting telling them, “I LOVE YOU,” but it was what we had to give, and we gave it from our hearts.

Mums never ask for all that much, when you’re growing up. Maybe they ask you to help with the chores, or keep your room clean, but most mums know that you’re growing and learning, and that all they can try to do is to get you from the day you are born until the day you two say goodbye, with as little heart ache and heart break as possible.

Missing my mother, and wishing my two beautiful daughters a very happy Mother’s Day.

******************************************************
My butt is dragging today, even after collapsing into a solid ten hours of sleep last night. I spent the last several days doing all things Canadian Music Week, including working as a ‘day host,’ expediting the conference panelists, and getting out to a few of the events under the CMW banner. I straggled home last night from a long day at the show, followed by a scrumptious buffet at the Rivoli, where Music Nova Scotia and the Dreaming Out Loud groups were presenting the annual TIKI LOUNGE extravaganza.

CMW Greg Lefsetz et all May 2018

During the conference I spent most of my time onsite in the Speaker’s Green Room. In this pic, our long time associate Greg Simpson confers with his speaker registration aides, Sue Mills and Cassandra Tari. Behind them, propping up the wall, is Steve Lillywhite, uber producer and musician whisperer of U2, the Rolling Stones, XTC, Dave Matthews Band, Peter Gabriel, the Talking Heads and a host of other worthies, as he chats with Ralph Simon, who is is acknowledged as one of the founders of the modern mobile entertainment & content industry, and Bob Lefsetz, music industry analyst and critic, and author of the Lefsetz Letter.

In May of 2015, the last time that Bob Lefsetz had spoken at CMW, I had asked him if we could meet, so that I might interview him for this column. Although he agreed at the time, circumstances conspired, and I missed my window of opportunity.

So when I saw him seated towards the back of the Green Room on Saturday morning, I seized the day, introduced myself, and reminded him of the last time we’d almost connected. He immediately said that he’d be happy to talk with me ‘later’ – but he’d be leaving the Conference around four p.m.

So I waited patiently, hoping for a time when he might have a minute free. But shortly after Steve Lillywhite left the room, Eric Alper flew in the door and plonked himself down for a chat. Meanwhile, my duties as Day Host kept me rather busy, and I spent a lot of time getting speakers organized and then off to their panels in a timely manner. By the time I realized I’d once again missed my interview, it was about 3:10 p.m. I’d just finished introducing legendary music journalist Larry Leblanc, who was about to begin an interview with Marcie Allen, a trailblazing entrepreneur who is known as the Queen of Brands and Bands. My duty done, I set off to try and find the elusive Mr Lefsetz.

About an hour later, I conceded defeat. Apparently, this interview was not to be.

PostScript: If you are one of the many who receive the Lefsetz Letter, then you will have received his CMW wrap-up when it arrived last night. In his p.s., he mentions that he’d spend his last half-hour on the site at …. the Larry LeBlanc/Marcie Allen seminar I’d introduced.

Wrong Way Roxanne strikes again.

**************************************

We have to talk about Donald Glover/Childish Gambino‘s new video – This is America. Firmly in the tradition of protest songs such as GrandMaster Flash‘s White Lines, the song/video demands multiple, critical, and admiring viewings.

This video is almost enough to make music videos relevant again, rife with symbolism and casual observations that nail the truth of the racist gun culture that America, as distracted as a kitten by shiny strings and dance fads, chooses to ignore.

jim crow character this is americaThe main character, stripped to the waist, pulls facial expressions and uses bodily movements that seem to be modeled on Jim Crow, a minstrel show caricature, which white actors would perform in blackface, acting out black stereotypes. His movements distract from the chaos that plays out in the background, as behind him, people on cellphones film the action while ignoring the violence and rioting going on all around.

(The Jim Crow Laws were put into place after the Civil War, and were a system of racist local and state laws to keep the ex-slaves in their place, and designed to enforce segregation and oppression in the Southern American states.) this is america imageAfter both of the shootings, the guns are treated with care and respect, and gently wrapped with red cloth. The guns are valued over human lives, as the victims are either dragged away or left lying in their own blood.

Between shootings, the exaggerated dancing seems to be a commentary on how America prefers to focus on entertainment and distraction rather than to have a discussion on gun control, while dismissing the dead with an airy assurance that they are sending “thoughts and prayers.”

this is america commentIn the background of one scene, Death, riding a pale horse, and a biblical symbol for the apocalypse, gallops by, pursued by a police car. Everyone is too caught up in dancing or in their own anarchy to focus on the bigger picture of the violence going on.

In the last scene, Gambino, surrounded by vintage cars representing America’s economic stagnation, lights up a joint, and it is then – rather than during his gun rampage  – that the police begin to chase him. In the tradition of black American history, he has to run to save his life.

This Is America is a strong, artistic statement that will stand as valid commentary on today’s Divided States of America.

 

Motown: The Musical


The sixties were a glorious time, unlikely to ever be repeated or rivalled. The fifties had been a cautious decade, where women stayed home after marrying to take care of their men, kids didn’t sass parents, and no one questioned authority in the family or in their country. Well, at least on the surface.

hitsville USABut the sixties were all about breaking free of rigid expectations. The kids were loud, and demanding that their culture be not only accepted but respected. Feminism, the civil rights movement, and counter culture in general flourished. And into this heady mix, Berry Gordy, a guy from Detroit, working out of a house on W. Grand Blvd, brought his own dream to life by creating MotownHitsville U.S.A.

Trailer 

Motown: The Musical is a heady ride, a pastiche of the songs that mirrored and urged on a youth culture chitlin circuitexploding in front of our parents’ shocked eyes. The story, written by Gordy, traces the determination , grit and greed that was necessary to bring the music of young, black performers out into the open , and into the spotlight, after decades of being relegated to touring under Jim Crow laws and on the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Much of early rock and roll was unacceptable to a white, uptight audience in North America. The music written and performed by black artists was routinely filtered through clean cut and very white vocalists who better exemplified what the society of the day wanted to see and hear. As Sam Phillips, the man who discovered Elvis once said “If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.”  

The charts of the day were wide-ranging; a radio station’s top ten might include everything from rock to country to instrumental movie soundtracks, to a song scooped from a Broadway musical. And into this blessedly catholic mix, Gordy dropped the songs that exploded minds once closed to racial diversity.

hot100 1960When I first heard Motown songs, they were often filtered through the music of The Beatles, and other British groups who were eagerly seizing upon this new form, a rhythm and blues concoction that stepped all over early rock and roll structure, and brought attention to lyrics with heart and soul, accompanied by dazzling melodies and angelic harmonies.

The Beatles, always hip to finding hits where others might not have looked, recorded three Motown hits for their second album, With The Beatles, in 1963; “Money”, Smokey Robinson’sYou’ve Really Got A Hold On Me,” and The MarvelettesPlease Mr Postman.”

Money (That’s What I Want,) “was the first hit for Gordy, on the Tamla label operated pre-Motown, and released in 1959. And right from the beginning, Gordy was ruthless. “Singer Barrett Strong claims that he co-wrote the song with Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford. His name was removed from the copyright registration three years after the song was written, restored in 1987 when the copyright was renewed, and then excised again the next year. Gordy has stated that Strong’s name was only included because of a clerical error.”

But Motown’s legal scramblings and shenanigans didn’t come to our attention until years later. What we were hearing and enjoying were songs that burst out of the radio, as Martha and the Vandellas called us to come “Dancin’ In the Streets.”

Gordy’s musical stable included The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Marvelettes and Marvin Gaye. He loved to pit the performers against each other, believing that “competition breeds champions.” He was a showman who understood what the people wanted, and the young artists that flocked to his label soon learned that their street cred was about to be vigorously scrubbed off them.

Maxine Powell ran the only in-house finishing school at any American record label. Most people have probably never heard of Powell, who died this week, but music fans have unknowingly enjoyed her handiwork at Motown since the ‘60s.Maxine Powell finishing school for Motown

“When I opened up, in 1964, the finishing school, the purpose was to help the artists become class, to know what to do on stage and off stage, because they did come from humble beginnings. Some of them from the projects and some of them were using street language. Some were rude and crude, you understand, but with me, it’s not where you come from, it’s where you’re going.”

It was Powell’s job to teach the likes of Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves, Tammi Terrell, The Marvelettes, The Velvelettes, and Smokey Robinson how to present themselves charmingly during interviews, performances, and off-stage public appearances. When they were in Detroit, Motown singers were required to attend two-hour session with Powell, learning public speaking, posture, walking, stage presence, etiquette, and personal grooming. Powell had studied African-American cosmetology at the renowned Madam C.J. Walker training school in Indianapolis.” (http://dangerousminds.net/comments/motowns_charm_school)

Motown: The Musical takes all of that background and lays it out beautifully at our feet. Over 50 songs from the rich catalogue are sampled, in small or large bites, and the audience visibly thrills, sitting a little taller in their seats, as their own musical memories are stimulated.

Josh Tower plays Berry Gordy, whose long love affair with Diana Ross, portrayed by the lovely Allison Semmes, is pivotal to his life. Consequently, a large part of the musical is devoted to her work, first as a teen, and one of The Supremes, diana-ross-stylethrough her machinations to become the acknowledged star of the group, her foray into film, to her eventual break with Gordy and Motown.

But it’s tiny Michael Jackson, ably brought to life by Leon Outlaw Jr., (the role is shared between Outlaw and Nathaniel Cullors,) who steals our hearts. Outlaw plays the young Berry Gordy, and a young Stevie Wonder, whose over-bearing stage mom terrifies Gordy. But it’s when we hear Outlaw as the 10 year old Michael Jackson auditioning with the song, “Who’s Loving You,” that we’re galvanized.

jackson 5The song was written by Smokey Robinson for his group The Miracles, who recorded the song in 1960 for their first Motown album. The song was issued as the b-side to The Jackson 5’s first single, “I Want You Back” in 1969. And of course, Michael went on to extraordinary heights … we still feel his loss. But back then, that little kid with the big voice could be depended on to knock it out of the park pretty much every time he came to bat. The Jackson 5 were so huge in the sixties that they received the ultimate compliment of the time – their own animated TV series.

We dip, dip, dip through other artists and their contributions to the legend. Jesse Nager plays Smokey Robinson, a long time Gordy friend, while Jarran Muse plays a suitably conflicted Marvin Gaye, whose greatest songs were nearly never accepted by the label.

“The first Marvin Gaye album credited as being produced by the artist himself, What’s Going On is a unified concept album consisting of nine songs, most of which lead into the next. It has also been categorized as a song cycle; the album ends on a reprise of the album’s opening theme. The album is told from the point of view of a Vietnam War veteran returning to the country he had been fighting for, and seeing only hatred, suffering, and injustice. Gaye’s introspective lyrics discuss themes of drug abuse, poverty, and the Vietnam War. He has also been credited with criticizing global warming before the public outcry against it had become prominent.

Marvin_Gaye_What's Going ON… Gaye approached Gordy with the “What’s Going On” song while in California where Gordy had relocated. Gordy took a profound dislike to the song, calling it “the worst thing I ever heard in my life”. Gaye, who had also begun recording some songs that would later be featured on his later album, Let’s Get It On responded by going on strike from recording anything else for the label unless Gordy relented. Motown executive Harry Balk later recalled that he had tried to get Gordy to release the song to which Gordy replied to Balk, “that Dizzy Gillespie stuff in the middle, that scatting, it’s old.” Most of Motown’s Quality Control Department team also turned the song down, with Balk later stating that “they were used to the ‘baby baby’ stuff, and this was a little hard for them to grasp.” Gordy also felt the song was too political to be a hit on radio and too unusual compared with what was considered a part of the popular music sound of that time to be commercially successful.

With the help of Motown sales executive Barney Ales, Harry Balk got the song released to record stores, sending 100,000 copies of the song without Gordy’s knowledge, on January 17, 1971, with another 100,000 copies sent after that success.” (Wikipedia.com)

The musical is set in 1983, as the cream of the Motown crop returns for the 25th anniversary of Motown Records, held at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, Gordy, fuming over the slights and spats of the past, is determined not to attend the ceremonies. But his memories, and the cajoling of family and friends, including Smokey, finally get him to relent. He and Diana have a smoochy smooch, ‘we cool,” moment, and everyone sings.

The quasi happy ending, however, completely bypasses what many believe to be the high point of the show … Michael Jackson’s return to perform a medley of Jackson 5 hits with his brothers, followed by a solo performance of “Billie Jean,” that showed us that the kid had blossomed into a formidable man … with a mean “Moon Walk.”

I loved Motown: The Musical. I’d highly recommend it not only to those of us who lived through those halcyon days, but to anyone aspiring to a career in this business of show, as some of the trickiest moves and manipulations on the parts of both artists and managers are still in play today.

But definitely … come for the music. That ‘sweet, sweet music’ will get you every time.