In October of 1983, an iconic show was produced on television — Motown 25. What I most remembered from that show was Michael Jackson performing Billie Jean for the first time nationally, moonwalk and all. I even show this to my students most every year and try to explain to them the excitement and uniqueness of something that to them just seems old school.
Recently, my husband and I watched the show again when it was on PBS. After all these years, all I had remembered was the Jackson part — first with the Jackson 5, and then on his own. I barely recalled Diana Ross singing “Reach Out and Touch” with red lipstick on her teeth. I didn’t remember at all that Linda Ronstadt and Smokey Robinson did a duet of “Ooh, Baby Baby” and “Tracks of My Tears.” And most of all, I didn’t remember Marvin Gaye.
This came to mind today because I just finished reading a novel set in 1950’s Mississippi, and then immediately into reading a biography of Mavis Staples and the Staple Singers, who are from Mississippi. I originally planned to write about them here. But first, Marvin.
He came out to the piano and noodled around on it while he talked about the birthplace of music. At one point he says, “Yesterday is the birthplace of today.” I am not going to repeat everything else he says because the video is below. What he is doing, though, is a monologue about where music is born — how it comes from real life — and that is what makes it grow and change and expand. That is what makes it last forever.
Marvin then sings, “What’s Going On,” and it is obvious to me, sitting here in 2015, that the birthplace of his words may have been the 1970’s, but they are still relevant today:
There’s far too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today.
If today is the birthplace of forever, as Marvin concludes, then what we do each day truly does matter. Even Marvin himself wouldn’t live another six months before being gunned down by his own father. Unity and humanity. We need to make them more than just words.