1. RonPrice
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  3. Monday, 14 July 2014
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Back-up Music

Part 1:

Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a 2002 documentary film directed by Paul Justman.1 It recounts the story of The Funk Brothers, the un-credited and largely unheralded studio musicians who were the hand-picked house band by Berry Gordy in 1959. They were the band who recorded and performed on Motowns' recordings from 1959 to 1972.

The film was inspired by the 1989 book Standing in the Shadows of Motown: The Life and Music of Legendary Bassist James Jamerson, a bass guitar instruction book by Allan Slutsky, which features the bass lines of James Jamerson.

Part 2:

The Funk Brothers produced more hits than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Beach Boys together. It was their sound, according to Mary Wilson of The Supremes that backed The Temptations, The Supremes, The Miracles, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, amongst other noteworthy bands during their tenure from 1959 to 1973.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1Wikipedia, and 2NITV, 9:30-11:30, 29/6/'14.

I watched this doco on a cold
winter night in Tasmania some
55 years after this hand-picked
houseband, Motown, formed in1
'59, the same year that Twilight
Zone was released and the same
year I joined the Baha'i Faith, &
won the most valuable player in
the midget Burlington baseball.

In 1973 they moved to LA and
I moved to the Barossa Valley
and Motown came to an end,
as did my first marriage back
in some other time zone, some
other life, seems like some other
person. You boys are getting the
recognition you deserve at last
even if some of you have gone
into that hole where no music is
played....Of course who knows?

Maybe you can all keep playing
in that land of light from which
no man returns, perhaps heaven
will have pleased it so,3 and who
knows what dreams may come.4

I knew nothing of Motown back
then in those 14 years when I, too,
had my first demons, recognition
was slowly evolving, and I played
my own back-up music for a new
religion that would take the world
by storm and, in time, get its own
standing ovation as you did in TO.5

1 This doco, the last great un-mined musical story of the '60s, has finally shone the spotlight on this colorful cast of characters who toiled in "the Snake-pit" of Berry Gordy's hit factory at 2648 West Grand Blvd. in Detroit. They all reunited to promote the film.

2 Steve Jones, "Motown's Funk Brothers cast long Shadows," USA Today, 12/5/'02.

3 Shakespeare, Hamlet, III, 4, line 174.

4 ibid., III, 1, line 66.

5 The Baha'i Faith....The film got a 7 minute standing ovation when it was screened at the TO, Toronto Film Festival in September 2002.

Ron Price
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Part 1:

When a person gets into their 70s, as I did in 2014, celebrities from the worlds of the movies and television, from the music world, indeed, from many worlds of popular culture, begin to die like flies. That metaphor may be a bit too strong, but their deaths are periodic occurrences which begin to dot the landscape of one’s life-narrative. I write below about the lives and deaths of two famous people in the last four months, people from popular culture, people who were out on the distant periphery of my life experience, my life-narrative.

Part 1.1:

Percy Sledge, who recorded the classic 1966 soul ballad When a Man Loves a Woman, died aged 73, at his home in Baton Rouge Louisiana. I remember that song which was released in April 1966. That was the last month of my three year B.A. degree in sociology. I was 21, a member of the Baha’i community of Dundas Ontario, and about to get married and pioneer to the Canadian Arctic for the Baha’i community of Canada.

Sledge died early on 14/4/’15. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer in early 2014. Sledge’s first recording took him from being a hospital orderly to a long touring career averaging 100 performances a year. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. Between 1966 and 1968, Sledge used his forlorn, crying vocal style to record a series of southern soul standards. While his first hit When a Man Loves a Woman was by far his most famous song, other popular singles included Take Time to Know Her and It Tears Me Up.

By 1968 he had largely fallen from commercial favour, though songs like Take Time to Know Her continued to be revered by soul fans. By 1968, I was living on the 5th biggest island in the world, Baffin Island, and teaching Inuit children. Sledge, who had been only a faint light on my event horizon, had completely disappeared into one of the many black holes into which so much of popular culture disappeared during my lifespan. In later years, Sledge continued to be in demand as a performer in the US and Europe. When a Man Loves a Woman has continued to pop up in movies, including The Big Chill and The Crying Game. But Sledge had gone, until a news-event in April 2015 brought him back onto my event horizon.

Part 2:

Cilla Black, a 1960s pop star championed by The Beatles, became one of Britain's best-loved television presenters. She died yesterday, as I write these words, on Sunday 2 August 2015, in Spain. The 72-year-old was found at her home near Marbella Spain. The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror newspapers reported the event quoting Spanish police.

Big hearted and full of laughs, this working-class redhead from Liverpool was a fixture on British television screens for more than 50 years, known just by her first name. She started out working in the cloakroom at the Cavern club, where fellow Liverpudlians The Beatles were first spotted, before taking to the stage as a singer herself. The band championed Black and introduced her to their manager Brian Epstein, who signed her.

Black released her first single in 1963 and the following year had two Number One hits, "You're My World" and "Anyone Who Had a Heart". The former Song was number 1 in the UK at the end of May 1964. I was just completing the first year of my B.A. degree at McMaster university in the lunch-pail city of Hamilton Ontario.

She went on to release 14 albums. In 1968 she began hosting her own television talk show, beginning a broadcasting career that saw her present some of Britain's most popular programmes over half a century. I knew little to nothing about TV in the U.K. and little about TV in Canada since these were the years in which I had no TV.

Part 2.1:

Actress Joan Collins was one of the first to pay tribute, saying on Twitter that she was "sad and shocked" and adding: "She was a resplendent and rare talent." Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described her as "one of my childhood idols". "My earliest memory of having a tantrum was over Cilla. I wanted her album. My mum and dad said no — my grandad said yes. I was 4," the Scottish nationalist leader said.

Black was made an OBE in 1997 and last year was given a special award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), which called her an "icon". In its citation, BAFTA said she had hosted more than 500 television shows and made around 400 guest appearances on others, regularly drawing audiences of 18 million people. Black was married to Bobby Willis, who became her manager and who died in 1999. They had three sons as well as a daughter who died in infancy.

These two names were completely
unknown to me until their deaths
were announced in the print and
electronic media: 4/’15 to 8/’15.

There are so many names now from
popular culture & academic culture,
people who have come into my life
like distant stars in a far-off galaxy,
or exploding quasars1 of immense
luminosity, but here today & gone
tomorrow into a hole for those who
speak no more or even sing no more.

Perhaps, though, like quasars, they
will go on emitting light for billions
of years in a world beyond this world
only to merge over time into one of the
black holes in, say, 3 to 5 billion years.

1 Quasars, or quasi-stellar radio sources, are the most energetic and distant members of a class of objects called active galactic nuclei (AGN). Quasars are extremely luminous and were first identified as being high redshift sources of electromagnetic energy, including radio waves and visible light, that appeared to be similar to stars, rather than extended sources similar to galaxies. Their spectra contain very broad emission lines, unlike any known from stars, hence the name "quasi-stellar." Their luminosity can be 100 times greater than that of the Milky Way. Most quasars were formed approximately 12 billion years ago caused by collisions of galaxies and their central black holes merging to form a supermassive black hole.

Ron Price
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