Saturday, March 28, 2009

Vanity Fair: On Motown and "Isn't She Deneuvely?"

Happened to catch Tavis Smiley and Berry Gordy, Jr., at some point not too long ago on the flat screen, talking about Motown. Gordy was a little miffed about Dreamgirls (2006) and its thinly veiled alternate take on Motown's history. Because (unlike, say Walk the Line regarding Johnny Cash and June Carter) Dreamgirls does not dare call Motown by its real name nor its stars by their real names, I've never bothered to see it. I can only report Gordy's dislike of its characterizations.

To Tavis Smiley, Mr. Gordy also mentioned what sounded like helpful and constructive articles about Motown that were featured in the December 2008 issue of Vanity Fair. I recently got around to reading those articles. Not only are they good, there's the added bonus of excellent photographs, several in full color. And they can be accessed online via the Vanity Fair archives at

Here's a direct link to one of two articles and a web special, "Motown, Then and Now." This one is for Lisa Robinson's "It Happened in Hitsville":

Smokey Robinson on Berry Gordy, Jr.: "He told me a song has got to be a short book, a small movie, or a short story. He taught me how to structure my songs." (p. 312 of VF 12/2008 print edition).

Thanks to Tavis Smiley and Berry Gordy, Jr., for their heads up to this issue of Vanity Fair. It also has a good bit on Kate Winslet, complete with racy shots of Ms. Winslet in Krista Smith's "Isn't She Deneuvely?" Think Catherine Deneuve, think Luis Buñuel's Belle de jour (1967), or hell, see for yourself:

Today's Rune: Growth.


the walking man said...

Personally, and I emphatically submit that this is my own opinion. Berry Gordy was an asshole to his neighborhood when he lived here and is just another mogul asshole today, if it didn't put a dime in his pocket or was about to cost him a nickel he did not do it.

He lived smack in the heart of one of the first blighted neighborhoods, (The area surrounding Boston/Edison) behind a one block long gated compound, would not hire from that community for anything as simple as putting down patio stone, would not do anything charitable to support the area, and once he was well on his way he sold it all and left for California taking all of the Motown related jobs with him.

Barry Gordy did not offer any of his early stars contracts commensurate with the money they brought in, making them earn like horses in a race before they got a decent share.

Fuck Gordy and his opinion of anything remotely concerned with the success of Motown. He was the first Kwame Kilpatrick of the city, he just never got busted.

All Take and no give.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled broadcast.

Support Bakers Keyboard Lounge.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Berry Gordy is, and will always be, Berry Greedy--I mean: Very Greedy. TWM couldn't've said it better.

Charles Gramlich said...

Uh huh, and the pic of Kate Winslet had nothing to do with your interest in this mag I guess?

Uh huh.

Erik Donald France said...

Charles, guilty as charged. Catherine Deneuve/Kate Winslet cannot be resisted.

WM Mark and JR: Here I disagree because Motown provides cultural value that cannot be taken away by any individual or practice. While I'm truly enthusiastic about supporting Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit more than worrying about Motown sales, there still seems to be a big difference between Gordy and Kilpatrick -- a real cultural legacy.

Tying things together, Many of the Motown veterans still living in Detroit hang out at Baker's -- I saw Maxine Powell there last year; and also some of the Funk Brothers.

Sidney said...

I like Dreamgirls and it examines Motown in an interesting, alternate way but it is a musical and brings in some happier endings than many of the artists really experienced.

jodi said...

Hey Eric, Dreamgirls is a decent movie especially if you don't focus on the particulars. Kate may be Kate, but she will never be the beautiful Deneuve..

the walking man said...

Erik...Gordy and his contempt for the place that "made him" also a part of that cultural legacy.