Whatever criticism one could level at how I host WGTD’s Morning Show . . . that I say “um” too much. . . that my intro’s are too verbose. . . that I tend to forget about balancing the volume of the guest with my own. . . you can’t say that I don’t cast my net rather broadly when it comes to topics we explore. Just in the last three days, I have recorded interviews about suicide prevention, the free economy of the internet, NASA’s moon program, and Diana Ross & the Supremes. (Whatever my shortcomings, and I have quite a pile of them, at least I’m eclectic.)
In the case of the last topic, it has nothing to do with my wide-ranging inquisitiveness. I’ve been a big fan of Diana Ross & the Supremes since December 9, 1968. That night, the Supremes and Temptations joined forces in a CBS special called TCB (stands for “Taking Care of Business”) and while the Temptations did not impress me all that much (and still don’t- I never thought they were sufficiently polished; they always sounded to me like they had practiced each song maybe ten minutes at the most) the Supremes blew me away. Within the week I went to the Luther College bookstore, plunked down my own money, and bought a Supremes LP titled “I Hear a Symphony.” (That’s the song on the TCB special that really hooked me.) It’s the first record album I bought with my own money and I can still feel the special pride that coursed through my veins as I walked out of there with my purchase. . . feeling like such a grown up! And I nearly wore the grooves out of that album from listening to it so much – and to this day I can still rattle off the titles of every song on it: “I hear a Symphony,” “My world is empty without you,” “Yesterday,” “Stranger in Paradise,” “Lover’s Concerto,” “Any Girl in Love,” “Wonderful, Wonderful,” “He’s all I Got,” “With a song in my heart,” “Without a Song,” and “Everything is Good about You.” (I bet there are record albums in your distant past that are similarly burned in your memory.)
Just why an 8-year-old white kid from Decorah, Iowa was so in love with Diana Ross & the Supremes is quite a mystery to me. The only thing I can think of is that they were something rather exotic and yet fairly safe. . . and they did deliver one of my favorite musical treats: three-part treble harmony. (I liked the Andrews Sisters – the Rhine Maidens in Wagner’s Ring Cycle – and even the Trio country western album with Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmy Lou Harris. I guess that’s why I am also such a fan of the current RTG musical, “Honky Tonk Angels.”) And maybe this was my way of being with it when in nearly every other facet of my life I was utterly without it. (Towards that end, I still vividly remember going to a Temptations performance in little ol’ Decorah, Iowa not long after that. All By Myself – I think. I remember that the concert was in the junior high gym – I had a seat in the very back row – and it was incredibly loud. And it was also very boring because the Temptations weren’t the Supremes. Not even close. I was excited to see someone who had shared the stage with the Supremes, but that wasn’t quite enough for me.)
The story of the Supremes is an incredible tale of stunning success emerging from the projects of Detroit. . . of a group connecting with both black and white audiences in a way never seen before . . . and also of friendships and professional relationships crashing on the rocks due to egos and greed and plain old unkindness. More than anything, it’s those unforgettable songs and the way that the Supremes made them their own. By the way, one thing that set them apart from other girl groups of the day is that Diana was backed up by two singers with really potent, powerful voices; there was nothing pastel about Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard, although more and more of the Supremes songs would crowd those two out of the spotlight. But my favorite Supremes songs were songs that showcased all three women. . . . in much the same way that my favorite Star Trek episodes were the ones that looked past Kirk, Spock and McCoy and gave fun stuff to Sulu, Chekov and/or Uhura. I guess I’m a supporting cast kind of guy.
So I got to return to the Supremes because of the chance to interview Mark Ribowsky, the author of a new book called “The Supremes: A Saga of Motown Dreams, Success and Betrayal.” And in order to have some musical examples for the interview, I went down into the basement to retrieve my Supremes albums. . . . and they weren’t there! I hear a Symphony was gone, along with Back in my Arms Again, the two-LP Greatest Hits collection, and three-LP retrospective, and the album released of the very last performance by Diana Ross and the Supremes before she split off for her solo career. Anyone who knows me can’t be hugely surprised at this turn of events, but I really hope that those records are somewhere in this house, because they represent something very powerful in my life which has been there for over forty years now. . . my quiet love affair with Diana, Mary and Florence.