Sunday, 17 January 2021

Stop in the name of love, child

The Supremes ruined me for late night television.


I was a proofreader for seven years and, when you're a proofreader, the first thing you see in those "Greatest Hits" ads is the spelling errors, be they on Supremes or Slim Whitman songs.


It's not "S_op In The Name of Love;" it's "Stop In The Name of Love."


But the Supremes and Motown in general provided a lot of the background music for our lives.


My first ex-wife a biker chick with big hair (I was a hippie and opposites do attract) turned me on to the Supremes, Motown and a lot of wonderful things a farmboy needs to know. I turned her on to Bob Dylan.


So it wasn't much of a stretch to trot on out to Medium Rare Records in the Castro on Dec. 3 and meet Mary Wilson, the other surviving Supreme.


Florence Ballard died penniless a few years back and Steve Forbert wrote the hauntingly beautiful "Romeo's Tune" for her. How could a Supreme die penniless? Where was all that money, Barry Gordie, or that other Supreme, the one with the big ego ... what was her name now?


Tons of pop stars lost their songs, recordings, even the use of their names to corrupt managers, record companies and other scavengers. It's an old story.


But the knockout gorgeous woman in a black dress and at least diamond looking broach wasn't showing it.


When that other Supreme, the one who thinks the threesome was a solo act, reformed the so-called Supremes a few years back, she wouldn't let Mary Wilson participate.


That didn't stop Mary from touring Europe and the world and now, finally, debuting her one woman show, "Mary Wilson: Up Close," at San Francisco's Empire Plush Room. Billing herself as the "Supreme Diva," Wilson met her many fans a long, long line of them head on, face to face. She was spontaneous and open, posing for photos, giving kisses, laughing, carrying on intelligent and personable conversations.


It's hard to fake this sort of thing and she didn't.


"The line for Mary Wilson begins here," the sign in the window said and it snaked on down Market Street, growing on one end as it moved on another.


People brought records, CDs, T-shirts, the sheet music for "I Hear A Symphony," and DVD's - including copies of her new "Mary Wilson of the Supremes" to be signed.


My out-of-print copy of "The Supremes Sing Country & Western Music" is in storage, or I would have brought it.


She even taped a promo for a local TV show in only three takes, never missing a beat.


A real pro.


"Would you guys go back in line and go around again to make the line longer," she joked at one point. But, then it grew again, on its own, bringing even old friends like Dick Eckert, her dresser for 10 years, who bought some old costumes.


Not to neglect one a lady who joined it as she was passing by.


"I love your songs and I was just walking by and wanted to thank you for the music and shake your hand," the woman said.


Finally, at a lull in the line, Mary gave me an interview.


I thanked her too for the music and for Motown, the great equalizer amongst generations. I found as a teacher that the music of Hitsville spoke to succeeding generations, parents passing it on to kids allowing teachers to use that common denominator to open lines of communication otherwise closed.


The "ex-" gang members and fourth, fifth and sixth graders I taught even knew who Edwin Starr was and that there were three women in that group on Soul Train and Shindig.


And, here I was, standing next to one.


Then, I popped the question: "Was Mary Wilson ever homeless?"


"No," she said, "but only just barely. I tell people my mother was illiterate, so my family was poor. We didn't watch TV or read newspapers. Without government assistance, we could have been ... Everyone's just a paycheck away."


Afterwards, I thought about her for days. Up on the screen with the other two. Just like Spike Lee's brothers and sisters watched "The Partridge Family" like the rest of America in "Crooklyn," that wise and gentle film, farmboys and city girls met over Motown, the great equalizer.


And, as I felt compelled to walk up to person after person and announce I'd met Mary Wilson yesterday, I could swear I heard a symphony.


E-mail Gary Peterson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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