Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Dancing In The Streets
You've likely heard it before here in the South -- Dancing leads to corruption, sin, decadence, sex and maybe even tobacco. Thanks to a short but deeply enjoyable visit with my mother and two of her sisters yesterday, I remembered my first attempt into getting busy on the dance floor when I was still a wee lad. It was thanks to another set of sisters, Edna and Rita, my aunt's kids, that I hit the floor to twist the night away waaaaaaay back when in - well, I think it was 1965.
As memorable as the image of dancing may be, the music that was played is just as vivid and it marked my first encounter with the soulful R&B sounds of Motown. (Be sure to check out the video at the bottom of this post, in all it's black and white glory.)
Here's the scene - a high school room, in the late spring I think, in Crossville. I have no idea how I ended up in the charge of my cousins that day, but there I was. It was getting close to the end of the day and some agreement had been made by teachers and students that music and dancing would be allowed for a short time. I imagine today the teacher would be fired and the students the victims of national media scrutiny for such hedonistic, extra curricular actions.
The students were allowed to bring in their 45s (no, not guns), though my aunt wondered if each kid brought in 45 recordings each to be played -- no, these were tiny vinyl discs played at 45rpm on a belt-driven turntable fitted with these stubby metal adapters and the sound came out of a single mono speaker. Sounds ancient today - it was back when rock and roll was in its infancy, though in a skyrocketing move to the top of the pop culture, when singles were still a mostly new way for records to be sold. You didn't download it - you bought these li'l discs in paper sleeves in grocery stores and drug stores since record stores were something only major metropolitan cities possessed.
So, there I was, a newbie to the dance and rock world, watching as these older kids (who all seemed like adults to my five-year old mind) hurled their desks and chairs to the sides of the room. The record player was plugged in to the wall outlet, the stack of 45s jammed onto the spindle of the player, and shoes went flying - it was easier to find a groove and move just wearing socks. Seems there was even a kind of Soul Train solo dance show, as kids lined up on either side of the room and we all took turns showing off our painfully white-people dance moves.
A lifetime of technology has been developed and taken hold since then. Today, music is downloaded onto your portable phone, and many high school or younger kids can videotape themselves with that same phone, dancing or singing along to the music and then post those videos in dozens of places on a Webly Wired World. Saw one the other day of some kid dancing along to a revamped hip hop mix of the old 60s tune "If You're Going To San Francisco" -- a weird mix to be sure. And there they are, performing solo like a superstar for all the world to watch.
And Crossville is mighty different too - home to Espresso Bars and Chinese diners. I recall when the big event was to hit the A&W Drive-In and get root beer. Dear God, I'm old.
But it is the music of that day I remember most - the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles. How could anyone stay still hearing those hits? Simple lyrics, yes, mostly about love or the loss of it and some more songs just about dancing itself. Looking back at what the Top 40 hits were that year, the tunes ranged from Buck Owen's "Tiger By The Tail" to Edwin Starr's "Agent Double-O Soul" to the Beatles, the Stones, Otis Redding, The Beach Boys, Sam Cooke and on and on.
Thankfully, even then, most dance steps were all improvised by everyone. So anyone could dance and we sure did. Joyous and unself-conscious, loose and free, I had no idea we were part of a cultural jump that was on the verge of changing the world. For us, it was just good music and laughter and fun and gave even the wee east Tennessee folks like myself a chance to get funky and find soul. We helped make cool a way of life.
That said, here's a sample of the music and the performances, this one from The Temptations (and consider this one a long-distance dedication for her.) Please feel free to dance.