Monday, January 20, 2020

Jim's World


C.I. does a ton of writing in the community.  At THE COMMON ILLS, to be sure, and here.  But she also writes a piece (or co-writes with Ava) for everyone of the community newsletters.  My favorite may be the monthly one she does for POLLY'S BREW.  Once a month, she evaluates a book that a reader asks about.

Can this book be trusted?

Maybe not the writer of an Alice Walker biography who has no reason at all to bring up Diana Ross but does so to insist that Diana's performance in LADY SINGS THE BLUES was a flop.  For those who don't know better (maybe even that author), Diana was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal in LADY SINGS THE BLUES.   Dorothy Dandridge was the first and she was nominated in 1955 (for 1954's CARMEN JONES).  It would be decades later, 1973, before Diana Ross and Cicely Tyson would be nominated (for LADY SINGS THE BLUES and SOUNDER).

C.I. was addressing Diana Ross again this past weekend.  (As C.I. has noted many times before, she knows and likes Diana.)  Ken T. asked her to address Mark Ribowsky's THE SUPREMES: A STORY OF MOTOWN DREAMS, SUCCESS, AND BETRAYAL.  Could Ribowsky be trusted?

"Not one damn bit," she answered.

For those worried I'm about to quote from C.I.'s piece, I am.  But I do have her permission and I'm only quoting the factual issues that do not involve personal stories C.I. shared to refute Ribowsky's many errors.  Ribbie insists that Diana "has failed to register a single Top Forty pop hit since 1981, compiling only scattered lightweight R&B hits such as 'Workin' Overtime' in '89 and her '91 duet with hip-hop star Al B. Sure, 'No Matter What You Do'."

As C.I. pointed out, first off "Workin' Overtime" made it to number three on the R&B charts and the duet with Al B. Sure made it to number four on the same chart -- those aren't "lightweight R&B hits."  Those are major R&B hits.

In addition, Diana, after 1981, charted on the Top Forty pop charts (BILLBOARD) with "Mirror, Mirror" (number 8), "Muscles" (number ten), "So Close" (number forty), "Pieces Of Ice" (number 31), "All Of You" her duet with Julio Iglesias (number 19), "Swept Away" (number 19 also) and "Missing You" (number ten).

"Has failed to register a single Top Forty Pop hit since 1981"?  Those are seven songs that made the top forty after 1981.   Ribby also claims that before Diana recorded her number one hit "Love Hangover," it was already a dance hit for Sylvester.  Strange but that claim backed up by any charts from that time period nor on any discography listings for Sylvester.  More to the point, the song was written by MOTOWN songwriters Marilyn McLeod wrote it with Pam Sawyer.  Marilyn had signed with MOTOWN's JOBETE publishing in 1968.  Pam Sawyer?  She signed to MOTOWN in 1967. 

Before "Love Hangover," Pam had already co-written the following hits for Diana Ross: "Love Child," "I'm Living In Shame" and "Last Time I Saw Him."

How a song written by two JOBETE writers would end up with a non-MOTOWN artist first is something Ribby should explain, right after he explains where the recording of Sylvester's "Love Hangover" exists -- "outside of Ribby's own mind, of course," as C.I noted.

But let's look at the full lies, or sentence, of Ribby's, "That year would bring Ross a Tony Award [. . .] It also brought another No. 1 single -- a cover of the Sylvester disco hit "Love Hangover," produced by Hal Davis -- and the Top Five "I'm Coming Out," a sly wink at the drag-queen life written and produced by Chic's Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards after seeing drag queens dressed like Diana, who was increasingly being embraced by gay fans."

Huh?  That year?  1976 is the year he's referencing and, yes, "Love Hangover" did come out then. But "I'm Coming Out?"  That's a hit from her album diana (with lower case "d") that also contained "Upside Down."  That's a 1980 album (Kat covered it here).

I could go on and on but I think we get the point.  He's wrong about her not having a top forty hit after 1981.  He's wrong about her having weak showings on the R&B charts.  He's wrong about "Love Hangover" being sung first by Sylvester.  He's wrong about "I'm Coming Out" coming out in 1976.  What is he right about?  Not much.

He also faults Diana for not having a top forty hit after 1986's "Missing You."

Quoting from C.I.:

For twenty-two years, Diana made the pop charts.  And she hit the top fifty every year during those twenty years.  21 years, she hit the top forty but in 1978 she had two songs that almost made the top forty -- "You Got It" which only made it to forty-nine and "Ease On Down The Road" with Michael Jackson which only made it to forty-one.  

Is he unaware that none of Diana's peers were able to better that run of 22 consecutive years?  Yes, that includes Dusty Springfield, Aretha Franklin, Cher and assorted other big name female artists.  It also includes many of the men.  In fact, her male equivalent would be Paul McCartney and, like her, he ends his consecutive streak in 1986.  Yes, he later comes back with five more songs that go top fifty but none of them goes top ten.  And he doesn't make any other US charts.

By contrast, Diana does.  Like Cher, Diana is a fixture on the dance charts.  Since 1986, when she last had a top forty pop hit, she's had eleven tracks chart on the dance chart -- four of which went number one.  Three of the number ones are after Ribowsky's bad book came out.  But before it was published in 2009, she'd already hit number three on the dance chart in 1989 with "Love Hangover '89," number one  in 1995 with "Take Me Higher," and hit number two in 1999 with "Until We Meet Again." Also before the 2009 publication, Diana took "If We Hold On Together" to number 23 on the AC chart in 1988 and her 2006 duet with Rod Stewart ("I've Got A Crush On You") to number 19 on the AC chart. Four number ones on the dance chart -- one before this stupid book was written.  Paul's had nothing like that.  None of her peers have. 

Why are there one set of rules for Diana and another set for everyone else?

As you read Ribowsky painting her a bitch with regards to Florence Ballard, you should really ask yourself that.  Florence got herself fired.  She showed up drunk one too many times and she also got too large for the costumes.  Berry Gordy saw the Supremes as a way to break through the glass that kept African-Americans on the outside.  In addition to being a great singer Diana was also a fashion plate and trendsetter -- like Twiggy, for example.  Berry was also helping the three ladies.  Diana, Mary and Florence were playing the Copa and Vegas and they could go on to do that forever and a day if they did their part.  Showing up drunk isn't your part.  Sticking your belly out onstage to make yourself appear even fatter isn't doing your part.

Mary did her part.  When the hits dried up for the Diana-less Supremes, Mary's career didn't end.  She could perform in clubs across the country -- and did so.  Because she did the work required. 

That's the reality that no one wants to address.

Instead, we get this myth that Diana betrayed Florence.  Why?

They weren't sisters.  They weren't even friends.  Paul's not accused of betraying John Lennon but he wasn't talking to John at the end and they'd spent the entire 70s hating one another.  Mick Jagger got Brian Jones fired from the Rolling Stones and, like Florence, Brian died.  No one holds it against Mick.

It's sexism to pretend that a woman can't conduct herself in a business relationship but must instead act like anyone she works with is her best friend.  Diana and Florence were not best friends.  They weren't even friends.  Same with Diana and Mary and, truth be told, Mary and Florence.  

"Well, it's different because these three were portrayed by the media as friends!"

I believe Paul, John, George and Ringo -- as well as Mick and everyone of the Stones -- were portrayed as friends and "blokes."  Again, John wasn't speaking to Paul.  George would die in 2001 and he wasn't speaking to Paul.  In fact, the Supremes and the Beatles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the same year.  What did Diana and Paul share that year?  They both decided to skip the ceremony.  

But Diana's a bitch?  Again, these different sets of standard are unfair and when you read a book of garbage like Ribowki's book, you really need examine how he's portraying reality and then think about how reality truly is.

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