1. A Backstage Party
September 1976: The Performer's Lounge, Backstage at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. A windowless basement room with concrete-block walls. The furniture consists of several couches, some tables and quite a few folding chairs, all pushed toward the perimeter, leaving the center of the room empty. The room is decorated with a number of large standing plants and three or four modest but cheerful floral arrangements.
There is a portable bar assembled near one wall, tended by a waiter in a red jacket; thin-stemmed glasses and bottles of champagne are arranged carefully in front of him. A young muscular man in a three-piece suit sits against the opposite wall, in one of the folding chairs, reading a newspaper. He and the waiter are alone in the room.
From the adjoining hallway comes the sound of voices. There is a wild, uncontrollable giggle; and then a long, noisy, elegantly attired procession enters the room like a Chinese dragon. The waiter in the red jacket begins pouring champagne; the man in the three-piece suit folds his newspaper and gets to his feet.
"Great show," one man says to another at the bar.
"Yeah," the second man says.
"Just great," the first man says. He is young and earnest; he has conservatively cut blond hair and a carefully trimmed moustache; he wears a watch chain across his vest.
"There were a couple of moments, though," he tells his companion, "when I was worried."
"Oh?" the other man says.
"Well, when she knocked over the microphone stand, how about that? How does that look?"
"Bad," the other man says.
The young blond man takes a drink from the bar and considers the glass a moment.
"She's beautiful, though, the way she gets out of things like that, isn't she? Isn't she beautiful that way?"
"Beautiful," the other man agrees.
"Hey," the first man says, raising a finger of warning, "but wasn't that lucky? I mean, just think. She could have tied herself up with the cord, tripped over the fucking stand and ended up flat on her back, and how would that have looked?"
"Like shit," the second man tells him.
Three men enter and stand near the doorway, observing the crowd. They confer a moment, then move among the people, easing them away from the middle of the room and creating a clear path from the door. There is a buzz of anticipation; the sound of conversation drops and fades, like a radio losing a faraway station in the middle of the night.
A rumpled, stocky, gray-haired man in a shimmering blue suit walks in, his hands clasped in front of him.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he announces, "Diana Ross."
There is enthusiastic applause as Diana glides into the room. She is dressed in a white gown, her hair pulled tightly back from her forehead, her expression glowing.
The man in the shimmering blue suit moves several steps in front of her, escorting her as if by remote control; she seems not to notice his presence. She blows a kiss to the crowd.
"Thank you!" she says. "Thank you all!"
She stands alone, her arms held out slightly from her sides. Everyone watches her from a distance.
"A beautiful show," somebody calls out. There is more applause.
"You're so nice," Diana says. She turns to look at everybody.
"I feel so good!" she tells them. "I do, I feel terrific!"
She moves her body in an exaggerated shiver of good feeling.
A middle-aged lady with an enormous hairdo steps forward and takes Diana's arm.
"You were breathtaking," the woman tells her.
Diana hugs the woman and kisses her cheek.
"And the audience," the woman says.
"Weren't they wonderful?" Diana says.
"They were wonderful," the woman agrees.
"That was such a beautiful audience," Diana says, "and they made me feel so good, that I seriously did not want to stop singing. I feel good enough now . . . " She stops, taking a deep breath. " . . . I feel good enough now to do a second show, I really do."
She turns to a man standing near her, a heavyset man in a dark suit and a red and white striped tie.
"That's what I should do," she tells him suddenly. "I should do two shows every night."
"No you shouldn't," the man says.
"Oh," Diana says, turning away, "but I could!"
"Let's have a toast," the man with the striped tie suggests.
"Let's have some food," Diana says. "I'm starving! What have you got back here?"
She looks at the waiter; he indicates the glasses.
"Champagne?" Diana says. "Don't you have any food?"
The waiter shakes his head sadly.
"No food?" Diana says. "Where is that Berry Gordy?"
She searches the room with her eyes, like an Indian scout scanning the horizon.
"Mr. Berry Gordy sir!" she calls out. "Where are you?"
A small, bearded man in a silk tuxedo steps out of the crowd.
"Me?" Berry Gordy says. "You looking for me?"
"There is no food here," she tells him.
"Say what?" he says.
"No food," she says.
"No," he says. "There's no food."
"Why not?" she asks.
"Can't afford it," he tells her. "See, what happened was – we spent the money that we had allocated for food."
"On what?" she says.
Berry Gordy raises his glass and smiles broadly.
"On champagne," he says.
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