The taxi driver kept the cab moving in straight lines, despite 50-mph winds. Street lamps and signs, strung across intersections, danced like diapers on a stormy clothesline. Welcome to Columbus, Ohio. The cabbie was in an obliging good mood, even stopping the meter at $2.80–the usual fare for a ride from Port Columbus airport to the Sheraton–to do a little sightseeing, driving through the rich part of town, the high-rise senior citizens’ apartment towers, and a block away, the “colored section.”
“Here’s where you can get a piece of tail for ten bucks,” he explained, “anything you want.” He slowed down dramatically as we passed the bars and grills–clean, actually, with the grime either covered by snow or blown away. “Here’s where they had that riot a few years back,” he said grimly. “I just thought you’d like to see this, since you’re a writer and all.” Silence.
I brought up football, to get the talk going again, and his mind must’ve registered Kent State, or its aftermath, the disruptions at nearby Ohio State. He grunted and dismissed Ohio’s high football ranking last season. We’d arrived at the hotel already anyway. He looked over his seat and explained how Ohio is regulated by the State Liquor Control. Stores are closed after 9, and it was past midnight. “If there’s anything you want, I can get it for you. Or just ask any of the cab drivers. We’ll be right here.” Thanks, I said.
“Oh,” and he took out a billfold and flashed a color photo of a “colored” woman. “I can get this for you, too. She’s a nice one.”
* * *
Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher takes his place before a lectern in the Council chambers of Gary, Indiana. The mayor is waiting for the film crew to get their lights placed, and for the buzz to die down a little. It is Jackson 5 Day this January 31st in Elbert Gary’s little old city; in Music Man town, soul music rules. They were going to helicopter the Jackson 5 in and parade them to their old house at 23rd and Jackson Streets, and the mayor was going to re-name the street “Jackson 5 Street” for the week, and even lay a cornerstone in front of the house where Joe and Kathy Jackson raised their family of nine.
And then there’d be the ceremonies at City Hall. But snow, 40-mph winds, and zero-degree weather made it so that, all of a sudden, we’re at City Hall. It had taken about ten minutes to fill the room, some 200 Christmas-dressed kids towing parents and guardians up from the library-ish lobby into this high-ceilinged chamber. And now a dozen teenagers enter through a special door, to the tables the councilmen usually use for meetings. They sit in a neat row behind the mayor, in front of the Gary banner: City On The Move. City of steel–US Steel–and waterway transportation, and trucking, and rail; of a past of graft and corruption, and of plentiful black labor. And, now, a black mayor. The city emblem, on the flag and on the podium, is a bucket of hot metal being poured onto the globe, like gravy onto a mashed potato.
Hatcher is running for re-election in this 55 percent black city; he is generally popular, but running hard, anyway, and the J-5 are here to help, with two benefit shows today and tonight. They were in Columbus for two shows the day before. They and the mayor are all old buddies, according to all the stories in Soul Magazine. The Jackson kids all played youth-league baseball, and Hatcher, as a city official who loved kids, supported various ball teams.
It was at a campaign benefit concert for candidate Hatcher–where the Jackson 5 performed–where Hatcher introduced the boys to Diana Ross; Diana rushed the word to Berry Gordy, and that’s how Motown landed them and moved them into an immense home in the Hollywood hills–and into the top hierarchy of soul, pop, and–if you must–bubblegum music.
* * *
Dear Michael: I have a problem. I’ve been in LOVE with you ever since I set my eyes on you. I would like to see you in person. My birthday is March 3rd and I will be 11. I hope I am not too old for you.
Carla Hall, Los Angeles
* * *
There’re these letters to Soul, the primary music publication for young blacks. The letters section is the most popular part of the paper, Soul discovered by survey. Here is where people voice their choices; this is where Aretha was defended and where Motown is so often denounced–Where is David Ruffin? Why is Flo Ballard, one of the original Supremes, slaving away as a domestic maid? Why doesn’t Motown take care of her? Why no publicity for Martha Reeves and the Vandellas?
Now, there is a full page each issue for a “Jackson 5 Mailbag.” Now, while the grown-ups–the teenagers and young adults–debate and carry on about Muhammad Ali and Angela Davis and interracial marriages, the J-5 fans have their own big korner.
* * *
Dear Soul: I want to say how proud all us kids are to have a group like the J-5 today. It wasn’t too long ago when kids got on the stage and were laughed at.
The J-5 can communicate with young and old, Black and white. It takes a great recording company like Motown to have guys like these.
C. E., New York