- The Washington Times - Monday, January 20, 2003

Motown man
"Motown was not the first black-owned label or the first black label to record rhythm and blues and soul music. But Motown was the first black label to win over a mass audience (which continues to adore it) and the critics (who continue to marvel at it). It was the biggest independent label of its time, the most successful black company America had ever had, and one of the very few record labels to have lodged permanently in the public imagination. For middle America, Motown's songs are the sound of the 1960s. For Hollywood, Motown is the soundtrack to 'Platoon,' 'The Big Chill,' 'The Wonder Years,' and 'American Dreams.' For the rest of the world, Motown's music is a stand-in for America itself.
"But the more love the public and critics lavish on Motown, the more hate they heap on its founder: Berry Gordy ran his company like a benevolent tyrant.
"Gordy ordered his songwriters to keep lyrics in the present tense and consistently stripped their songs of names and other specifics. As a result, Motown's songs sounded timeless and universal. This is why they mean so much to so many of us.
"If there was one great artist who forged Motown's songs into 'the sound of young America,' it was Gordy himself."
Alex Abramovich, writing on "Hit Man," Jan. 14 in Slate at www.slate.com
Joe Loser
"Some cultural phenomena are so pathetic you only want to ignore them until they quietly fade into oblivion. For the most part, I feel that way about reality TV. The shows are tacky and stupid and have about as much in common with reality as reruns of the 'Love Boat.' But hey, I've said to myself, if millions of people get their kicks from, say, watching a bunch of trashy freaks where's the harm? Then I saw 'Joe Millionaire.'
"By definition, anyone who volunteers for such a circus is a total loser, which makes it idiotic to generalize from their experiences. But against all reason, there's something about the label 'reality TV' that gives these freak shows resonance even with reasonably sane, intelligent people. All of a sudden people begin to wonder if this really is what women crave deep down.
"The irony is that if 'Joe Millionaire' were an explicitly fictional sitcom or miniseries, people would be enraged by the message it was sending. But under the absurd cover of reality TV, Fox can essentially give the finger to an entire gender without raising an eyebrow."
Michelle Cottle, writing on "Blondes Prefer Gentlemen," Friday in the New Republic Online at www.tnr.com
'Quiet' Bee Gee
"The passing of Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees at the age of 53 reminds us not only of the temporal nature of life, but of the temporal nature of celebrity. And, in Mr. Gibb's case, of how inadequate the language of celebrity is when discussing a working musician's life.
"Long before disco was born and 'Saturday Night Fever' brought them worldwide renown, the Bee Gees scored a series of pop hits, all original compositions to which Maurice, who played several instruments, contributed. 'To Love Somebody,' one of their four hits of 1967, was typical of their work then. Three minutes or so of pure melodrama, it was a meticulously constructed tune that featured equally meticulous three-part harmonies inspired by the Everly Brothers.
"Mr. Gibb's life, like that of George Harrison of the Beatles, who died in 2001, and John Entwistle of the Who, who died last year, doesn't lend itself to lurid 'Behind the Music' treatment. To his audience, Maurice Gibb, like Harrison and Entwistle, was the 'quiet' member of his group. His work was understated and underappreciated, as is so often the case with musicians who fail to catch the public's imagination and simply do their jobs very well."
Jim Fusilli, writing on "No Jive Talkin' The 'Quiet' Bee Gee Did His Job Well," Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal

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