All good things must come to an end, and this is sadly true for Stuart Cosgrove’s epic and engaging soul and civil rights trilogy. What began with Detroit ’67: The Year That Changed Soul, and moved to Memphis ’68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul, ends with Harlem ’69: The Future Of Soul, and while it is a crying shame that, for the moment at least, we won’t find out more of what happens next (although, as suggested in the title, Cosgrove does touch upon the future), as James Brown knew, when you depart the stage do it in style and leave them wanting more. Cosgrove is leaving us in the finest style, job done.
Anyone who has read the previous books will know what to expect in terms of form. Cosgrove takes us through the year of 1969 chronologically, month by month, and looks at events which may have begun in Harlem but which had ramifications way beyond the neighbourhood boundaries. His cast of characters are a Venn diagram of the well-known, the lesser-known, the expected, and the unexpected. For every Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Gil Scott-Heron, and Donny Hathaway, there’s someone such as Fat Jack Taylor, Betty Mabry, Arthur Conley, and Afeni Shakur (born Alice Faye Williams) whose stories are vital – indeed they, and others like them, are the spine of Harlem ’69. Continue reading
One of the most eagerly anticipated books of 2017, at least round our way, is Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68: The Tragedy Of Southern Soul. It follows on from Detroit 67: The Year That Changed Soul which was one of SWH!’s Books of the Year for 2015 and which Stuart spoke about in depth when he was a guest on the SWH! podcast. Both books are part of his ‘Sixties Soul Trilogy’ (Harlem 69 is due in 2018) which takes the music of those cities as a starting point to further explore arguably the most explosive and important years of 1960s America.
Memphis 68 is defined by two deaths; Otis Redding’s in December of 1967 and Martin Luther King Jr’s in April ’68. The book begins with a city in mourning for its favourite son. For many music fans, this was the day the music died, with Redding’s demise in a plane-crash as shocking and untimely as that of Buddy Holly in similar circumstances in 1959. As with the earlier incident, it is easy to overlook the other individuals who also lost their lives, but Cosgrove makes sure they are not forgotten, reminding readers that while Redding may have been Stax Records’ shining star, he was a member of a large musical family whose loss was great and deeply felt. Continue reading
In the latest Scots Whay Hae! podcast, Ali talks to broadcaster, journalist and TV executive Stuart Cosgrove about his latest book, Detroit ’67: The Year That Changed Soul. It’s a title that doesn’t get close to describing the book’s scope and the topics touched upon, and in the podcast Cosgrove explains how he took his love of the music of Motown as a starting point to examine further themes such as the politics, social history and the culture, and counter-culture, of America at that time.
The talk touches upon the astonishing rise and fall of Detroit and the city’s links with Scotland, Berry Gordy’s business model, the tragedy of Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye’s journey from soul-crooner to political activist (making perhaps the greatest album of all-time in the process), and how Motown continued to make records while their home city burned.
All of life is in Detroit ’67; birth, death, sex, marriage, and even taxes. Set out in the form of ‘a year in the life of…’ the drama that unfolds is a mix of Empire, The Godfather, Shakespeare and Sophocles. What you get from the podcast are plenty of added extras as you’ll hear personal anecdotes, stories not featured in the book, and further perspective on ones which are. Think of it as a ‘director’s commentary’, adding extra context to depicted events.
It’s a fascinating listen as it invariably is when the speaker is so totally immersed in their chosen subject. Although Cosgrove is an unabashed polymath, it is American soul music which has been the soundtrack to his life, and his obsession above all else – even his beloved St Johnstone Football Club. For anyone who has an interest in music, politics, social history and/or American culture (which is surely all of you reading this), this is a great opportunity to hear another side to stories you may feel you already know, and some you definitely won’t. It’ll also get you digging out some Motown, if you’re anything like me.