When I gave that talent-show performance four decades ago, I didn't realize how little I knew about the music I so loved.
On a Saturday night in May of 1970, my friends Larry, Eric, and I, each of us then 17 years old, performed in the annual talent show of Fair Lawn High School in Bergen County, New Jersey. We chose to do an act that came naturally to us. We three upper-middle-class Jewish white boys, just months away from going off to college, impersonated the Temptations, the all-black Motown musical group, lip-syncing the lyrics in our rendition of the now-classic song "Cloud Nine."
We had practiced our routine for weeks in my shag-carpeted bedroom, in the post-WWII split-level colonial house that I shared with my parents and sister. We played the album that contained "Cloud Nine" again and again on my Panasonic turntable as we choreographed our dance moves. Larry took the lead, deciding who would play which member of the Temps and how long we would rehearse. Eric and I, much his inferiors both athletically and academically and glad simply to be aboard for this ambitious musical enterprise, complied readily with his every command.
Though the three of us had markedly different personalities, we had in common something powerful, just a notch below our diehard habit of playing pickup basketball. What brought us together was our love of soul music, and most particularly the soul music that came out of the justly fabled locale known as Motown.