Papa was a rolling stone!
Wherever he laid his hat was his home!
Since 2012, bass players have gathered out front of the Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan to pluck, strum and pick en masse for Bass Day. The event, which took place this year on Saturday, August 27th, may well be the largest gathering of bass players in the world. Google offers no easy answer in this regard… Of course, since it is Detroit, you can be assured that this is without a doubt the coolest gathering of bass players in the world.
This year’s Bass Day celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of The Temptations’ recording of “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” The song, which features an immortal and driving bass line, was played by 50 bassists on the Motown Museum Plaza, lead by famed Detroit bass player Kern Brantley.
“Papa,” by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, was recorded by the Temptations and released in September, 1972… Early 70s America in many ways mirrors America today – inflation, instability in the gasoline markets, and historic levels of disillusionment with our political project. We are even rehashing the fight over a woman’s right to choose.
Will this country come together? Despite the headlines, unity does occur.
The Temptations, for example, were formed out of two rival Detroit vocal groups. It’s original members included Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, and Melvin Franklin of Otis Williams & the Distants, and Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Primes.
The song depicts a man learning from his mother about his fathers reckless past. Inspired by the narrative of the “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” the University of Michigan School of Social Work (where I happen to earn my living) was onsite collecting stories about fatherhood for their oral history project “Papa WAS“.
My own father was tucked away a few miles south west in Allen Park trying to figure out how to use the bubbler bong I suggested he buy. I wonder what it would have been like to smoke cannabis with the Temptations and my father, dressed in one of his suits, which always seem a bit too big. My dad is skinny like me, but my mother insists he wear a 36 waist. Perhaps this is why I buy all my pants too big as well? Trauma is intergenerational. His belt is perpetually cranked to the last hole, just like mine.
As I made these portraits I found myself donning the fiery spirit of 1972 and walked around calling everyone “buster” or “honey.”
One lady, dressed head to toe in cheetah print, snarled back, “I’M NOT YOUR HONEY!”
“Sorry sister,” I replied sheepishly.
My boss (who is retiring, this was our last event working together) looked over at me slightly condemningly, as if to say, “Watch it, now.” A bass player jamming away smiled at me and said with a grin “Oh, it’s okay, it’s sweet, it’s honey.” The verdict on “honey” remains out. Buster is just fine. I digress.