In May 1970, Eli Siegel, the founder of the philosophy Aesthetic Realism, said that we had reached a crucial point in history where economics based on exploiting people for profit had finally failed and would never recover because of the deep objection in people to the ill will on which it is based. He said:
This is the greatest victory of good will in history. So far in the history of the world, the question has been, how long, O Lord, how long? There has been an answer this month. If people knew it, they would be dancing in the street.
I believe we are closer to the day when people will know it. And when that time comes, I think it’s safe to say that this will be heard, frequently and LOUD:
Aesthetic Realism and the Power of a Motown Classic
This great 1964 Motown recording by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, written and produced by William “Mickey” Stevenson, Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye, thrills us when we hear it and makes us want to get up and move because of the way it puts together opposites – wildness and precision, concentration and expansion, and the exhilaration of one person happily joining with many. “All beauty” Eli Siegel stated in the central principle of Aesthetic Realism, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
Right at the beginning, the drums (played wonderfully by Marvin Gaye) launch us into the song with tremendous insistence—one clean, loud beat followed by a roll of three–that is so bold, immediate and abrupt that it wakes us up and tosses us out in the middle of the street where the dancing has already begun and the party is underway. Already, the band is churning out that irresistible rhythm; with drums hitting heavy on the second and fourth beats of each measure. As guitars alternate back and forth between two closely related chords, you get the feeling of people dancing, shifting their bodies’ weight from one foot to the other and back again. And the bass guitar (played by the great James Jamerson), insisting on that heavy tonic note, also seems to dance, because of the double and triple-plucking he does on the first and third beats.
And then, in between each beat (on the “upswing’ as you might call it) there is a strange sound which I learned is a tap on the head of a tambourine played through an echo effect which gives the whole driving rhythm a feeling of lift. Meanwhile, the baritone sax plays that low, buzzy, sliding-up-from-below sound at the outset of every other measure that also lifts you off your feet, while the horns play a celebratory flourish that sounds like a glorious announcement; five short notes followed by one long note: ba ba, ba-da-la daaaaaaaaa. Taken all together, we have heaviness and lightness at once—also something very concentrated and immediate, together with sounds that expand and reach out. All of what I just said is in the first 8 seconds. Think you can hear it and be satisfied just sitting in a chair? Don’t lie!
Martha Reeves Stands for Us All
Now Martha Reeves enters with that voice which is at once so concentrated, so individual, well-honed, and at the same time goes out across space, very much in keeping with her first words,
Callin’ out around the world,
Are you ready for a brand new beat?
Summer’s here and the time is right for dancing in the street!
Then lead and backup singers are heard together: “They’re dancing in Chic-aaaa-go-o” [“Dancin’ in the street”], “Down in New Orleans [“Dancin’ in the street”], “In New York City” [“Dancin’ in the street”]—and we get a sense of one person encouraging many people while many people support one person.
Then the music widens out with the first new chord change as Reeves joyfully proclaims, “All we need is music…” and the backup singers answer again with staccato phrases “Sweet, sweet. Sweet, sweet music! Sweet music! Everywhere!” And then suddenly they spread out wide on that wonderful, luxurious, harmonized “Ooo, ooo, oooooooh….” All the ways this song has something that thumps or crashes, together with something that glides and spreads out, says something, I believe, about the relation of a single self and wide reality; one person and all persons.
Ethics in a Song
I have no documents to prove it, but I believe this song and recording arose from a deep instinct (however unconscious) in its creators to feel that good will among people is possible. I think that is what is meant by “Are you ready for a brand new beat?” It is much more than just a fun party song. One sign that this is so is that from the moment Reeves begins to sing, a mighty, new percussion sound is heard on the second and fourth beats of each measure. In an interview, Martha Reeves explained that the sound was made by a percussionist hitting a heavy steel chain with a hammer. That rhythmic crash heard throughout brings a sense of terrific conviction, urgency. It says, “We mean this with all of ourselves!” It’s in keeping with Aesthetic Realism’s showing that good will is tough. It’s not just a saying, “Let’s all make nice and come out and dance together.” There’s something ferocious here. They felt a drum by itself wasn’t strong enough.
This was 1964 and later that summer, race riots took place in cities across America. Today in 2020, racism and economic injustice still afflict our nation, but it’s very hopeful to see many people standing up against these injustices with a new level of conviction and tenacity. I believe the education of Aesthetic Realism is crucial and necessary because it can have people see that good will is the greatest personal achievement—not the contempt we thought would take care of us. When Martha Reeves sings, “All we need is music,” it’s against the acquisitive, competitive tendencies of people; it seems to say, “The world can be enjoyed by all of us together.” It illustrates these sentences by Eli Siegel from Self and World:
In the same way as 10,000 persons can be listening to an exciting composition of music, each feeling that he is listening to it, while others are listening—so each person can see the wonder and delicacy and largeness of the universe as his, while knowing that other selves are apprehending pleasantly this universe.
The chorus and band now broaden out even more in a series of majestic, expanding chord changes, as Reeves sings: “Ohhhhh! It doesn’t matter what you wear, just as long as you are there!” She doesn’t say it doesn’t matter what neighborhood you’re from, how much money is in your pocket, or what is the color of your skin; but something like that is felt anyway.
I Learned what Real Individuality Is
There can never be enough words to express how grateful I am to Aesthetic Realism for changing my lonely feeling that I was an isolated stick figure passing through an alien landscape. I learned in my earliest consultations—to my amazement—that I was much more like other people, for example, my father, than different. My consultants gave me an assignment; to write “25 Things I Have in Common with Christopher Fennell,” whom I had had a great stake in seeing as only different from me. I felt at first that this was quite a tall order. They said,
For example, do you think you might both enjoy a plate of lasagna?
Consultants: And do you think, too, that both of you are trying every day to make sense of how you’re sure of yourselves and also unsure?
I was very surprised but saw right away this was so. And I learned, too, that I am much more like all other people than different. All of us are trying to put opposites together, including sureness and unsureness, humility and pride, individuality and relation. And the wonderful thing about it is that in giving up my false, unworkable idea of individuality, where I was trying to see myself as separate from and superior to others, I got the pleasure of joining the human race and feeling that, in seeing my relation to the world and people, I was coming into my real individuality. What I learned made possible real love in my life and a happy marriage to my dear wife, Carol McCluer, for which I am immensely grateful!
A Song and the Hopes of Everyone
As the song goes on, Martha Reeves continues an “invitation across the nation, a chance for folks to meet” which includes Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC, and then “Can’t forget the Motor City!”—referring of course to the great city of Detroit, where this recording was made, and which has suffered so greatly from the failure of profit economics in these decades. But the joy of this recording is undiminished, and what it stands for I believe is still to be.
The return of that glorious, “It doesn’t matter what you wear…” section is even more beautiful, fervent and convincing the second time through. If rock and roll were to have an “Ode to Joy,” I would nominate this piece. In the very last words of the song, Martha Reeves goes once more beyond America’s shores: “Across the ocean blue, me and you. We’re dancing in the street.” And as the song fades, we get a sense of it going on indefinitely, across land and oceans into the vast distance, taking in the whole world.
The biggest reason, I believe, people will be dancing in the street is when they see that Aesthetic Realism is true and explains the world, music, and our lives! To celebrate that, here is the second half of this great recording.
Learn more: AestheticRealism.org