Temptations Biographies -
Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

Temptations biographies don't get much closer to the Motown group than the one by Otis Williams.

But can we trust his history? Would fans enjoy his words as much as his quintet's songs?

Reread the headline above to guess my opinion. Read the review below to see it in full!

Temptations Biographies -

Temptations biographies: Cover

By Otis Williams, with Patricia Romanowski, 2002 (updated ed.)

If you want to get many degrees closer to the group than my telling of the Temptations tale allows, then this book provides that opportunity.

Spokesman to the end, Williams presents the definitive-by-default account of the singers' rises, falls, and plateaus. He shares his (the co-founder's) formative years, corrects misconceptions, and gives us a good idea of what went on when the microphones turned off, especially overseas.

I say "good," not "great," because he tends to gloss over milestones. No need for exaggerated "dun dun duns" to accompany the classic lineup's formation or its long-awaited success. But his let's-move-it-along pace does at times weaken the saga's dramatic impact.

He also admits to forgetting certain details (like early song lyrics). That happens only a couple of times, and it's understandable. Still, I'm not sure it's wise for an author to imply his lack of research--however minor an example--for a fact-based book!

Anyway, I also say "idea" because without Temptations biographies by the other members, it's hard to tell how much Williams skews the facts in his own favor.

It's clear that he loves his colleagues, especially the originals, and admires their gifts. It's honest, not insulting, to note their flaws and how they affected the group. Maybe he assumed the others would release their own versions...or maybe he knew his pro-Otis slant would trump them all. Who knows?

When it comes to balance, Williams succeeds less questionably when describing little things that still mean something. He knows, for instance, that performing before a black and white audience down south isn't a huge sociopolitical event. But he's right to note modestly that "it is a step."

It's that tone that makes this Temptations bio so appealing. Williams's writing is graceful, natural, sweetly ironic, and slyly naughty. He frequently jumps from topic to topic with no segues, only line breaks. Nonetheless, I found it really easy to read on and on and on!

Bonuses in this Motown book include photos (baby pictures, show posters, backstage candids), a discography, and a cute list of "Otis'isms."

The main attraction of this edition is the last chapter, which covers the years since the 1988 original.

You could title this conclusion "Death and New Life": As he does for Paul Williams, Otis Williams chronicles the passing of David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, and Melvin Franklin very movingly.

As for the life part, his focus on the older book and NBC miniseries is oddly self-congratulatory. He even calls the Temptations "God's group"!

Yet it's probably better that Temptations biographies like this one close optimistically, or with dreamy nostalgia. Although this book isn't the most objective report on the Motown artists, it makes me feel the things I feel when I listen to their music: positive, engaged, and fulfilled.

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