MARY WELLS | A Great New Bio About Motown’s First Superstar

Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar
by Peter Benjaminson
Book Review © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about the music world. Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar is a revelation. Peter Benjaminson’s fascinating exposé about this underappreciated hitmaker is a roller coaster ride that will leave you breathless. I couldn’t wait to see how it ended, even though I already knew (or thought I did).

This is the first book written about megastar Wells, and Benjaminson’s third book about Motown (along with The Lost Supreme and The Story of Motown). Clearly a devotee of R&B, he takes special care to explain why this musical genre is so compelling. But this superb book is also a gold mine of historical anecdotes — some humorous, some flat-out shocking, from wardrobe malfunctions to family deathbed fights to celebrity shootings. Lovers of showbiz dish will relish the stories about a teenaged Stevie Wonder groping Wells on the Motortown Revue tour bus, and Wells telling a furious Diana Ross to get a girdle. Reliably, Benjaminson never shrinks from airing the dirty laundry of anyone, including Motown founder Berry Gordy, one of the most feared and loathed gods of the entertainment world.

Gordy was himself a frustrated musical artist about whom Benjaminson explains: “No one found his playing or his singing all that overwhelming.” Gordy was far more successful as a producer and napoleonic CEO. Under his influence, Wells abandoned what the author describes as her “gutsy, gospel-type” singing style for “innocent, vulnerable adolescent lyrics … over a high-production, harmony-heavy vocal and instrumental background best exemplified by [Phil] Spector’s `Wall of Sound.'”

Thus in 1960 Wells became the first superstar of Motown Records. Then Gordy teamed her up with legendary songwriter Smokey Robinson, who, as Benjaminson explains, “encouraged her to sing in a higher register…. She followed his directions, then added her own smooth, knowing coyness, like a layer of delicious frosting, right on top.” Their songs catapulted Wells to crossover superpower status, where the Grammy-nominated phenom spent three years repeatedly topping charts with hits like “My Guy” and “Bye Bye Baby.”

What happened next is truly tragic. Wells’s life became a toxic stew of bad business decisions, aborted career reboots, and volatile romances. For her there would be no movies or TV shows like white pop stars got, and no more monster hits — only indifferent promotion by record companies, industrial sabotage, and substance abuse, all of which ultimately destroyed her.

Great gobs of Wells’s misfortune derived from unscrupulous managers and predatory contracts (she was only 17 when she joined Motown Records). Drugs and booze just made it all easier for her to bear. Hers is a cautionary tale that Benjaminson delivers with the warmth and understanding befitting a star of her caliber. His bulletproof reporting is built on extensive research and interviews with scores of people in Wells’s sphere, spiced with ballsy observations like this one about Wells’s first husband (band leader Herman Griffin, who performed backflips and splits while conducting):

Something other than drugs, liquor, and music was soon occupying her mind. “The audience liked to look at him as much as at her,” said Pete Moore [of The Miracles]. Mary also liked looking at Herman Griffin.

I confess to being a long-time Benjaminson fan. As a scribe, his style is delightful. Take how he characterizes two of Wells’s songs as “enlivened by what sound like farts from a low-pitched tuba.” C’mon, what’s not to like? If he wrote a book about fly swatters, I’d totally read it — and underline stuff and scrawl margin notes and make my friends read it, too.

As an investigator, his digging is so exhaustive it wears me out just thinking about it. Plus, he has a gift for distilling the maddeningly complex legal constructs of music contracts so that the lay wonks among us can appreciate their insanity, too. And he nimbly puts into perspective the numerous and often conflicting contemporary accounts of what really happened to the people he writes about.

I especially enjoy his books about showbiz luminaries, and this one is his best yet. Here Benjaminson delivers a seamless portrayal of an industry that devours its young, and what it was really like for a gifted casualty like Mary Wells.

Available on Amazon.

Mary Wells
Dead SpotCopyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved
Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.


Using Facebook as a Paid Marketing Tool (FAIL!!!)

Now I would like to say a word about Facebook.


A very interesting thing happened to me this week, and I don’t mean Hurricane Sandy (although that happened to me, too, but this is about another kind of s#!tstorm).

My bangin’ novel Dead Spot has a Facebook page. And according to Facebook’s metrics, Dead Spot‘s page enjoyed 205 views over two days — a 6733.33% increase! (According to Facebook.) Increase over what, Facebook doesn’t say. But even if it’s an increase over, say, 1, on what planet does that math result in 6733% ?

Could Facebook be … exaggerating?

As you probably know by now, Facebook is clawing everyone’s eyes out to buy more product exposure from them. Ads. Likes. Blogs. Greater “reach.” Fake storefronts where you can’t actually sell anything. If there’s an angle to exploit, Facebook is all over it, in the most exasperating ways possible. 6733.33%, my ass.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got something to sell, and I’d be thrilled to give Facebook some of my money for broader exposure — if Facebook would actually give me some that worked.

Here’s the thing. I was shocked when I got those 205 hits (I usually get 10-15, because Facebook only broadcasts my Dead Spot posts to a fraction of the people who subscribe to it, because Facebook is holding the rest hostage for money. My most recent post was broadcast to — wait for it — 4 people). But I was even more shocked that 205 hits resulted in 0 sales. They didn’t even result in new Likes.

Which brings us back to Facebook wanting to charge fees for delivering more of this sort of traffic. On account of it’s so awesome and all.

According to one report from a marketing company, most users don’t revisit Facebook pages after “Liking” them. The report examined 4,000 Facebook fan pages, and claims the average post reaches only 17 percent of its page’s Likers.

If you want more reach than that, there’s Facebook’s new and completely arbitrary “Promote” scam. It costs up to $100 for a lousy three days of one post appearing in the news feeds of a few more people who actually signed up to receive it, plus a bunch of strangers who could give a crap.

One Facebook page owner who field tested two $5 Promote investments reported some sad results. One post (about a free club meeting) was transmitted to 806 of 2,300 Likers’ news feeds. That’s 35 percent coverage, or twice the unpaid average. The other post (about an event with a cover charge) reached only 484 Liker news feeds, or 21 percent. The page owner doesn’t say whether the promotions enhanced his events’ attendance (wasn’t that the point?). However, he did collect 2 extra page Likes for his trouble. Wow.

When you pay to “promote” your Facebook post, it’s transmitted to (among others who could care less) friends of friends of your friends. Also strangers with whom you share an interest in, say, breathing. And, infuriatingly, never to everyone who clicked Like on your page. The fee is charged upfront to your credit card, and then Facebook proceeds to not tell you how many users will receive your “sponsored” post in their news feeds. Reliable reports claim likes resulting from paid promotion are generated by click farms.

In other words, Facebook paid “promotion” is utterly random and illogical. And useless. Or putting it in marketing terms, a pig in lipstick. It’s why your news feed is skunked up with “sponsored posts” selling diet soap (JUST SHOWER AND LOSE WEIGHT!) and junk that stops ringing in your ears. The only winner is Facebook, who makes $1 million per day doing this to you.

Before Facebook jumped the shark, I looked into their other advertising “opportunities.” They wanted 75¢ per poke for pay-per-click ads. The clicks would result in Facebook Likes (or not, and either way a huge bill for me), but clickmeisters would then have to take the initiative to find my website or Amazon listing to buy the book I’m selling, and historically they don’t even click the handy links in my Facebook posts, much less the ones on my info page nobody can find thanks to Facebook’s brain-damaged site designers. Many clicks and much searching are required just to drive visitors to another website to buy my book, because Facebook won’t let anyone actually sell anything on Facebook. [Earth to Facebook: IT’S CALLED A BUY NOW BUTTON! Jeez.] It wears me out just thinking about it. What’s the point in paying for that?

Got something to sell? Don’t fall for Facebook’s smarmy pitches. “Likes” aren’t worth paying for if they don’t result in sales. Real targeted marketing is a science, not a slogan. It gets you sales, not taillights. Spend your ad dollars where they’ll count.

By the way, Facebook didn’t invent rolling service blackouts. Enron did. (Remember those granny-killing d-bags?)

eBay perpetrates this trick, too, using it to give preferential treatment to favored sellers and manage its inadequate infrastructure instead of improving it (translation: eBay physically TURNS OFF listings), and rake in millions at the same time.

eBay sellers, like Facebook users, have seen catastrophic drop-offs in page views this year, while eBay and Facebook stole scads of their dough. So don’t bother selling your book on eBay. And rest in pieces, Enron. You sick bastards.

As for my sudden deluge of Facebook page views — well, they didn’t even come from Facebook trying to woo me into pay-to-play. The real answer is way creepier.

They came from Twitter. On the day of my 6733% Facebook spike, I posted a link to Dead Spot‘s Amazon product page on Twitter. There is a link to Dead Spot‘s Facebook page on Amazon, but it’s on my author page (not my product page), which I doubt 205 people suddenly felt compelled to find and click. My Twitter and Facebook pages are not linked at all. Not by me, anyway.

Is stalking what Facebook means when they promise “greater reach”? Like I said. Creepy.

Facebook Fraud — A Wake-Up Call from Veritasium

 DEAD SPOT on Amazon

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Make The Stupid Stop! / Part II

On April 23 I noted the insane War of the Book Distributors over my novel Dead Spot, which is for sale over at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. When we last visited the online booksellers, Amazon sported three vendors vying for Dead Spot sales at various (mostly absurd) price points: $7.32, $111.22, and $121.73 (and mine, a thrifty $13.95!). B&N’s one vendor had Dead Spot over-optimistically priced at $142.45.

I’m completely flabbergasted to report that the Amazon copies of Dead Spot are now going for an astounding $84.97 (for the same one you could’ve had for $7.32 had you moved your ass faster) and $232.06! (Both alongside mine, still economically priced at $13.95.) The B&N copy has been joined by a second one that wandered over from Amazon, and they’re now selling for — wait for it — $239.95 and $282.53 (for the one that used to be $142.45).

No, I am not making this up! And in case you’re wondering, the three-figure Dead Spots are review copies requested by magazines that never even read them. I’ve decided that them scalping Dead Spot for $282 is an endorsement far superior to any editorial blather they would’ve barfed up.

Here’s the other thing: Why anyone would pay more than $13.95 for my book beats the hell outta me. Not that it isn’t the greatest rock’n’roll novel ever written. But if you buy the $282.53 Dead Spot, I won’t see a dime of it. Also, for $282 they should deliver it personally and give you a blow job. So buy Dead Spot from me for $13.95. At least mine are autographed.


Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER – All Rights Reserved

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Thank You, Porter Anderson!

Big shout out to Porter Anderson, the journalist, lit critic and former UN diplomat who posts at and @Porter_Anderson on Twitter. A while back the lovely Mr. Anderson tweeted wryly about Dead Spot and got me my biggest one-day response ever to this blog. Thanks, Mr. Anderson!

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER
Sydney Schuster
and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorsed any third-party advertising that may appear on this blog, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore such crap.

The Joys of Self Publishing

Not sure whether to be flattered by this or pissed off because I don’t get a piece of it, but someone is selling a copy of Dead Spot on Amazon for — wait for it — $121.73!

Why? Sheer cojones, I guess. (I still sell it for $13.95.)

As Sting says about people who use “Every Breath You Take” for their wedding song, good luck with that.

Copyright © 2014 SYDNEY SCHUSTER

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorse any third-party advertising that may appear below, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.



DEAD SPOT Is Now on Bookwire

My bangin’ novel DEAD SPOT has been listed on Bookwire. Huzzah!

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER
Sydney Schuster
and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorsed any third-party advertising that may appear on this blog, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore it.

Why Self-Publishing Doesn’t Totally Suck

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER

My last post was about self-publishing on Kindle, and Kindle’s mysterious sales ranking system for the million-plus ebooks in its catalog. This post is about why you can ignore it.

I published my novel Dead Spot on Kindle. A colleague asked me why I chose self-publishing, considering that my nonfiction journalism — the kind paid in dollars per word, not pennies — has been published many, many times. (Google me, dogs.) I told her straight up that I’d been hosed enough by literary agents and publishers. (Hey, Syd, Dead Spot is nice but why don’t you write a book just like [title of that week’s NYT’s best seller]?).

Even if I did succeed in getting one of them to publish my novel, establishment publishers are notoriously uninterested in promoting new authors. Odds are my book would be on B&N’s remainder table before the advance cleared, unless I did my own PR. And if I have to do the PR myself, what am I paying them for?

My author friend, the one I was explaining all this to, has published several books the traditional way. She couldn’t argue with my logic.

Here’s the thing: I’m not getting any younger. I have a novel to sell, and I’m through begging pseudo-intellectual snotbags to publish it. Ergo, Kindle. I’ve now sold way more books there than I did (i.e., zero) without it. In that regard, Kindle can be a marvelous thing for authors with marketable product and limited patience.

And not for nothing, but B&N and Borders recently picked up the paperback version of Dead Spot, which I publish myself. So 4Q2, Random House.

Copyright © 2012 SYDNEY SCHUSTER

Sydney Schuster and Dead Spot neither approved nor endorsed any third-party video advertising that may appear on this blog, nor do we derive any income from it. Feel free to ignore such crap.