Do I Love You?

The most valuable seven inches of polyvinyl chloride were pressed into shape over and over again in 1965 before the twenty-third of December, at a plant most likely somewhere in Detroit, Michigan. In Lansing, Michigan, an-hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Detroit, Malcolm X’s father, Earl Little, was run down by a streetcar on the intersection of East Michigan Avenue and Detroit Street, in 1931. The same day, the twenty-eighth of September (a Monday), he died of his injuries. Extraneous attackers, white racists, were suspected to have been involved. 

Twelve years later, one Sunday evening in June, a fight broke out in Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, with its island bridges and scenic esplanades, spreading into the industrial city and escalating through the night, until after three days thirty-four people were dead, among them a doctor and a fifty-eight year old man who had been waiting for the bus at the corner of Mack Avenue and Chene Street. Within those three days, seven-hundred people were injured and $2,000,000 of damages were incurred in a city-wide race-riot. Twenty-four of the casualties were black citizens. The others were white.

After the most valuable seven inches of polyvinyl chloride had been pressed two-hundred-and-fifty times over at the plant somewhere in Detroit, Frank Wilson, a singer from Houston, Texas, arrived backstage at the Fox Theatre, one night in the first months of 1966. Those seven inches of polyvinyl chloride all contained his voice, his music, in their grooves. Seven years earlier, on a Monday in January, Berry Gordy III had officially founded Tamla Records, at a house with a generous lawn on West Grand Boulevard. On that night in 1966 when Frank Wilson stood backstage, Gordy was beside him. Together, Gordy and Wilson decided that Wilson’s voice was no good.

Each time the most valuable seven inches of polyvinyl chloride had been pressed, each seven inches decreased in value. After two-hundred-and-fifty times, they were only slightly more valuable than any other seven inches of polyvinyl chloride pressed two-hundred-and-fifty times over. But then the seven inches of polyvinyl chloride began to be destroyed. An order was given. Over and over, they were decimated, annihilated, reduced to nothing. This had something to do with that conversation backstage at the Fox Theatre, Detroit, between Wilson and Gordy. 

The then-quite-ordinary seven inches of polyvinyl chloride began to grow increasingly expensive. Their value didn’t exist yet, it was stretched out in the long potentiality of years. Each time one of the seven inches was reduced to nil, the next one was fated to become more valuable. After two-hundred-and-forty-five of them were destroyed, the remaining five seven inches of polyvinyl chloride, by some rotating motion of the spheres, were destined to become the most costly seven inches of polyvinyl chloride in existence.

But Wilson and Gordy didn’t know this.

One of these remaining five most valuable seven inches of polyvinyl chloride in existence was transferred from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1969, two years after another, bigger race-riot resulted in forty-three dead, over a thousand injured, and some two-thousand buildings destroyed over five days, beginning at an unlicensed bar at 9125 12th Street, above the Economic Printing Company. One thirty-nine year-old man died stepping on a fallen electricity line. Another thirty-four year-old was shot in the back by police. Both men, along with thirty-one others, were black citizens. Again, the others were white.

When somebody in the office of Motown Records, Los Angeles, in the summer of ‘76, removed the surviving seven inches of polyvinyl chloride from the demo-library, placing it on the deck and the headphones on their ears, they decided it held one of the catchiest hooks in pop. They then duplicated this seven inches of polyvinyl chloride onto acetate, shipping these plastic discs from Los Angeles across the Atlantic, mainly to a few DJs at a casino in Wigan, Lancashire. Wilson’s name wasn’t on these discs, only a made-up Eddie Foster.

But Wilson didn’t know this.

Once they heard the chords, the notes and voices contained within, many of the DJs at Wigan Casino, formerly the Empress Ballroom, also agreed that these less-valuable seven inches of acetate contained one of the catchiest hooks in music, that once exposed, they couldn’t stop moving, gripped by a Saint Vitus Dance.

It was machine-like, engine-like, hammering, a melodic chorus of voices underpinned by twisting brass and strings. Scores of people succumbed to it, no one sure when the dancing would wear off. Legs, muscles, feet, began to ache, shoes to wear thin. Unable to stop, they had these less-valuable seven inches of acetate pressed two-thousand times over as copies on polyvinyl chloride. 

The years collapsed, and the dancers continued to twitch, to grind, to dance, hearing that round cuneiform. Throughout the seventies. Throughout the eighties. Until Wilson had passed away and the casino in Wigan, once the Empress Ballroom, had become a shopping arcade, the dancers of the Northern Soul scene long grown old. Those most expensive seven inches of polyvinyl chloride, identical in shape, groove and colour, bore a title, a single question. “Do I love you?” No other seven inches of polyvinyl chloride, from the most valuable to the least, had ever had the nerve to ask.


Joshua Calladine-Jones is a writer and the literary critic in residence at Prague Writers’ Festival. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including Freedom, The Stinging Fly, 3:AM, FILLER, and Literární.cz. It has also been translated to Czech. He is currently working on a first collection.

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