Among the songs that inspire me to work on my YA manuscript, I listen to “I Can’t Get Next To You.” Released in 1969, this number one single was recorded by The Temptations for Motown Records. After the dynamic intro, the first line is “I can turn the gray sky blue.” The singers, voices ranging up and down the scale, falsetto to basso, list the various miracles the song’s persona can perform, such building a castle from a grain of sand, sailing a ship on dry land, flying like a bird, turning a river into fire, or controling seasons and time. Alas, the song’s persona is unhappy because all his power cannot make a certain girl love him.
In my manuscript, a fifth grader teams up with a boy shaman to earn the love of girl in his class. Though the boy shaman possesses great power to “Make the seasons change/Just by wavin' my hand,” he resists helping the fifth grader, who is desperate for the love of the prettiest girl in his class.
Sensory details come to mind. Longing is the clank of a chain link fence on a empty playground, the sour taste of old milk, the stink of urinal cakes in the boys’ room, the painful splinter from a tan bark chip, construction paper red of an empty Valentine card.
The gusty delivery of “I Can’t Get Next To You” reminds me that great abilities pale in comparison to love, even for a fifth grade boy living in 1973.
“Unimportant are all the things I can do.
'Cause I can't get next to you.”
Don’t take my word for it, have a listen: