This story is by Michael Thupayagale and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Journal of Ryan Spencer:
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Bliss Division
How I wish I could hear those words again. A sweet memory of my life snatched away unmercifully. We had the potential to be something legendary, we put all the work in but now our memory is drowned in the shadows of forgetfulness. Nobody remembers us and nobody ever will…unless I continue our legacy. Bliss Division, does that ring a bell? Probably not but I’ll make sure we’re known.
In 1970 Bliss Division birthed out of Ohio. That’s what we called our soul music group. I had been thinking more of Blissful Five but close enough, right? You had two pairs of twins; Calvin and Kirk, Tyler and Trent and then you had me – the little chum of the group. Vocals were my superpower. I had that Sam Cooke Aretha Franklin spirit inside me and I was unstoppable. All five of us attended Livingston high school and every day after class we’d go practice at Kirk and Calvin’s place. We’d sing tunes that were popular at the time and attempt to write our own material.
“I got a challenge for y’all, let each of us write a verse for our crushes, put it all in one song then perform it in front of the whole school.” Kirk would say.
“No way we doing that yo! I’m not embarrassing myself in front of Keisha like that.” Replied Trent.
“But we’ll have the whole school dancin’ you dig.” Said Tyler.
We all laughed at these hysterical ideas. These were probably the best times I had with these guys. Practice after practice we entered various talent competitions, most of which we didn’t win. The exposure was all that mattered to us. We were doing what we loved, and more people heard about us. We kept playing more free gigs and it wasn’t long until God presented a blessing to us. We caught the eye of Bobby Mosey, the founder and manager of the prestige O’Jays. Accompanied by this Godsent individual we had the honor of recording three songs for Chase Brown’s O2 records and soon Brown took over our management.
We’d hit the jackpot. In 1971 our debut single Send Love to Me peaked at a whooping number 23 on Billboard’s soul chart. Later that year we released our debut album The Bliss of Life. Although it wasn’t a major success like other soul albums at the time one song off the record did manage to make its way to Billboard at number 47 on the soul chart. We received some recognition from the likes of James Brown, Diana Ross and even Stevie Wonder himself. Charting was of little concern to us. What mattered was the progress we made. Practice makes perfection, right? I was so thrilled by all the future possibilities for our career. I daydreamed about us standing at the Grammy Awards one day and showcasing ourselves to the entire world. However, that’s when reality slapped us in the face.
1973 was when we recorded our last song together. Our shows were dazzling but our checks were slackening.
“Ah don’t worry, you boys will get your payment and I can assure you your money is very safe with me. You should trust me with your lives.” Chase would say.
He was one of the few who believed we could amount to something big so who were we not to trust him? He had given us the privilege of recording our debut songs anyway. We put our undying faith in Mr. Brown. We’d eventually get our money, we’d eventually get the check for all our hard work, right? Right…That’s where deception got the best of us. We were a little too late to realize we’d been deceived by a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
It was all a scam. Our so-called manager had laundered all the money for himself not dropping us a single penny. That scumbag took advantage of us because we were just kids pulling our strings for his own profitable gain and that’s when we had to call it quits. 1974 was the death of Bliss Division. I tried not to lose hope and auditioned for Motown youth night but had no luck there either.
Just a band that fell victim to a scam.
We all went our separate ways. Calvin joined the military; Kirk became a waiter at a local restaurant while Tyler and Trent ended up in penitentiary for theft and other offences.
As for me, my parents were financially crippled. It was time for me to acknowledge that what was broken into a million pieces couldn’t be put back together. I could either accept my circumstances and give up on my dream or an even better option.
It was the fall of 1975. The world slowly turned into a grey distant memory for me as I was beginning to detach myself from it. Sherman bridge, that was the venue for my departure that night. My mother had told me to check our mailbox for new mail in the morning, but I obviously hadn’t bothered. The best thing was she never detected any signs that something was off about me. If there’s anything I’m good at, it’s concealing my emotions. There I was, Sherman bridge and below me was a road flooded with a stream of fastmoving vehicles. The plan was to jump and get splattered. No one could stop me.
As I prepared to exit this sinful world something crossed my mind and it put fear in my heart. In church we were always told that suicide is a sin and that if you did it you would be damned to eternity in hell. My thoughts ran wild in panic, the thought of facing the almighty God for judgement of my life scared me. Who knew what he was going to do to me especially since I would’ve killed myself? If he couldn’t understand my pain and make an exception for me then he would throw me in hell. How cruel of him. I paused for a very long time and suddenly headlights shined directly at me out of nowhere.
“Boy what do you think you’re doing?” Yelled a lady.
I got away from the ledge and put my hands up thinking I was being arrested. When the lady stepped out the car, I immediately recognized who she was, it was even in her voice.
“Diana Ross?” I said out of shock, wondering what she was doing here in town.
“That’s right baby; I was on my way back from a show I did tonight then I saw you. We sent a letter to your post, and we wanted you to perform at the Motown youth special in LA this Friday.” Said Diana.
“Motown Youth Special?”
“Exactly. One of our performers backed out and we figured you could replace them since you auditioned. Ryan Spencer from Bliss Division, is that right? Hmmm whatcha say to that?”
This had to be a dream. Was I hearing right? The legendary Diana Ross was asking me to perform at a Motown Special. To my delight, God seemed to be working in my favor. I couldn’t believe I was getting a second chance with my music career. Wait till my parents hear about this I thought. I finally gave my answer.
When I tell you always trust God’s timing you better believe me. The atmosphere was vibrant and my soul was refurbished into a happier me. I would finally get the chance to showcase my talent to everybody. Something was different though. This time I was going solo, and it felt heavy on my heart that my friends couldn’t share the stage with me. How I wished they were here because together we were incredible. I had a duty to fulfill. I wasn’t only performing for the audience that night but for the rest of my team, my family, Bliss Division. As I pep talked myself backstage someone inconveniently bumped into me.
“Sorry, I didn’t see you there. Nice to meet you, I’m Michael by the way.” Said the stranger sporting an afro and a colorful outfit. He put out his hand and that’s when it clicked in my head.
“Oh, you’re that guy from the Jackson 5! I’m Ryan.” I said shaking his hand.
“Exactly, I’m the lead singer of the group too.” Michael replied busting out some light dance moves that threw me off.
I couldn’t let this guy’s charisma intimidate me because tonight was about me and my group.
My turn arrived. I made my way to the stage filled with anxiety, wondering if I could pull this whole thing off.
“Good luck.” Said Michael behind me.
“Same to you.” I said back to him.
I came on stage to dazzle everybody with a masterpiece and that is how I carried the legacy of Bliss Division onwards. Forever in my heart.