Friday, June 26, 2009

Musical fanboys; Michael Jackson

I finally caught up with the Elvis Costello show on Sundance. The episode I caught featured guest Elton John. Now I'm not a fan of John's. I liked Tumbleweed Connection very much but after that it was a race to the bottom--the bottom being songs of interminable length and cringe-worthy lyrics.

But last night John and Costello spent the night talking about the music that had influenced them and it was like hearing Crider, Reasoner, Randisi and Gorman sitting around discussing vintage paperbacks. Reference after reference to singers dating at far back as 1946. They even sang a few of the songs they cited. The big surprise for me was their reverence (and nothing less) for Laura Nyro. They discussed at length how she'd not only influenced them but influenced the songwriting of our entire generation. Elton John even sat down and played piano on one of his songs. He said he hadn't cribbed this but it was certainly (time changes etc) very much a Nyro.

I don't know diddly about music so I was fascinated by their talk about hooks and bridges and choruses etc. They also had an interesting discussion about some of the great songwriters they'd known who just never, for a variety of reasons, got any radio play and thus never had any hits.

I'm sure all the episodes are still in rotation. Fine fine program.


NBC News gave Michael Jackson seventeen minutes tonight. One of the segments showed people all over the world sobbing. In London there was a mass impromptu rally with people dancing and singing his songs. Despite myself I was moved by it. Pretty damned cool all the races as one grooving in this wide avenue.

I say despite myself because I never quite caught the fever. The music was ok but the videos always struck me as overwrought. His final videos were so wantonly narcissistic I was (seriously) embarrassed for him.

I remember Sony wanting to curb his budgets. He was coming off a flop CD and yet he wanted enormous money for a lavish video so he could break the new CD. I guess they couldn't say no. The people around him couldn't say no to his insane spending or to the little boys who came to Neverland or to his drinking or his drugging. But they sure could leech his money and largesse. They didn't have any trouble with that at all.

I felt sorry for him because he was a creature apart from the vast human tribe. His self-hatred--trying to become feminine and white--was saddest of all. The writer Michael Kinsley wonders if was even minimally educated. The Jackson crowd would never address the question of his education. He likely didn't have any. He was touring when he was five.

Vanity Fair's Maureen Orth covered Jackson and came to thunderously moral conclusions. She was quoted today, the same day that her husband was cited by Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post (he was fired Monday for being too left wing) for being one of George Bush's enablers in selling the lies that led us to the Iraq war. Mary Matalin said that whenever they wanted to get "their" message out all they did was call Russert. He had the number one rated show on Sunday morning and his influence was unquestioned. So if I was Maureen baby I'd be worrying about glass houses. At least a hundred thousand people have died in the war so far.

I blame Joe Jackson for his son's freakiness. He's a despicable human being, a sleazebag in a league of his own. His children were his employees and what a sorry lot they've turned out to be. I blame the parents who went along with Michael Jackson's wishes and I blame Michael Jackson. Whether it was arrogance or a simple inability to face himself, he should have asked for help before his dark side took hold.

Because the music never touched me, I'm having a difficult time understanding how this story has taken over TV world wide. But today I feel what I've always felt for Michael Jackson--a sadness that he was a tormented freak in an unforgiving world.


Anonymous said...

A sad life, over too soon. It oddly parallels Elvis Presley's. But Jackson's had negative impact: the infantilization of American music into a celebration of immediate gratification. Maturity and adulthood died.


RJR said...

I was never a big Hacjsom fa, but I was a definite Laura Nyro fan when I was younger. Still am . . .


charlie stella said...

Jackson certainly was talented, but I never went in for opera/dramas or anything else that required special effects to impress me. I'll take the Spartan set of Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge over Phantom of the Opera; likewise on the dialogue vs. the lyrics. Jackson’s Motown moves remain his ultimate performance for me and although I enjoy an occasional song of his from way back (when he really was a kid and not some adult acting like one), I never took to his bigger hits (Thriller, etc.) The videos, I think, ruined much of pop/rock mostly because ever since, people like his sister get to charge megabucks to lip sink a coordinated dance routine on stage for what is billed as “LIVE” at the Pepsi Arena, Janet Jackson (I actually took my 11 year old daughter and her friend to the Pepsi Arena to see her “Black Cat” tour … assuming it was a father of the year nomination) back in the day. Fortunately I brought enough cash with me to grease the bouncers for a set of earplugs.

He did have a horrible upbringing (Ed, you’re a humanitarian even mentioning what that crazy father did to him), but I can’t get beyond the $20 million dollar buyout from criminal proceedings. His subsequent acquittal (from another case) and then his move to Bahrain didn’t help his cause much either. The night he died (or it was announced) I was at the gym so I missed most of the “news” … the next morning I was downright pissed off I had to deal with it (instead of the news).

There was a special not too long ago in which he was shown walking through some store in Las Vegas picking things he was purchasing (without really looking at anything—it was just a publicity stunt) I found incredibly offensive. “I’ll take that one, that, that one. Both of those. That one,” etc. All the items were absurdly high priced and his bill was some astronomical figure.

He was no doubt talented and equal parts weird and there may have been very legitimate excuses for his eccentricity, but whether or not he was guilty of child molestation remains ONE $20 million question … because we just don’t know how many kids didn’t speak up, how many kids were compensated “off screen” and/or how many there were in Bahrain.

Me, I’d rather listen to Muddy Waters any day.

Ed Gorman said...

I agree, Charlie. That's why I said I blamed Jackson and the parents involved for anything that (allegedly) happened. I mean star fucking on your own is one thing--star fucking by pimping your kid out is another. And the dentist who got $20 mil tried to get Jackson to buy and produce his screenplay.

Max Allan Collins said...

I never liked his music. The Jackson Five was the Osmonds in blackface. His later stuff was overwrought and self-indulgent. So was his life.

I usually can scrape up some pity or compassion or something. Instead I feel disgusted by the fawning media -- that brunette hack on MSNBC who smirks about new movies and so on made this ridiculous assertion that "now we can listen to his songs on the radio again." I never did, for more than a few seconds.

He wasn't Elvis or the Beatles. His gift was making a lot of people think he was, however. Yet we all know what he really was -- a pedophile, and everything Norm MacDonald said about him was true.

charlie stella said...

I didn't know that about the dentist ... that is beyond sick.

That guy (the dentist) should have his teeth pulled my way (with a knife to his throat for novacaine and a pair of pliars).

RJR said...

Wow, I had my fingers on backward when I made my post. Still like Laura Nyro, though, as a composer and an artist. I went into a Sam Goody's a few years ago ad asked for the Laura Nyro tribute CD. The kid stared at me and asked, "Who's that?" We asked all the other employees, but nobody knew who she was.



Anonymous said...

Ed & co.,

Go to

and scroll down to Lucius Shepard's entry "Speaking Ill of the Dead". For me, the best of the MJ post-mortems I've read.

Jeff P.