Friday, July 10

Measuring Out My Life In Tablespoons

NOW then. Just to make sure you're up to speed, this guy Michael Jackson died. He'd been an entertainer of some sort. Okay, you got me; I know a lot more about Jackson than that. He was originally the 9-year-old leader of a family musical ensemble called The Jackson Five. My sister was young enough, and musically indifferent enough, to have been part of the target audience. We ought to note right here that the only thing which actually prospers under the leadership of a nine-year-old is a kickball team, provided the other team is similarly led. The Jackson Five were a sort of musical Osmonds. They were discovered by Diana Ross, a woman with a keen eye for fucking Barry Gordy, and were the beneficiaries of the best material Motown could cough up after chasing off Holland-Dozier-Holland. We are reminded, once again, that there are people with knowledge of, even talent for, the music business who will nonetheless inflict the adenoidal screechings of a nine-year-old on the public just to make a buck.

At some point in the late 70s Jackson made some sort of "comeback" as an adult, or "adult", as it turned out, with Off the Wall, which seemed to me one of those periodic exercises in mass, hype-assisted wishful thinking that never bode well. Okay, so it actually sounded to me like someone had paid Quincy Jones an enormous sum of money to orchestrate the incidental music from some failed mid-70s lone-wolf-cop show as the lushest possible disco-pop accompaniment to someone's persistent case of the hiccups. This ushered in an unfortunate era where white guys spoke in public about a record's "dance beat", something which apparently happens when you do enough blow. It is, by definition, a metric which recapitulates the responses of large masses of 18-24-year-olds who are a) in public; b) drugged; and c) dancing, because they're too immature to sustain the sort of interpersonal relationship that would have them home having sex instead. Either a pop record is supposed to have a dance beat, or it isn't; it seems more than odd to reward one for making a binary choice, and, once you do, it seems less than honest to ignore Brazil. Nothing against any of this. It's just that I happen to be a white guy (couldn't tell, could you?) and I gave up dancing, or "dancing", the minute regular fucking entered the picture.

Then, of course, came the MTV deal: they'd agree to play black music if Jackson would agree to become as white as possible. Dear God, could no one stop this? The poor guy had few human qualities, if any. How many Child Star stories do ya gotta hear? (If nothing else, wasn't hiring John Landis to direct a video enough of a cry for help? How many personal and professional train wrecks has this guy overseen?) He turned himself white! and people--if that's the proper collective noun for Oprah--actually reported this as the result of vitiligo, as though they'd missed the fact that he'd gotten Debbie Reynold's nose in the sort of time-lapse sequence that used to change Lon Chaney, Jr., into a wolf. He hung out with Brooke Shields. His best friend was a chimp. He married Lisa Marie Presley. What more did you need?

And that's before the sleepovers became public knowledge. Look, this guy at one point had more money than Exxon, and this crap was public knowledge--to the extent that the public couldn't escape it if it tried--so is there no concern whatsoever about how fucking bad off are we? Didn't anybody care a fucking lick about him (until he died. right.)? How could you imagine that someone that crazy wasn't being taken for everything he had that wasn't bolted down? I spent a week trying to avoid all that as much as I could, and the thing I thought was really telling was how 98% of the pictures of Jackson used as splash screens and cover illustrations were twenty years old. Okay, sure, panegyric's fine in its place, but who is this supposed to be kidding? People too young to know better? They're the ones who really need to see what happens to people when they achieve this "dream" of unlimited funds and everyone around them is afraid to tell them no. And when their every whim is indulged until half their ear has to come off to make a new nose. Maybe it'll lead 'em to figure out the financial markets someday. Phony fairy-tale innocence sure won't. And maybe that's the point.

I DON'T know if it was just me, but it seemed as though every third time I was inadvertently subjected to Jackson necrophilia the past two weeks there was an undercurrent of abject embarrassment, as though a few news hairdos had finally begun to smell the cesspool they're up to the nostrils in. And not in that "whoa, here's somebody's take on how crazy insane all this coverage is" way, which always manages to ascribe the crazy insane coverage to the public's insatiable appetite for content-free crapola, not The Media's delight in shoveling it, but in a way that suggested a man who suddenly realizes he'd left home without trousers every day for the last thirty-years. Not, of course, that any of 'em is likely to do anything about it. I know! We could use only the finest ingredients, and bake fresh daily! But to me the real nadir was the "Do celebrity doctors prescribe dangerous drugs to their rich patients?" routine, a remake of the one that eventually followed the death of Elvis. Whitewash his kink, and ours while we're at it! A guy dies with seventeen major central nervous system depressants in his system, and an impacted bolus the size of a bocce ball, it's not the fault of the prescription. It's the fault of his need for drugs, which he happened to be wealthy enough to get professional assistance in scoring. Like America, pushed to the wall, suddenly confronts the idea that everything is for sale, and has second thoughts! Of course Jackson, unlike Elvis, didn't go around pretending to be a karate-choppin' Federal narc, so the whole thing's been a little less frantic, but there's still the distinct aroma of This Celebrity I Imagine I Knew Personally Because I Bought His Records Once Couldn't Have Been A Drug Addict So It Must Be Medical Malfeasance. When, of course, the real answer is just the opposite: if you'd quit being a hypocrite about it, and let these guys--and everyone else--some a little harmless weed like normal human beings they might still be alive. The long-way-'round to perpetual infantilism didn't do either one of 'em any good, dears.

I was also driven to distraction when, at some point, the question of how anyone would remake Sunset Boulevard got trapped in my head. Sheesh, Norma Desmond would have her own talk show these days. And does.

Aw, well. Let the dead bury their own dead. I just wanted to mention it, in case anyone out there spent the week wondering when I'd reply to William Saletan's suggestion that the Vatican turn pro-wank, not, as it turns out, as an offer to compromise what they have to power to control, or because this would lead to fewer abortions, which Saletan and his majority say they want, but because it would lead to greater efficiencies in their joint efforts to solve our vast underpopulation problem. Well, it turns out there really is such a thing as too much masturbation in a week's time.


heydave said...

Speaking of masturbation AND Jackson, a young person mentioned that they had spent the day watching the cable TV coverage of every tear and sigh from the funeral of the century because it "was such an important moment in history."

Erudite bon vivant that I am, I cleverly countered with my STFU argument.

But seriously folks, "too much masturbation" just means one of the props you were using died, right?

Grace Nearing said...

I have a system for dealing with such appalling and non-stop cheap programming. I start watching foreign language programming. In my area, that means Spanish, Polish, Italian, Romanian, Chinese (unsure of dialect), and Indian (again, unsure of dialect). There's lots of soccer and cricket, some soap operas, and some hilarious dubbed-over martial arts movies (usually Chinese to Spanish).

Works like a charm.

Julia Grey said...

That's what DVDs are for.

Blister said...

This is mystifying. No idea what you're talking about or what it all means. Guess you had to be there. But it's OK, it's OK. Pop icons can be tough to deal with.

To someone who wasn't paying much attention, Michael Jackson seemed to be a great song-and-dance man, whether Quincy Jones was pulling the strings or not. Gene Kelly had nothing on Michael Jackson, and it would be unfair to compare anyone to Fred Astaire.

Michael Jackson could walk backwards seeming to walk forwards, and it was something worth seeing. And he had less spectacular but equally competent moves.

There was a problem with his relationship with his nose, but you'd have to get all Oprah to care about that.

He may have been an evil pederast, or he may have been a retard who confused young kids with stuffed animals. He's dead now so there's no reason to fret about it either way.

Best to let Michael Jackson rest in peace and attend to really evil bastards like Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro, and that guy who started Blood Sweat and Tears and fronted it before they hired that English singer and it became even worse than what it was when it started.

mndean said...

Hey, Diana Ross had NOTHING to do with discovering the Jackson 5. Guy named Bobby Taylor (whose group, the Vancouvers had as a member Tommy Chong) did the discovering. Gordy just put D*I*A*N*A on for boxoffice (and another hot night, I suppose). And you don't hear the Jacksons playing on their recordings, either. Gordy took no chances. On "I Want You Back", that's noted jazz artist Wilton Felder playing the bass. That's why the early hits stuck, along with the fact that Gordy came up with a consortium of writers (called The Corporation, which included himself - he did write hits in the past, you know) to provide songs for the kids. Now Gordy was no fun to work for (ask the Spinners), but at least he wasn't as crooked as Kenny Gamble. Or Don Robey. Or Syd Nathan.

James Briggs Stratton "Doghouse" Riley said...

Hey, Diana Ross had NOTHING to do with discovering the Jackson 5.

You're right. Good Lord, the Gordy Company line has invaded my brain.

Kathy Rogers said...

The Tattered Remnant of the Formerly Great Los Angeles Times had a Jackson story on the front page for 13 straight days. Then we got a teeny break and he's back this morning with the promise of a commemorative section in tomorrow's paper.

I thought I was among the last of the print newspaper customers, but apparently I am not the audience they are after...

melior said...

Q: How can you tell when it's bedtime in Neverland?

A: When the big hand is on the
little hand.


CMike said...

At least you waited well into July to unload. Jim Kunstler, the "Clusterf*ck Nation" guy, wasn't anywhere near as respectful of the decedent and the mourners as that:

...Like the USA, Michael Jackson was a has-been. He hadn't recorded a song worth listening to in over two decades. He had done almost nothing but spin his wheels, hop around the globe from one place to another at enormous expense, and make himself available for award ceremonies to stoke his ego (and give advertisers a reason to promote some televised award show). He existed strictly on image, an anorectic figure nourished by moonbeams of attention, famous for saying that he loved his worshippers when the truth was he merely sucked the life out of them. In his last years, he even looked a bit like Nosferatu, the personification of the un-dead, and his fascination with ghouls was the basis for his biggest hit way back in the last century. A zombie nation deserves a zombie mascot...

mndean said...

I need to tell Kunstler that "moonbeams of attention" don't leave needle tracks. Oh, that's right, I don't comment to Kunstler anymore since he turned into such a crank.

If what the coroner said was true (Jackson had tracks in his neck), he was a very heavy addict (what William Burroughs would've called an oil-burner) and all the hilarious "was he murdered?" stuff is just typical Hollywood chaff meant to distract from the fact that he did himself in. Like every other junkie.

StringonaStick said...

Of course there is the Puritan undercurrent in the US that spins out all this chaff and fog to distract from the fact that at one time popular culture luved, luved, luved a junkie, and in our Just Say No world we simply can't allow that to pass without adequate obfuscation. Must protect the children you know, and enjoy a purient circle jerk in the process. This simply covers all the bases.

mndean said...

To me, what you say is true and it hardly matters what he did (some artists were great musicians and terrible junkies - doesn't change my opinion of their talent one bit), but to much of the country, they will get the full meal deal (monster or saint? Both!), which the MSM so loves. He was talented, messed up, and now he's dead so it's carrion time. The only good thing I can say is he wasn't sitting on the pot when he made his exit. Enough bad jokes were made of that for a hundred lifetimes. Although I have to say, Elvis had the right idea about TV - sometimes you just gotta put a bullet in it to make a point.