Category Archives: Michael Jackson

The Lydster, Part 66: Dead Rock Stars

(I didn’t have a blog in Lydia’s first year; so here are photos from the summer of 2004. Today Lydia is five and a HALF, so here she is a little more than five years ago.)

I try really hard not to indoctrinate my daughter with my music. I want her to find her own way, and then pick and chose which of mine she’s comfortable with.

But when Michael Jackson died, he was on TV ALL OF THE TIME. She inevitably heard some of his songs. ABC by the Jackson Five is immediately infectious for a child. We went on a car trip during July and I played the first disc from the J5 box set in the car. It’s quite danceable, and now she knows who Michael Jackson is – well, usually; sometimes his morphed appearance confused her. She loves to dance in the house and the solo hits such as Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough, Rock With You and Beat It will make her want to move her feet.

A fact that will shock you: I’m a big Beatles fan. I was watching lots of Beatles-related items such as some old videos around 09/09/09. Lydia wanted to know all about them. I said, “That’s a group that was very popular when Daddy was growing up.” Her next question: “Are they still alive?” Well, the drummer is still alive; his name is Ringo. And the guy…THERE…his name is Paul.” Since both John (d. 1980) and George (d. 2001) passed away before she was born (2004), it’s all ancient history to her. She asked over and over about their state of mortality – “Is that one dead?”

Subsequently, EVERY group she heard me play was the Beatles. Sometimes, it WAS the Beatles, but more often it was not. I was slow on the uptake as to why she was so honed in on the Fab Four. It was because of the animated program The Wonder Pets.

From the Amazon description: “The Wonder Pets! get groovy in the newest release, ‘Save the Beetles!’ Yes, the Wonder Pets are called up on the ol’ telly with a request for help from four members of a famous rock band, the Beetles, whose yellow submarine has gotten tangled up in kelp. As they journey to rescue them, they’ll dive straight into Beatlemania pop-culture (and reference numerous Beatles song titles and lyrics along the way!)” She saw this episode at least twice on TV – and I watched it myself at least once. THIS was the real jumping off point.

Mary Travers just died, and on ABC World News, what does the daughter here but “Puff, the Magic Dragon”? I’m singing along, and Lydia asks, “How do YOU know that song? I learned it in day care.” Well, dear, long before you heard it at school, I heard it on the radio.


Black or White

In high school and early in my college days, I made attempts to write songs. In retrospect, they probably were not that good, though I do have some affection for a couple of them. Among other things, I realized that I had, on more than one occasion, unintentionally swiped the tune from an existing song. Still, I wish I could find the notebook where I was keeping the lyrics over a number of years.

One of the songs was called “Black or White”. It started:
“My father was a singer of folk songs,
My mama used to hum along.”
I remember that part, because it was true.
In the chorus, there was this couplet:
“It doesn’t matter if it’s black or white.
Music is music if the feeling’s right.”

I do recall the specific inspiration for this song. My father had moved to Charlotte, NC. Whether it was true or his perception, he felt that the gumbo of folk music that he had performed in hometown Binghamton would not fare as well in the South of the 1970s, and for a number of years, he just stopped playing. I found this quite disheartening.

In the same vein, it was a song for Dionne Warwick, Charlie Pride and Jimi Hendrix, who were often put down, including by black people, because they weren’t singing the music they were “supposed” to be playing, jazz, soul or blues, but certainly NOT pop, country or rock. (I have an irrational affection for the song Then Came You by Dionne and the Spinners – “see, she can do soulful; now, SHUT UP, already!”)

When Michael Jackson’s song Black or White came out in 1991, complete with the lyrics “It Don’t Matter If You’re Black Or White,” it made me feel…wistful. If I ever DID find this book and recorded the song, people who think that I had ripped it off from MJ, when i had written it at least a decade and a half earlier. (And no, I don’t believe he ripped it off from me, either.)
So, I’m waiting and waiting for Fred Hembeck to post something about his daughter Julie’s birthday this week, but nothing. So I write to him, and he tells me I should have been checking out Facebook! I’m mediocre re Facebook at best, and not much better with Twitter. There’s something rather ephemeral about those social network platforms; it’s different with the blog, which is a web LOG. Anyway, belated happy birthday, Julie! Really, I didn’t forget.


Yawn – here now the news

I have found a lot of the details of the recent news less than riveting.

The Sanford sex scandal: more hypocrisy from someone who chastised others (in his case, Bill Clinton, among others.) Another sobbing confession; comparing himself to King David was a nice touch though. In fact, the only real issue for me is possible is him being “out of pocket” for a week. Don’t know South Carolina law, but it’s the disappearing that seems to be the real issue. And I can’t help but think that if he HAD notified his staff and the lieutenant governor he was away, the sex part might not have come out at all.

The blow-by-blow of the joke we (not laughingly) call the New York State Senate doesn’t interest me any more. I just want them to grow up and gt back to work. Last week, I asked my wife if she had heard the big news. She said, “You mean how a senator insulted the governor?” I said, “No, that Michael Jackson died.” Don’t even care which senator said what to whom. i DO think that the governor, David Paterson, is looking more..gubernatorial in all of this, though.

And speaking of Michael Jackson, we’ve now gotten into the silly season, and most of what has happened since about Monday, I’ve caught the headlines, but am actively not reading the stories. A couple things I noticed though. Last Friday’s ABC News, which dedicated the majority of the show to Michael, played snippets of songs by the J5 and MJ; they described the first song as “One More Chance-1970” when it was “I Want You Back”. It would have been an understandable error on Thursday as a breaking story on Thursday, but sloppy on Friday. At least two podcasts identified “Ebony and Ivory” as by Paul McCartney and MJ, when it was by Macca and Stevie Wonder. The good news is that a couple of folks – wish I could remember who – who noted that Off the Wall was Revolver to Thriller’s Sgt. Pepper; less well-known but the better album.

Should Bernie Madoff gotten 150 years? Of course not. He should have gotten 99 years, and with good behavior would be out of prison before he hit 120. But seriously, it doesn’t much matter to me.

Oscars are going to have 10 best picture nominees? Whatever. There were double-digit numbers of nominees in several categories in the late 1930s (and I don’t care enough to even look it up!) I do recall that 1939, one of the best years in cinema, had a huge number of nominees. I wonder, though, that by dumping some of the non-competitive awards, it will change the character of the show. And would the nomination of, say, The Dark Knight and WALL-E (probably) in the Best Picture mix have changed the outcome last year? Unknowable, of course.

I’m watching Bill Moyers on PBS tonight, but even after that shot of Christianity in the liberal tradition, I’m convinced most people will still believe that when they hear the words “Christian in America”, they’ll assume, in the words of local pastor Jo Page: “anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-socialized medicine, pro-gun rights, pro-creationism, pro-abstinence and literalist when it comes to reading the Bible.”

Is Shia Labouef dating Megan Fox? Surely, I don’t care, but am surprised to note that I actually know who they are. (I saw the movie “Holes” and I read other blogs.)

I do care that Karl Malden died, but he’s been out of the public eye so long – one appearance on the West Wing in 2000, nothing else since 1993 – that most people thought the 97-year-old had passed away years ago. I did watch The Streets of San Francisco regularly, but save for On The Waterfront, I’m not sure I ever saw him on film. And he never convinced me to buy American Express travelers’ checks.


I Remember Where I Was When I Heard Michael Jackson Died

I do know and am quite likely to remember how I learned of MJ’s death.

Just as I remember when JFK died – fifth grade, Miss Oberlik’s class, Daniel S. Dickinson School, Binghamton, NY. Just as I remember finding out about the Challenger disaster – working in the back room at FantaCo Enterprises, the late comic book store store on Central Avenue, Albany, NY, while listening to Q-104, when Mary Margaret Apple interrupted the music to give the news.

This is not to say – lest you start to fret – that I’m making a comparison about the import of these events. I am talking about how memory works.

I was at the Albany Public Library, main branch, computer room, shortly after 6 p.m. on Thursday, June 25. I needed to write about my daughter for a blog post the next day. Then I heard someone say to the woman at the desk that Michael Jackson had died. WHA? So I went to CNN and AP, both of whom indicated that Michael had been rushed to the hospital but neither of whom had announced his death. Most sources indicated that TMZ, the Matt Drudge of entertainment sites, WAS declaring Michael dead, but that they were seeking independent verification.

About 15 minutes later, CNN notes that “multiple sources” have noted Michael’s passing. In the moment, I was more peeved that TMZ had been right in breaking the story, that this was a greater sign of the deterioration of the mainstream media, than the death of an entertainer who I’d watched, sometimes with tremendous admiration and other times in disdain, over the past four decades. Someone who, and I ALWAYS hate this, was younger than I am.

The death of Michael Jackson is this fascinating cultural and technological phenomenon. It slowed Twitter to a crawl and taxed much of the rest of the Internet as well.

Here’s what always bothers me about these types of stories. There are folks who say endlessly, “Why do people care about THAT? If people spent more time caring about (pick one or more) world hunger/the health care crisis/the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan/whatever, rather than some entertainer’s death, we’d be better off.” It’s often the same people disdain the use of television (they don’t have one or only watch PBS).

I’m willing to bet that if people spent as much time worrying about the health care industry as they did about Michael or Jon & Kate (who I must admit, I didn’t even know who they were until a month ago) or some other “frivolous” thing, it would have next to zero impact on the important issue. It is as though some individuals feel that passion for Off the Wall, Michael’s best album, could be somehow transferable to other, more “significant” things. (Speaking of which, apparently Michael’s soul has been saved, in case you were wondering.) Thank goodness ABC was planning repeats of Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice last Thursday so they could preempt them for instant specials on Michael and Farrah Fawcett, who, not unexpectedly, had died earlier that day. (What, no special on Sky Saxon of the Seeds?)

So I will remember how I learned of Michael’s death, just as I remember John Lennon’s (heard it from Howard Cosell on Monday Night Football) or the shootings of Lee Harvey Oswald and Robert F. Kennedy (saw them on TV in real time). The intensity of the events will wane, but a piece of the recollection will likely remain.
Just discovered The Dead Rock Stars Club. Have only been in 2009, but it is quite detailed. Not does it have obvious choices such as MJ, Sky Saxon and Koko Taylor, but more obscure artists such as Viola Wills, and even folks you wouldn’t have thought of in this context: Gale Storm (I’m old enough to remember My Little Margie), Ed McMahon, and David Carradine, e.g.


Michael, Farrah, Ed

Just this month, a friend of mine bought me the 1979 Michael Jackson album Off the Wall on CD, after I noted that I only have it on vinyl and that I believed that Off the Wall was better than the album Thriller.

But my appreciation for Michael goes back earlier than that. The first album where Diana Ross “presents” the boys from Gary, Indiana to us was played often in our household. Not that I owned it; my sister did. On the surface, it was a little too childish to buy the music of a group led by a preteen. But I certainly did listen. I watched them on Ed Sullivan and eventually on their Saturday morning cartoon show. (In Gordon’s tribute to MJ, he picked a fine song from that debut album.)

But it was the second collection, ABC, that won me over. Not just the title song – “Sit down, girl, I think I love you” – but especially The Love You Save. I can competently sing every vocal part of that song – save for Michael’s. My sister got the third album, cleverly titled “Third Album”, and the fourth. I once requested on my favorite radio station of the 1970s that the DJ play Maybe Tomorrow, but she cut it off before that great call and response at the end.

I went away to college, appreciating what I had heard, but they left my consciousness until Dancing Machine in 1974, which I simply could not resist. Ultimately, I picked up that 1976 anthology.

There was this Andy Rooney special circa 1978 who did a riff on who was famous and who was not. Paul McCartney was famous; Michael Jackson, to his mind, was not. That would certainly change.

1979’s Off the Wall would sell sell over seven million copies domestically. But Michael’s commercial growth was stalled because MTV wouldn’t play MJ’s music, including the new (1982) Thriller; not their demographic. That is to say, too black. Columbia/Epic said, Fine, we’ll take off our OTHER artists from MTV; MTV capitulated. Given the way that MJ made MTV, and vice versa, it seems unbelievable now.

Every teenaged girl i knew thought that Michael was so “cute”. For whatever reasons, Michael’s appearance began to morph, all the weird stuff began happening. Seriously, I think the vitiligo, the skin disease that I also have messed with his head as much as his reportedly abusive father Joe. But I’m not going there. I choose to remember Michael as this force so powerful that on the Motown 25 special, he performed two non-Motown songs, mesmerizing the audience with his moonwalk, and forever stamped his ticket as a pop legend.
I hardly ever saw Charlie’s Angels. I know watched one episode at my parents’ house in Charlotte, NC that first season; I think it was the now infamous prison episode. When I bought a notebook with Farrah’s famous red bathing suit on the cover, I said I was being ironic; well, maybe. Used that notebook as a journal and I still have it, actually. She showed that she could act in The Burning Bed, which I did see.

So, I didn’t have a great deal invested in Farrah the icon. But her very public fight with cancer and her dogged determination to tackle it was admirable, if a little uncomfortable.
I always felt a little sorry for Ed McMahon. It was though, because he “lucked” into a high-profile, long-term job, he was somehow undeserving of it. Stuff happens; if he came onto a great gig, more power to him. Actually, I probably saw him more in his pitchman; he seemed ubiquitous in the roles, and I think it undercut his effectiveness. But he seemed like an OK guy. And in any case, he did not suffer the premature death of the others mentioned herein.
In more upbeat news:
Help Polyvinyl Save 10,000 Records From Destruction. I did and will be getting Of Montreal and other artists in return.
My niece Rebecca’s in a Top 40 Cover band, Siren’s Crush.
They’ve been in a battle of the bands and have made it the finals! The final competition is this coming Sunday night, June 28, 2009 at Viejas Casino, San Diego. 7 – 10 PM.
If you’re in the area, please come out and show your support. If you can’t make it, please send out good thoughts.


Michael Jackson Turns 50

I remember in the mid-1970s, Andy Rooney, the guy on 60 Minutes, used to do these occasional pieces, these “humorous” mini-documentaries about restaurants, or different ways people sing the song “Misty”.

One piece was about who is famous. I recall that while Paul McCartney was famous, Michael Jackson, then with the Jackson Five, was not, at least in his mind, Famous meant generally recognized, regardless of generation.

Well, if asked now, I’m sure Andy would consider him famous, or perhaps a bit infamous.

I like quite a bit of Michael’s music, particularly the early J5 and the early parts of his solo career. Last year at this time, I noted that I thought his 1979 album, Off the Wall, was better than his massive 1982 album, Thriller. The first cut from the earlier album can be found here. His electrifying performance at Motown 25, which I haven’t seen since the mid-1980s, still brings a smile to my face.

And I noted that since I share his disease, I viscerally understood some of his craziness (the surgeries, the mask, not the hanging a baby over a balcony.)

So, on his half century mark, I’m disinclined to go beat up Michael. I’ll leave that for others. I’ll just wish him well.


Q is 75

To an audience who may know Quincy Jones best as the father of actress Rashida Jones, formerly of the television show The Office, I wanted to write about the massive impact that Q has had on popular music. I went to the Wikipedia post, which was a good start, but the discography was sorely lacking. This Rolling Stone discography isn’t bad, but is missing vital elements. The CBS Sunday Morning story from this past weekend, which currently isn’t even online, just touches on his importance.

Personally, I own a wide range of Q’s output, from some of those Frank Sinatra sides he arranged such as “Fly Me to the Moon”, to those Lesley Gore hits such as “It’s My Party” that he produced, the Q-production for the Brothers Johnson album that contains “Strawberry Letter #23, composer for the “Sanford and Son” theme, cat-wrangler for the “We Are the World” session, the composer/arranger for soundtrack for the television event “Roots”, and possibly my favorite, the production of Michael Jackson’s “Off the Wall” album. Oh, yeah, and its obscure follow-up, the album known as “Thriller”.

I also own a couple albums with Quincy listed as artist, Q’s Jook Joint (2004), and Back on the Block (1989), both star-studded extravaganzas. If not totally successful, they show the range of the the man, from rap lite with Melle Mel and Ice-T intertwined with Tevin Campbell’s Zulu chant, snatching a piece of the Ironside theme, which Q wrote; to a funky tune featuring Chaka Khan and Q’s very old friend Ray Charles; to an introduction to Birdland by rappers and jazz artists; to the most successful take, an “a cappella groove” with Ella, Sarah and Bobby McFerrin, among others. Undoubtedly, there are other jazz sides and soundtracks that I’m not even aware of.

I even own some oversized photo-bio of the man. So Happy birthday, Q, and thanks for the wide range of great music.

FAME Question

Since David Bowie’s birthday is coming up Tuesday, I had fame or Fame on my mind.

Someone’s Twitter page recently read that he could not believe that someone didn’t know Vincent Price. I do. There’s a real generational chasm about fame.

A recent cover of Us Weekly indicated that Heidi Montag called off her wedding to Spencer because of behavior MTV failed to show. Trouble is, I had no idea who Heidi Montag was, or whether she looks better after undergoing “a lip enhancement procedure.” Or who Spencer was.

I understand that Fergie, who was/is in the group Black Eyed Peas 1) is engaged to some hunky TV star and 2) peed in her pants this year, but I don’t know the details of either.

When I heard that Britney Spears’ sister got pregnant, I didn’t appreciate why a big deal was being made until I discovered that Jamie Lynn Spears is the star of a Nickelodeon show Zoey 101 where she plays a role model for young girls.

And who the heck is Tila Tequila that Tom the Dog hates so much?

Conversely, people who used to be generally famous aren’t anymore. The average 13-year-old doesn’t know who Walter Cronkite, once “the most trusted man on television” is.

I remember that about 30 years ago, Andy Rooney had a series of specials. On one of them, or maybe on his regular 60 Minutes gig, he posited who he thought was famous, his definition being that people in a wide range of ages would know. Paul McCartney, yes. Michael Jackson, pre-Thriller, pre-nose job, pre-sex trials, was not. So, Johnny Knoxville of Jackass doesn’t quite make it now.

1) Who used to be famous but isn’t anymore because a new generation has come up that doesn’t remember him/her?

2) What are the criteria for what makes someone famous? I think it’s a long career that transcends their initial niche: Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods in sports, e.g. or Oprah Winfrey in talk. Showing up in a lot of popular TV shows and/or blockbuster movies: Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Will Smith.

3) Who might become famous? One can never tell, of course, but Miley Cyrus a/k/a Hannah Montana, seems to have the possibility. Heck, even I know her.


Underplayed Vinyl: Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s 1979 album, Off the Wall, is better than Michael Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller.

1. Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
2. Rock With You
3. Workin’ Day And Night
4. Get On The Floor
5. Off The Wall
6. Girlfriend
7. She’s Out Of My Life
8. I Can’t Help It
9. It’s The Falling In Love
10. Burn This Disco Out

1. Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
2. Baby Be Mine
3. The Girl Is Mine
4. Thriller
5. Beat It
6. Billie Jean
7. Human Nature
8. P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)
9. The Lady in My Life

Actually, they are, in some ways, similar albums. Both start with my favorite groove on the album, followed by a more midtempo sound, though I prefer Rock with You. Both have ballads that are OK, though She’s Out of My Life is more appealing to me.

Now, Thriller does have Beat It and Billie Jean, both of which appear on some Rolling Stone list of top 500 tunes. But I will contend that the popularity and import of those songs (and of the title song as well) was fueled as much by the videos as the music.

Where the older album has the great Workin’ song in the third slot, Thriller has This Girl Is Mine. One can argue about the quality of the song – I don’t think much of the dopey dialogue between Paul McCartney and Michael – but listening to it, it just has a whole different feel from what goes on before or after. (The Macca-penned Girlfriend may be the weakest track on Off the Wall.)

And the title tune Thriller is great theater, but is it a great song?

Ultimately, Off the Wall is better because it ends stronger. Instead of the sappy ballad, I’m burning that disco out. There may be better songs on Thriller, but Off the Wall is more consistently solid.

Incidentally, Off the Wall was not a piker of an album commercially, as it sold 7 million copies in the U.S. alone; Thriller was just a monster album, selling 3.5 times as many in this country.

Today is MJ’s 49th birthday.

Michael Jackson's Disease

This is a post I’ve been avoiding.

And it’s not as though I have some fatal disease, or even suffer any real physical ill effects at all. Every summer, when it first gets hot, I’ve been getting a little heat rash on my forearms for the last decade and a half, which usually goes away when my body acclimates to the heat. But for about the last 18 months, instead of going away, it just blanched out. I know my primary care doctor noticed it last July.

As it spread to my neck, legs and trunk, I got a referral to a dermatologist. But, of course, actually getting to a dermatologist usually takes a while. Meanwhile, it became very noticeable, to me, on the back of my hands. And this was the worst, for one sees the back of one’s hands a LOT. The cliche became untrue: I no longer KNEW the back of my hands.

Anyway, a couple days before my last birthday in March, the dermatologist confirmed what I had long suspected: I have vitiligo. It is an ailment of the autoimmune system. It’s not contagious. Though there is some correlation with some certain ailments of the liver, it’s not causal, and in any case, I took a blood test to eliminate that possibility.

The dermatologist said if I were an 18-year-old girl, then there may be some aggressive topical treatments to suggest, but since I’m “mature”, this would not be the game plan. He said I was mature? Oh, he’s talking about my AGE, not my disposition.

And it’s spread to my face, which I’d been really worrying about. But it’s been more even there, with an almost complete lightening, except for some dark patches under my eyes, which are partially obscured by my glasses.

Here’s the thing: when I started losing my hair, I wasn’t that vain about it. Going gray didn’t bother me. In fact, a few months ago, I got a bread trim and a hair cut, and more than one person said I looked 10 years younger. Interestingly, I didn’t care, certainly not enough to change my behavior. That I weigh more than I did is largely under my own control.

This event, though, has gotten to me. It’s mostly because it isn’t a change that I was anticipating. Also, because of the patchiness, especially on the aforementioned back of my hands, I feel more than a little bit like a leper.

If you read the hyperlink above, you’ll notice “How Can People Cope With the Emotional and Psychological Aspects of Vitiligo”. This is relevant, because, for a while, and even now from time to time, it has really messed with my head. In part, it’s because this ailment has become associated with some wacko pop star. In part, it’s because I LIKE my brown skin, and it’s been part of my identity for so long.

There are ways to hide the effects with makeup, but, bottom line, some days, it’s really made me rather melancholy.