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Oldies But Goldies: Michael Jackson And What Constitutes A Good Life, 2009

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(Barely a month after his death, I wrote this think piece about what constitutes a good life… it still hurts a little -IL)

You and I, we have a bad hour, a bad day, we’re irrational, we say what we shouldn’t say or act how we shouldn’t act. Even the good of us are not always very good or even a little good (and what does good mean? it means we lesson our rights as individuals for someone else: the synonym might be suckers). And the next day it doesn’t matter: our friends, our colleagues, our lovers and families hopefully, and for the most part, love us.

But what if the one impression was the only impression? And the only impression would be spread from person to person like a virus of disinformation. I met Derek Jeter once and thought he was intensely dislikable. When I tell the story to friends I mention it and so for me, I spread this information of which, except his being indifferent towards me once for three minutes I am completely clueless as to his character, I add he isn’t nice at all.

In a review of “Plastic Letters” I posted yesterday I said Debbie Harry was a snobby bitch. was she? Probably not, I must have been paralytically drunk if I approached her , so the chances are excellent I made her at the very least nervous. Indeed, we have a mutual friend in photographer Joe Stevens who says she’s adorable.

I am relatively media savvy and I still get it wrong.

So we move to the pop star problem and the question as to the character, the real character, of famous pop stars. First, nobody trust politicians and everybody thinks film stars only really exist on celluloid. The unrealness of the film star saves them from the expectations of the fan. But, even when it was primarily an interpretative entertainment, the pop star is upfront and speaking directly to the audience about their most private emotions. The form itself implies a personal relationship between artist and consumer where none exists.

So what happened was that male pop stars used that implication to seduce girls. And, certainly once rock came to power, they used the seduction of girls as a way to bring down the barriers that had been built up. That was Neil Young’s point in “Mr. Soul” “…any girl in the world could easily know me better,” was not the sleazy come on it appears to be (listen to the way he sings it) and certainly by the time he reaches “is it strange, should i change…” the pop star has become so alienated by his power Young may not be being even slightly ironic when he suggests we ask her as to the man he should be.

So now we have a world where fame has made a person an object of interest and obsession, first impresssions are the only impressions, and sex is the divining line between star and fan.

But is this moral? Can this be done in good conscious? Well “good” doesn’t really exist in these terms, so let’s say can the pop star feel good about himself when his connection with his audience is based upon subjugation to his fame? And the answer is no.

UK Punk claimed for itself the mantle of the return of the repressed lower classes to rock and roll: the savitar of a political movement. And maybe it was for one moment. But more than that it was a bridge of the moral chasm between pop artist and audience. To say, “anyone can do it” and “let a thousand bands bloom” was a tautology. For one thing not everybody can do it and for another if everybody plays in a band who is going to bag the groceries? So it wasn’t real but one thing was, when Joe Strummer gave a fan money to go home or let them sneak into a concert hall through a window or spend the night in his hotel room and perhaps more important than any of that simply listened to these kids. Is this moral? Is it good? It feels like something that having done you could reflect upon and feel good about.

So, whatever the reality of the pop star might be his inner truth is the same as all of us: he is attempting to justify himself TO HIMSELF.

Bono, MJ, George Harrison, a Boomtown Rat and Live Aid, Willie and Farm Aid: whatever these people feel they feel philanthropically, what they really are trying to do is justify that which is unjustifiable: the who they really are, the rock and roll tautology. Look at it this way: say you are 300 pounds and instead of taking the elevator down two flights of stairs, you walk em. And your friend says “Why even bother?’ and you say “Every little bit helps”, does every little bit help? The answer is no, it makes zero difference. Nothing these guys do makes any difference I am sorry to say. It is moral self-aggrandizement and though that sounds bad it isn’t so awful. Bono gets a break on third world debt and tinpot dictators pocket the money; it is hardly the end of the world, right? And it is the moral imperative (the real one) in action: the moral imperative is to make you feel like you’re a good person. If Bono really gave a shit he would say, “How is it the whites left South Africa and it immediately descended into a cesspool? How can we save Africa from Africans?”

This is even true of hip-hop, all that “keeping it real” stuff, that’s why T.I. is stuck in jail for gun possession and that’s why Jay-Z is floundering between the truth of his life and his audience demanding he never leaves the projects. That’s why “Former crack dealer” or “former bloods member” is on everybody’s resumes even if they were raised upper middle class. People want to feel good about themselves.

And that’s where we find Michael Jackson, quickly becoming Presley, quickly becoming a cipher despite all his attempts to make himself the King of Pop and the King Of Populism: black and white we are the world suffer the children. MJ was in the market to make himself feel good about himself and instead he became one of the great monsters of popular music. As he is buried and remembered the back story is ready to leap out: people cry for him but the tears are going to end and he is tarnished whether or not it is true. Presley gave away Chevys to stranger and now he is remembered in Albert Goldman’s shadow. He is a drug addled fat fool puking and dieing on a toilet seat. And Jackson is all that and more.

The world’s approbation is waiting to descend on all of these guys. Elvis Costello makes an album, I say it sucks, and somewhere in my disapproval of the songs lies an implied disapproval of the man. Now Costello takes this review and multiples it by 100 and 60 of em hate it so where does that leave Costello? he is assessing his life and what makes him feel good about himself… does a lack of artistry make him evil? Does my questioning South Africa’s inability to sustain the country after the loss of white leadership make me a racist? Let’s say you read what I said and you reply, “if you want to say that about the Africa, why don’t you say it about the Slavic nations… why discuss only blacks?” And maybe you think I’m a racist. But I am irrelevant -there isn’t enough readers for my opinion to matter to the world at large but Costello, or God knows, Bono: now you’re talking.

So Bono, this Sun god of pop flavor and taste, and MJ, propping up his reputation with displays of ego inflations mind boggling in their extremeness, are trying to feel good about themselves. I am not a cynic but when I used to see Mother Theresa washing poor children’s feet all I could think was how does she not know that the point here is not that children have dirty feet but that HERE IS MOTHER THERESA SHOWING HOW GOOD SHE IS. How good she feels about how good she feels when everybody knows the answer to poverty is some form of democratic capitalism safeguarded by a goverment: all this dicking about and self-congratulations IS NOT ABOUT THE WORLD’S WELFARE , NOT ABOUT ANYBODIES WELFARE.

Look, I don’t give a shit in the long run. The best I could hope for earthlings is that our elected officials start seriously funding space travel and can make
Mars habitable before we make this planet unlivable. The life and deaths of millions all over the world occurs every single day for all shapes and all sizes. Two million Hutus were killed by the Tutsi’s in 1994 and one reason this happened was because the UN refused to embargo UN arms in the country. Don’t give me crap about Jackson molesting 13 year old boys. There is no moral imperative in this world: evil is the equivalent of steak in a restaurant -everybody is doing their utmost to dress it up as something it really isn’t.

Concern yourself with MJ’s reputed predilections which are (as I hope I’ve proven) sadly, but honestly irrelevant. Concern yourself with the sad spectacle of people with too much money trying to find a reason to feel good about themselves, trying to find a reason to live.

I wrote a little while ago that MJ’s primary responsibility was to live through this for his three children. That was his moral imperative. But the music world, or popstars issues with fame and feeling good about themselves, are not our concerns, our only concerns are the musical manifestation of mortality.

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