Wednesday, July 15, 2009

High Anxiety

Chiller: Eulogies & fantasies for the king of pop
by John Lombardi

Dr. Cornell West of Princeton , a religion professor who still utilizes a 60s Afro, a black, three-piece preacher's suit, and the eponymous "Oh, my brothers!" when rolling into a sentence meant to override his listeners' critical faculties, was ceding the floor to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, of Georgetown: " . . . not just a fashion icon, a moon-walker, MJ was striking a strong metaphysical blow against segregation of the skin and of the spirit . . . Do you recall when Michael sang 'It doesn't matter if you're black or white!' ? Brother was in flames . . ."

Dr. Dyson, a younger, beefier sociology lecturer, sharing the spotlight on The Tavis Smiley Show on PBS a few days after MJ died, grabbed the stick like a relay runner: "Too quick to jump to the controversial tip! When Reagan died, you didn't have the media discussing the president's faux pas! Uh-uh! They gave him a pass! There was a moratorium on criticism. But with Michael, Fox News and everybody else were beating on the body immediately -- Oxycontin! Demerol! Bald head! 112 pounds! Taking away from his achievement! There's time for hard analysis later, but with the man barely gone, why is it necessary to diminish? What do you say, Tavis?"

Smiley, a big, handsome, healthy Hoosier, now established in Hollywood as a kind of black Charlie Rose, simply said: "Politics."

Which got West off again: "He was the intellectual emblem of blues hegemony. He was Fred Astaire, James Brown. Nietzsche, Stagolee -- a genius. And geniuses suffer for us all! They don't have happy lives! They carry the weight. They dealing with the heights and depths we more mortal men can't even jump up high enough to see, or dive down low enough to dig! Jackie Wilson! John Coltrane! Ornette Coleman! Nina Simone! Dostoevsky! Beethoven!"

"MJ altered the terms of the debate!" pronounced Dr. Dyson, edging back in like a rapper in a "cutting" contest, or like Don King hyping a fight. "He was adorned in an Afro-halo of High Possibilities and Deep Griefs. When [pre-Thriller] Rolling Stone wouldn't put Mike on the cover, he told 'em: 'You're gonna need me some day!' When MTV refused to play his music, he did all those Thriller & Bad videos that made MTV! They should have called it Michael TV! He engendered multi-millions, not only in CD's, DVD's, live performances and songwriting royalties, he created the integrated audience! Who do you think did more to pave the way for the non-racial U.S., the multi-racial world? Some politician? Or MJ?"

West swore that it was time for blacks to reclaim Michael. Dyson insisted it was whites who'd turned their backs on him, even after his 1995 child molester charges were dismissed. Causing all his pain and motivating whatever clinical gloom might have led him to abandon Neverland Ranch & cloister himself in Bahrain, and then England, where racist Fleet Street hacks were merciless, driving him out with "Jack-O!" headlines. After he was booed offstage at the Earl's Court Arena in London in 2006, in what was supposed to be his first comeback after the pedophile charges, he is said to have holed up for a week in a hotel, drinking steadily -- new for a man who'd spent millions on plastic surgery and weekly skin-lightening sessions with Dr. Arnold Klein of Beverly Hills (the purported real father of his first two kids, Prince and Paris, with his nurse Debbie Rowe as their mother ); who'd slept in a hyperbaric glass chamber to slow aging; ate only skinless broiled chicken and lettuce, to prevent weight gain & arterial clogging ; dressed himself and the children in medical beekeeper costumes to ward off paparazzi, germs and sunlight . . .

But according to these two, and they were on PBS -- you couldn't even think about the weird stuff. As MJ's spokesman/brother Jermaine tearfully told Matt Lauer of NBC, on the lawn in front of the Jackson family compound in Encino : "People weren't ready for him. He was too good. So God took him back." To show MJ's self-valuation, he'd had a painting of "The Last Supper" hung on his wall in Neverland that showed him at the center of a table, surrounded by "apostles": Abe Lincoln, JFK, Einstein, Little Richard, Elvis, Charlie Chaplin and Walt Disney.

The naive grandiosity, the tearful and sometimes malevolent denials of surgery addiction, prescription drug addiction and pedophilia, his attempts to "become", say, Diana Ross, or Elizabeth Taylor, his self-description as "Peter Pan", point to a more twisted psychology than his fans or handlers were equipped to deal with.

MJ and his brothers have recounted their father Joe's driven cruelty in turning them into a marketable black act in the 70s and 80s.. They lived at first in a battered saltbox in Gary, Indiana, where dad was a sometimes unemployed steelworker and frustrated musician . On camera, Michael told Martin Bashir of ABC: "He used his belt. Sometimes an electric cord. If you didn't get the steps or words right. Not with me as much, 'cause I was always better . . . But with some of my brothers, like Marlon . . . He was brutal." Joe would also taunt Michael about his shortness and "fat nose". As a result, MJ lost his childhood -- "Jermaine and Tito and them were older -- but all I knew was working."

So he began to change himself. By Thriller, 1983, he had a thinner nose and a lighter brown skin, so that he looked more like George Chakiris in West Side Story than himself. By Bad in 1989, having sold more units in six years than Elvis or the Beatles (59 million on Thriller; 28 million on Bad), his nose was even thinner (one surgeon called it "endstage crucified"), his skin whiter, and he had a a new strongly molded jaw and dimpled chin. It's been reported that he's spent hundreds of millions on his travels, lawyers, surgeries, homes -- Neverland cost a million a month to maintain; his last mansion in Holmby Hills, paid for by his last management aggregation, called Colony Capital, $100,000 a month to rent, plus $150,000 a month to keep his physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, constantly in attendance. Murray was with him, though allegedly out of the room, when he lapsed into unconsciousness June 25th.

He'd been begging his staff and one of his nurses for Diprivan, used sparingly in hospitals to start anesthesia, but dangerous . One warned him: "Michael, if you take too much of that stuff, you ain't gonna wake up!" (His brother Randy had helped save him in 2004.) But from his videos, shot at the Staples Center, where he was rehearsing a slo-mo, militaristic version of "This Is It", what was to have become his second, 50-show "comeback" at 02 Stadium in London on July 13th, drugs were already affecting him. Uncharacteristically, he was dressed in gray, the frustrated if spastically brilliant, sometimes balletically on-point dance moves of Thriller and Bad subliminated in flat-footed line-marches and salutes. The choked, manic singing of his biggest hits was slurred to the infant's refrain:

"All I wanna say is
They don't really care about us!"

The secret of MJ's success. Adults vs. children. Better to die than let them win.

His estate is valued at a half-billion dollars, and 2.6 million songs have been downloaded since his death. A billion people watched his funeral celebration on TV. A death photo, taken in the 911 ambulance, sold in the high six figures.



Blogger reverend chris said...

and yet again I find myself impressed with the level of writing on this site.

Look, I am here as an entertainer who truly enjoys quality writings. My book shelves are filled with the writings of Stephen Leacock, Alex Woolcot, Groucho Marx, T S Eliot, George Jessel, and even Anton Levey. I have the Koran next to the Bible (I personally perfer the Old Test).

But this blog just keeps getting better and better. Please keep it up. ALL OF YOU. FROM BOTH SIDES. Like politics I agree with one side 60% and the other 40%. I am thinking that many in Chestnut Hill need to review the Bill of No Rights...

Wed Jul 22, 12:33:00 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

rev chris, you ought to post regularly to NN. Why don't you write an "As Heard on the Avenue", column, which could be any sort of observations about the Hill, the Local, the CHCA/CHBA, Sullivan's babbles,Hugh Gilmore's fables, etc. Comment on stories or issues missed by Local's heroic staff. Write about what it feels like up there in summer. Hell, man.

John Lombardi

Thu Jul 23, 05:18:00 PM EDT  

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