Michael Jackson. August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009

•June 26, 2009 • 2 Comments

michael jackson

There’s very little that hasn’t already been said about Michael Jackson. But I guess I felt I still needed to say something about a man whose music left an indelible mark on music and human history.

I can’t imagine my childhood without the Thriller album. I can’t imagine living in a world that didn’t experience Michael Jackson fever in the 80’s: The Grammys and AMAs when he cleaned up, the 15 minute Thriller video debut –or when he turned a Pepsi commercial into a media event. The Michael Jackson phenomenon was a great escape from the Reagan era and it was a great part of my personal history with music. It feels strange that he’s passed because he was so much larger than life that it seemed impossible that he would ever die. To me, Michael Jackson always was, and such, he’d always be.

I was at my daughter’s graduation when I overheard a couple of parents talking about the rumors. Michael Jackson dead? That’s just a really fucked up rumor. I don’t believe it. At least I didn’t believe it until 1010 WINS confirmed it on my drive home. I was stunned. Whether he’d died at 90, 70 or 50, his death would have been just as tragic.

Statistically speaking, the young Michael Jackson didn’t have a bright future in front of him. Here’s a man who was the 7th of a total of 9 kids, the son of a industrial worker in Gary, Indiana. That their father Joe Jackson, was abusive is an understatement chronicled in made-for-TV movies and books and anecdotes. But ironically, if Joe Jackson hadn’t channeled that energy towards molding his kids into successful entertainers, they could have ended up like many other black families struggling in a dying industrial city. Imagine Janet and Latoya living on public assistance or Michael and Marlon being stick-up kids or hardened criminals? Even if they’d beaten the odds, the Jacksons could have been an “average” family: Tito the bus driver, Jermaine the accountant, Rebe the lawyer. There’s nothing wrong with it. And actually Michael Jackson, the engineer, might still be alive today, but it would have been a relative travesty because the world would never have been blessed with the talents of Michael and the Jackson family.

He gave his life to music.

Following the life of a child star is like taking a trip into a macabre fantasyland. The young star ostensibly has everything that any kid could want. They get access to incredible material wealth. Their media image grants them access to just about everything else money can’t buy. But for some reason, most child stars grow up to be grotesque, twisted caricatures of their younger selves. If they don’t make an outright Icarian fall from the pinnacle of their careers, they rarely regain the same level of success as adults.. Maybe it’s because while the rest of us can make mistakes and learn from them (or not) in the safety of relative obscurity, child stars’ mistakes are scrutinized and forgiven but never forgotten. Or maybe it’s because the public psyche keeps a fairly static impression of celebrity. Stars who come into show business as adults have a difficult enough time reinventing themselves. For most former child stars, shedding their pre-pubescent image rarely works. It seems a major part of their self-image is sewn from their public image, and when that public image is rejected, they don’t know how to deal with life. Whatever the reason, Hollywood has a penchant for eating its young and Michael Jackson was no exception. But Michael Jackson was a little different. Michael Jackson stayed a child star well into his 30’s.

The Rev. Al Sharpton was right in painting MJ as an important figure in the African-American civil rights struggle. There were plenty of black stars before him: Sidney Poitier, Diana Ross and Wilt Chamberlain come to mind. But none preceding him achieved the level of superstardom that Jackson did. Not many, if any white stars have reached the level of Michael Jackson superstardom, for that matter. Elvis was Elvis because there hadn’t yet been a Michael Jackson. More accurately, Elvis was Elvis because America wasn’t ready to allow their white daughters to fawn over a black man performing black music. Controversial hip-swiveling aside, Elvis was an acceptable though ridiculous alternative. So when Michael Jackson began to record and perform as an adult, he had obstacles, but he was well equipped to deal with them. Michael Jackson’s child-like, asexual, non-threatening veneer is what enabled him to become the man the world mourns today. That veneer is what made him the world’s first black superstar. America wasn’t threatened by Michael Jackson, the black man, because he was unlike any black man on the planet. And besides, the world already knew Michael Jackson: Little Michael, the incredibly charismatic kid who performed with his four brothers and could sing and dance his ass off. The older Michael was essentially Little Michael in an adult’s body and a great Jheri Curl. Even his voice hadn’t changed much. His childish demeanor was not only disarming, it added to his mystique. For a while, the freak show that was Michael Jackson worked for him. He hung out with child stars and a chimpanzee and was generally portrayed to have better relationships with animals and mother-figures than female love interests. But so what? Great artists are forgiven for their eccentricity and it was all eclipsed by his incredible success. But as his relative successes waned, the freak show took center stage. The plastic surgeries, the skin lightening, the asexual nature and eccentric and child-like demeanor were all weaponized. While the media prevents most child stars from moving from their childhoods, Jackson was attacked for trying to preserve it. Once the media realized that he wasn’t superhuman, because he wasn’t able to duplicate the successes of Thriller, he was expected to act his age -and human. Oh and look black again. Ironically, the fact that he broke the color barrier, making black superstardom attainable and acceptable, rendered his hair perming and skin lightening moot. But it’s only natural that he’d cling to being “different”. It’s what made him a success, so he pushed even harder. The more eccentric he became, the more the media demonized him. This was his undoing.

He asked to be left alone, but the truth is that he really needed the media. Having been a public figure since he was 10 years old, the media and public opinion were his barometer. They defined him. For at least the last 15 years of his life, neither were kind. The 30-something but still a child star Michael Jackson didn’t know how to deal with life. A part of his eccentricity may have been a put-on, but after a while, it’s apparent that he was in need of some counseling. It very could have spared him and others the uglier side of his legacy.

Regardless of what the coroner’s report tells of his death, Michael Jackson life was never truly his own. It’s truly a tragic personal story hidden behind the soundtrack of the some of the greatest music of our generation. He endured cruel treatment from the two entities that created and controlled him: his father and the media. But the truth is, it really couldn’t have happened any other way.

Michael Jackson lived a tortured existence on this planet for the benefit of countless others. He’s entertained billions of people to the tune of over 750 million albums sold. His benefit songs, concerts and plethora of philanthropic work has defined how artists “give back”. He kicked down the door for black superstars that followed him. Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan and many others owe a great deal to Michael Jackson. Barack Obama, to a certain extent is just as indebted.

Michael Jackson: the greatest entertainer of our time; a complex man died essentially a martyr on June 25th, 2009. Rest in peace, Mike.

Some of my favorite Michael Jackson songs (my top 5 in bold):
Dancing Machine w/ Jackson 5)
Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough
Rock with You
Workin’ Day and Night

Off the Wall
I Can’t Help It
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin
Beat It
Billie Jean
Human Nature
The Lady in My Life
Another Part of Me
Man in the Mirror
Smooth Criminal
Remember the Time
Scream w/ Janet Jackson
This Time Around w/ Biggie
You Rock my World


I finally got a chance to read what some of my favorite bloggers had to say about MJ’s death and I’m listening to a J.Period Mixtape (thx D.Penn) and realizing that my list is incomplete. And as good as it feels to rock out with Mike right now, I think his passing is tougher for me to take than I expected, even a couple days after the fact.

Wanna Be Where You Are
In the Closet
I Want You Back
Heartbreak Hotel
Never Can Say Goodbye (thx Kiana from Proper Talks)

I’m sure this list will grow as I dig some more … but this is it for now.

This Is Why We’re Dumb

•June 15, 2009 • 2 Comments

dunce cap nation

As industrious as the United States is as a nation, we love to hit the “easy button”.  The main reason we are so industrious is because most of our efforts go towards creating easy buttons.  Ironically, we like it so cheap and easy that we now have China manufacturing our easy buttons. When you think about it, the easy button didn’t start with 20th century inventions like the remote control, microwave oven, cruise control and the internets.  Slavery was about as big an easy button you could have. And while Americans didn’t invent it, they sure had a REALLY hard time relinquishing it.  But the easy button mentality doesn’t end with consumer goods. American media consumption reflects that when topics gets are boring, too difficult to understand, or too difficult to deal with, we find an easy way out.

In the last 20 years, American news media devolved from one of the most respected sources of information on the planet to a minstrel show.  Uhh… but instead of white entertainers in blackface, you have attractive entertainers of every hue in cleavage and newsface: a mummer’s farce passing off as real news. A good part of that reality has to do with Americans looking for an easy way out:  We kinda care about what’s happening in Darfur, but it’s too sad and too intense and way too complicated and there’s nothing we can do about it, right?  So please just tell us what happening with the Octo-mom. That’s news right there. Cuz, it’s local… She’s in California! It’s easier to vent our outrage about her sanity, her doctor’s ethics and where our tax dollars are going than to try to follow a complex issue that’s outside of our borders and doesn’t directly effect us- even if it means ignoring massive loss of human life.

To feed our appetite for what’s easy, the mainstream media hits their own easy button and gives us exactly what we want -that way they don’t need to work too hard either.  And don’t think it’s a one-way relationship.  By controlling what we hear and see, they get to set the national conversation. But it’s not just the news media. Film and television programming also have their hand in setting the national mood and moving people into action. Have you seen ‘Back to the Future’ since the 80’s? Today, the movie’s propaganda seems like such a ham-fisted attempt to set the nation’s perception of Libya.   NBC’s ‘LA Law’ played a part in glut of new attorneys in the late 80’s and 90’s.   Did you know that there’s currently a near-crisis shortage of nurses in the US that’ll only worsen as Baby Boomers retire? Don’t worry, though. There are two new nurse dramas here to save the day: Showtime’s ‘Nurse Jackie’ and Jada Pinkett Smith’s new nurse drama ‘Hawthorne’ (check your local listings).  It may just be a coincidence, but lets just hope that Nursing becomes sexy and cool before those shows are taken off the air. Otherwise we’re fucked.
Imagine being at a social gathering and someone walks into the room and says “How crazy is it that there’s an industry that makes billions of dollars from killing people around the world? Talk amongst yourselves…” and walks out. That’s effectively what the mainstream media does -only they wouldn’t talk about the weapons industry because one of the biggest profiteers from the Iraq war also pays Brian Williams’s salary. So there’s also plenty of agenda setting by omission.

Speaking of omission… So where were the Brian Williamses of the world on Saturday when the people of Iran realized that something wasn’t right with the election results that sewed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the Supreme Leader of Iran’s puppet strings for another four years?  Even though the President of Iran has no real power, it seems that a substantial part of the electorate had hope that a new president would be able to take a more pragmatic approach to governance and world-facing or at least reflect an evolution in the Supreme leader and his council’s governance and world facing.  Riots, protests and acts of violence showed that they were more than a little displeased with the status quo of their authoritarian democracy.  There’s a very real possibility that they’ve begun a new revolution in Iran. And the US news media was shamefully absent in covering it.  I’m not going to beat that dead horse too badly, a lot of other bloggers who are a lot smarter than me beat me to it. But I mean, the shit was embarrassing. Before the election, Ahmadinijad may have inoculated himself from the US media’s in-depth coverage of his fuckery, by saying that the Western media’s reporting of the results may skew perceptions.  So they backed off. But if that’s the case, when are they going to learn that they don’t need to take cues  from anyone? They were GW Bush’s megaphone between September 11th 2001 and somewhere around the time that the Bush administration lost all credibility for their war in Iraq.  Getting suckered by a foreign leader who’s widely regarded as “evil” makes our news media look even more buffoonish. The BBC didn’t fall for it. Their coverage was superb. And Twitter came through in a very big way.  I honestly didn’t find Twitter very useful until I followed and got live tweets from Iranians –civilians on the ground- some risking life and liberty to send the world news of what was happening in their country.
If the folks who set our national agenda are dumb enough to fall for the Bush/ Ahmadinejad type of bullshit, time and time again, what does it say about us who listen to them? Even if it turns out that they were just lazy, hit the “easy button” and took the weekend off: “Election? What election? No one in America cares about an Iranian election?” It only shows that as a nation we really need to get our shit together, get more involved in the world and find alternatives to the agenda setting machine.

No? Ok, maybe this will make you feel better:

The Natural Order of Things

•June 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

NYPD in rearview

The above photo is my own. I took it while good ol’ NYPD ran my license and registration through the system on Friday. It’s a good thing I’d taken care of this problem when I did, otherwise I would have probably spent the weekend at Camp Central Booking. At first I was upset about getting the ticket, because I felt it was bullshit. So what if I made a right turn onto Empire  Blvd off of Franklin and it’s an illegal turn? I make a *left* turn there quite literally 4 days a week. And every day I make that left turn, a convoy of cars make the right turn so I never thought anything of it. And because I’m at that intersection almost every day, the traffic signs are just a part of the scenery. Of course the one day I need to turn right, there’s a cop perched waiting for the aforementioned convoy to make that right turn. I saw the cop but didn’t think anything of it because I didn’t know the turn was illegal, and on this day, that convoy was a van in front of me (which didn’t get pulled over) and me. I mentioned before that at first I was mad; was, in the past tense. I got over it quickly because I thought about it in the grander scheme and in terms of the natural order of things.

It first hit me when I thought back to a couple weeks away when Combat Jack and I were talking about the Air France flight that crashed into the Pacific.
This seems like the perfect time to take a sidebar and apologize for not posting in a min. I’ve been working on moving CJ’s site off of Blogger and onto our own hosted platform.  The new Daily Mathematics site is going to be an ambitious undertaking (we’ll start off small) and I’ll be contributing my tech and quill skills to the new Daily Maths. Barack’s Alter Ego has suffered I guess because I haven’t multi-tasked as well as I’m capable. Now back to the story.
CJ said that Air France officials were saying that the plane went down because of turbulence. I told him about the time I was on my own flight to Paris years ago when we hit turbulence that shook the shit out of the plane and the pilot. The pilot screamed -voice cracking and all- at the flight attendants to get to their stations. The turbulence was so bad that the food service stuff from the back of the plane was flying all over the place and finding its way into the main cabin. People on the plane were crying and praying out loud. We were losing altitude and it felt like a rollercoaster stomach wrenching freefall, for what may have been 10 minutes or 15 minutes or may have only been 5. People were literally saying their goodbyes. Sitting there alone, like a spectator to all the chaos around me, I realized that I was shook when I felt a bead of sweat run down my calf. So I did my own silent prayer and quietly accepted that “the end” was coming at any moment. And because that rollercoaster stomach wrenching freefall was lasting too long, I was getting pissed that it wouldn’t “just get it over with”.
Obviously, we didn’t crash. In the blink of an eye, what felt like an eternity of crazy turned to peace and all was well as we climbed back into the sky. As we finally got off the plane, amidst people planting kisses on terra firma, someone mentioned “Final Destination” – the movie about a group of teenagers who escape death from a plane crash but spend the rest of the movie actively trying to escape death because death was their true destiny.
Flashforward to Friday: While I’m still pissed about my traffic ticket, I remembered how happy I’d been as I climbed into my car because I’d escaped getting a parking ticket despite being parked on the wrong side of the street. I’d actually lucked out on a parking ticket a few weeks earlier too. The cost of those tickets would have been more than my traffic ticket. And then I realized: not only did I escape those two parking tickets, but I drove down Franklin Ave, Brooklyn, blasting Guns N Roses ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ when I drove past the cops. I was asking for it. The natural order of things can be in disarray for only so long. And then I remembered reading about the woman who escaped death by missing the Air France flight that crashed in the Atlantic but then died in a car crash last week. And then I remembered reading about the dude who left his job at Merril Lynch’s World Trade Center offices on Sept 10th, 2001 (many of his colleagues perished) but was on American Airlines Flight 587 which crashed on its way to the Dominican Republic on November 12, 2001.
Then I realized that yeah, ticket is a pain in the ass, but it’s petty. And I really just need to slow my roll lest I upset the balance in natural order of things.

Anti-Hip-Hop Rap

•May 31, 2009 • 4 Comments

Not that Hip-Hop necessarily has a political stance. But when some of rap music’s early seminal moments were defined by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Run DMC, Public Enemy and KRS-ONE launching bombs at Reagan-era politics, this shit is disgusting. I think rappers need to consider issuing death-sentence Fatwas on muhfuckers who disrespect the art like this.

What’s not surprising is that this is probably the worst attempt at rapping. Ever. What is surprising is that it is not a parody. I don’t know if this is a part of Michael Steele’s attempt to “take the heezy it to the suburban urban streets” or whatever the fuck he’s trying to do. But I think even Rush Limbaugh, in the throes of a vicodin bender, would be embarrassed of this shit.

If I were Barack Obama, I’d release this statement:

“Seriously? This shit? You want me to comment on this shit? Fuck. Ok….  Uh.. look… The only good thing about this shit is that it ends at 3:36 not 4:38. And what the fuck is that Superman shit at 2:52? I love how conservatives try to paint me as a socialist, not really knowing what a socialist is. Meanwhile under previous Republican administrations, corporate and elite ‘socialism’ ran unchecked with the richest individuals and businesses getting massive tax cuts to supposedly benefit the country and our economy. You all know how that turned out. And why the fuck is everyone jocking Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? I guarantee you that less than 1% of the assholes who talk all that John Galt shit have actually read the book. I know cuz I’m yet to finish it and I ain’t no fucking joke. Oh and FUCK yo iPod jokes.”

The History of Weed

•May 27, 2009 • 1 Comment

Who doesn’t like a little history lesson with their television series promotion?

Honorary Negroeship for Auction on Ebay

•May 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Thanks to Allana from the comments section.

It was only a matter of time until a black person tried to capitalize off of this. It’s a great time to be black in America ain’t it? Barack Obama, Oprah, Hip Hop, high unemployment for everyone!  If you’re melanin challenged, do you want to make be left out of this incredible moment in history? Larry King’s son doesn’t! But that’s because he’s not Eminem or Pau Gasol.

A blogger from the West-Coast is auctioning off an Honorary Blackness Certificate -complete with “authentication” by the 1980’s bepermed Rev Al Sharpton.

From the Ebay listing:

“The winner of this auction will receive a signed certificate in a strong mahogany frame proclaiming him or her an honorary Black person. The winner will also receive “Gibson’s Secret Guide to Being Black,” an easy to follow 10 step guide to being “down” in no time (see excerpt below).”

Roffle @ “strong mahogany frame”. The bidding starts at $10 and no one has staked a claim on it yet but there’s 7 days left. You would think that some hipsters would have already seen the irony in it and driven the price sky-high. But then there’s the economy keeping wallets shut. Oh and the fact that freely priced markets never lie. No matter how good some of us have it.. there’s probably no fair price for taking on the extra burden of being black in this country. I hope he’s paying Rev Al on commission.

If I were Barack Obama, I’d release this statement:

“Uh.. I’ve already given a speech on race relations in this country. That certificate of honorary blackness is cute.. real cute. But Look.. There’s no white America or black America. There’s the United States of America. By embracing our differences while understanding that our similarities are what make us a great nation, we can all come to a common ground where we can move this country forward without the distractions of bigotry. In the meantime… any white person who wants to slap on some extra spray-tan and be Barack Obama for a day without my Secret Service detail is welcomed to it.”

EDIT: Irony of ironies.. At first, I didn’t pay attention to that HuffPo page I linked to about Larry King’s son. But when I went back to close the tab, I noticed this as the banner ad:

Who needs a blackness certificate when jungle fever is for sale?

Crack Clouds Over NYC

•May 19, 2009 • 6 Comments

Courtesy of Gabe of Army of Gabe fame (his site has been shuttered) who co-wrote BLING with Combat Jack.

These crackheads talk you through what it feels like to smoke that rock. The thing that kills me is that the one dude admits to not having sex or an erection in 3 months (which obviously precludes sex)… cuz he’s just been chasing the rock like that. And he wistfully describes the White House as a big magical crack rock (kind of).

Back when this was taped, the internet, a black president and a middle-class person barely being able afford to live in Hell’s Kitchen could have only been in a crackhead’s dream.