Sunday, June 28, 2009

Beyond Bad

Michael Jackson by Pants

On a parky winter’s day in 1982 I ran into NME photographer Bleddyn Butcher in Oxford Street. He had just emerged from the Virgin Megastore clutching a freshly-pressed copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller about which he was gleefully enthusing. This struck me as unusual for a number of reasons. It was unimaginable that anyone who worked at the NME would ever buy a pint much less a long-playing vinyl platter and wasn’t Michael Jackson, you know, one of those glittering disco type people? I never heard Bleddyn enthuse about anything at all after that day so at least something reverted to normal.

I never got into Michael Jackson. By the time The Jackson 5 started having hits I’d exhausted my taste for novelties on Cab Calloway and Mel Tormé and chose instead Hendrix, Joplin and The Doors as the soundtrack for my early angst. I did go to The Monkees concert in 1968 but they at least were not children. Then came the watershed year of 1976 and the choice between the mirror ball and the safety pin. I went for the pin. Try mending your knicker elastic with a mirror ball. Black was always a better look for me than gold lame and punks made their own, very much superior fun.

By 1982 Jackson was all grown up and there was no avoiding Thriller for the next eighteen months. I dutifully attempted to learn the moonwalk at a Christmas party in 1983. The Royal Ballet dancer who tried to teach it to us, looked quite stunning gliding across the varnished timber floors in his crepe soles but I collapsed in a heap in my stockinged feet. With the whole world seemingly under the Thriller spell, I wasn’t convinced. The niggling question for me was why would you want to listen to Michael Jackson when you could have Marvin Gaye? His Midnight Love album came out around the same time. Marvin had been ladling out his uncompromising blend of sex and politics in exquisite sound chunks for a decade. This jittering, squeaking, gyrating poppet just wasn’t in his league. It’s worth noting that it was Midnight Love that the NME named its 'album of the year' in 1982 and not Thriller.

It was twenty-five years ago last April 1 that Marvin Gaye died in genuinely tragic circumstances. He was shot and killed by his father just as his troubled life and career seemed to be on the upturn. That’s not to say that Michael Jackson’s death isn’t tragic in its own sad way but as Paul Morley concludes in this measured piece in one’s beloved Guardian, inevitable. The pathetic figure who needed an autocue to string three words together to announce a series of fifty demanding all singing, all dancing entertainment spectaculars, was not very likely to be still standing after more than one or two lacklustre performances. His sudden death may have been a kindness to all involved.

Like everyone else in Britain, I was parked in front of our rented television when the John Landis directed Thriller video was premiered in the wee hours. Revolutionary? I didn’t think so. More like The Rocky Horror Show meets Grease. But perhaps it was prescient in retrospect. When he tells Ola Ray he’s not like other boys and then acquires the face of a ghoul, well you can’t help but conclude it was a foretaste of things to come.

Most people are saying nice things about Michael Jackson at the moment but there will be dirt soon because it’s most assuredly there. Anyone who doubts that just needs to look very closely at Martin Bashir’s 2003 interview again. The county coroner may have finished with Michael Jackson but the real autopsy has only just begun.

My own curiosity is most piqued by his unchallenged attitudes towards women. He was clearly a misogynist of the first order but was never accused of it. Why? Because he appeared so infantile and vulnerable and one normally associates misogyny with brutes? What kind of father purges children’s mothers from their lives, names them all Michael, even the girl and then forces them into purdah for no good reason? It’ll be interesting to see how well-adjusted those kids turn out to be after an early childhood with Daddy Dearest. And what’s this about a surrogate mother? Last time I checked the dictionary, a surrogate mother was a woman who carried a child on behalf of another woman. If it’s her own embryo and there is no infertile Mommy, then she's it. The mother of Michael Jackson’s third child knows who she is and will emerge from the woodwork roughly about the same time as the value of his estate is announced I should think.

Michael Jackson’s misogyny was enabled by a mafia of clichéd grotesques with car bomb private lives (yes Liz & Liza, that would be you). These unsightly distortions of femininity so often associated with extreme gay iconography represent a version of self-inflicted victim-hood and chronic narcissism which appears comforting to men who, for whatever reason fear and/or dislike strong women. I often wonder why gay men don’t idolise Jeanette Winterson, k.d lang, Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag. I’m not suggesting by the way that all gay men hate women and/or love Liz and Liza or that Michael Jackson was indeed gay – although that might explain some things. I do know a few gay men though and none of them read Jeanette Winterson.

The protection provided by these doughy dowagers may also have masked, even sanctioned some sinister behaviour. Going back to the Martin Bashir interview where Jackson candidly revealed that he regularly shared his bed with visiting children, it’s apparent he did not think he was doing anything wrong. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t, it probably means he felt no obligation to bother checking on his legal and moral obligations as the responsible adult. It’s a unique belief in personal entitlement that only someone who has never known anything but celebrity could hold.

I don’t own any Michael Jackson records and I won’t be buying any now. I don’t think my restraint is going to alter the estate's fortunes. Once the Amazonian frenzy for available material subsides, expect a slurry of previously unreleased tracks to hit the market. There’s at least one shopkeeper in New Jersey sitting on sixty demo tapes he won in a legal action along with other Jackson memorabilia.

For the last couple of days I’ve been listening to Prince. Everything Michael Jackson could ever have hoped to have said is contained in one Prince song, When Doves Cry.

P.S. By chance I received an email today from one Luke Jackson asking me to aid in the promotion of his new release. Normally I would greet such brazen cheek with a bad-tempered stab at the 'report spam' button but in the circumstances I can't pass up the opportunity to urge you to listen to an entirely different Jackson. Besides, it's called Goodbye London and it contains clever and amusing animation. Ootoob your way to happiness with my compliments.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bad finger rising

Bad finger by Pants

I fear I may be dying. They say the forefinger is the first part of you to go. They don’t? Well they should. I fear the slow but sure decline of my erstwhile faithful right index digit following some mystery wildlife encounter of which I wasn’t even aware until alerted by an explosion of puss that would have been rejected from ER on the grounds of excessive gruesomeness, portends the worst. Anyway, I don’t want to live any more if my chief instrument of accusation is faulty.

Speaking of pointing the finger, British Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has produced her first official poem, published yesterday in one’s beloved (and much missed) Guardian. Here it is,


How it makes of your face a stone

that aches to weep, of your heart a fist

clenched or thumping, sweating blood, of your tongue

an iron latch with no door. How it makes of your right hand

a gauntlet, a glove-puppet of the left, of your laugh

a dry leaf blowing in the wind, of your desert island discs

hiss hiss hiss, makes of the words on your lips dice

that can throw no six. How it takes the breath

away, the piss, makes of your kiss a dropped pound coin,

makes of your promises latin, gibberish, feedback, static,

of your hair a wig, of your gait a plankwalk. How it says this –

politics – to your education education education; shouts this –

Politics! – to your health and wealth; how it roars, to your

Conscience moral compass truth, POLITICS POLITICS POLITICS

* * *

Mmmm. I sense dissent. My views on the suitability of Gordon ‘Scrooge McDuck’ Brown to run anything other than a lukewarm bath have been exhaustively proffered here over the last couple of years. What I simply don’t get is how anyone could have been daft enough to invest in him any kind of hope in the first place. So you can imagine how far I am from being able to grasp the latest pale imitation of a putsch in British Labour. Did they rent their long knives from Ryanair then?

Loyalty is normally a quality to be admired but in this instance I fear it may have been seriously misplaced. Simon Hoggart (Guardian – where else?) points out that the Tories hold no reservations if they think a leader is likely to lose them an election. It’s off with his/her head. The left prefer to wallow in self-inflicted inertia and pray to St Jude rather than scout amongst the other 350 or so eligible candidates for someone with a little common sense and a modicum of humility when their leader does an Ahab. I’m glad I don’t live in the UK now. I’d have to vote Tory and then never mind waiting for the withering finger to get me, it would be the first plane to Mexico*.

While attempting to discover the exact number of Labour MPs in parliament so that I could approximate it accurately, I stumbled upon this Australian educational webtool.

Closer inspection of the scintillating content revealed these links to related material,

See also:

HP Sauce? Who is this, the Chief Whip? Kids around here are also routinely told that England can fit into Victoria EIGHT TIMES. Victoria needs to watch her step if she doesn’t want to pick up a reputation and a touch of something itchy and unpleasant besides.

Kevin Rudd must be on the suicide pills as he’s currently drawing the worst from the PR manuals of both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The winning combination of an overpowering aura of shiftiness accompanied by a perpetually raised eyebrow and the doggedly unfinished sentence in response to every media enquiry has well and truly soured the romance now. Just to be on the safe side, he’s unleashed a barrage of the most cringe-inducing ockerisms known to soundbite history. It was a strewthfest guaranteed to visit one in nightmares for years to come. I must dig out that Lonely Planet Guide to Mexico.

By refreshing contrast, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has proved herself a queen of the quip, commenting on the prat spat between Tracey Grimshaw and Gordon Ramsey in The Australian,

‘I understand from the publicity that Gordon Ramsay is a good chef,’ Ms Gillard said.

’I think perhaps what he should do is confine himself to the kitchen and make nice things for people to eat rather than make public comments about others.’

Sauce for the gander…

* No need, Mexico has now come to Victoria.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Boyle Over

Image from

SuBo’s flipped. Now there’s a surprise. In the game of chance we call ‘life’ here on planet idiot-box, her card was always marked, ‘Go directly to The Priory. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £100,000.' The transition from village curiosity to global basket-case has taken what – all of two months? And she’s skipped the whole tedious business of rushing out a hit novelty album followed by a couple of risible duds, a string of bad marriages to a creepy fake Eastern European aristocrat, a scrap metal dealer with dodgy connections on the Costa del Sol and David Gest, not to mention addictions to prescription drugs, cosmetic surgery and internet sex? I wish.

Was it personal hubris or vicious puppeteering or perhaps a toxic mix of both that resulted in the shock loss that sent the unlikely diva spiralling into meltdown? Everyone’s got a theory about how a street dance troupe from Dagenham whose name sounds like it was arrived at by canvassing a cross-section of local authority community engagement officers, managed to snatch victory from the Youtubed-to-death sure thing. Tanya Gold in The Guardian reckons Boyle wandered perilously off script to uncurry favour,

'In Britain's Got Talent it is never simply the talent that wins. It is the journey that wins – the story that the British public deems most worthy of reward. Who from the fetid gutter shall we raise up to be a glittering star? Who will be the most appreciative candidate? At first we thought it must be Susan Boyle, who the tabloids nicknamed "the hairy angel". It is a despicable phrase, but it says everything about what we expected Susan Boyle to be. It means "ugly saint".

But last week Susan Boyle began to step out of her journey. It was reported that she was cracking up under the pressure. The "hairy angel" was becoming aggressive. She wasn't, in fact, an angel, but she was human, and troubled. She apparently swore at a passerby who was bothering her, and even complained to a policeman about it. But, Susan, aren't you ecstatic to be bothered? You have never been bothered before.'

Hang on a minute Tans, I think it was the folks from across the pond who were mostly keeping the Boyle boat afloat. I'm a long, long way away now but I picked up that the SuBo magic started to sour along with those first few notes of Memory in the semi-final round. Personally, I blame Amanda Holden. When she proclaimed Boyle the emblematic heart and soul of Britain, it wasn’t much of a stretch to visualise jaws dropping all over Essex,

‘You wha? That daft old bint represents us? No fucking way.’

The rallying of Facebook networks from Barking to Basingstoke, Upney to Upminster, Romford to Rainham may well have turned the tide. Perhaps the bookies figured it was cheaper to max out the minutes on premium price voting than pay out the estimated £5m on a Boyle win. Or maybe ITV rigged the poll to satisfy some twisted agenda well beyond the imaginations of decent licence fee-paying folk. It wouldn’t be the first time a TV phone-in fell under the spell of a mysterious ‘irregularity'. Or possibly the voting public realised SuBo wasn't really much of a singer but they'd inadvertantly gotten rid of all the decent contenders and a saxophonist was never going to cut it. It'll take at least three generations to eradicate Baker Street from the national psyche.

According to media reports, Boyle was assessed under the Mental Health Act and conveyed to The Priory with a police escort requested by doctors after staff at her hotel observed her ‘acting strangely’ on Sunday. I would venture that a celebrity in a five star London hotel would have to be doing something slightly more threatening than merely ‘acting strangely’ to be carted off by police to a Gucci-padded cell. I know someone who once walked into The Dorchester clad in flannelette pyjamas and tartan slippers, ambled about for half an hour in a state of studied disorientation and wafted out again past the liveried doormen without a single challenge or even a sideways glance. Discretion is the blind eye that keeps the kids in Kappa for the staff of top London hotels.

Still, the expectation is that this poor muppet will have a stellar career and earn between £5-10m. As Tony Parsons observed in The Mirror, ‘she is not the best singer in the country. She is not even the best singer on Britain
’s Got Talent.’ Arguably, being not even the best drummer in The Beatles didn’t do Ringo Starr any harm. Perhaps SuBo will get lucky and the world will be waiting ‘with bated breath and whispring humblenesse’ upon a golden album of dated show tunes. Hey, SuBo, Liza Minnelli called, she wants her life back and she's suing...