Saturday, June 27, 2009

I was never really aware of Michael Jackson as a kid--I know that seems crazy, but it's true. I never really listened to music that much, and what I did listen to was mainly The Beach Boys and various other golden oldies. He just wasn't on my radar. I wasn't even a year old when Thriller was released. If I'd been ten or eleven, then he would have been a much bigger part of my universe. But by the time I was old enough to begin to be aware of the larger world of music around me, he had already begun his long slow decline.

Having said that, there are still a few distinct memories I have. When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to watch The Simpsons, but my best friend would tape it, and when I would visit on weekends, we would watch it on his old top-loading VCR. And one night, FOX premiered the "Do You Remember The Time" video either right before or after The Simpsons, and the two of us watched it, fascinated by the then-current "morphing" technology used in the video. Despite the song not being very good, I can still remember it very well, nearly seventeen years later. FOX did the same thing with the "Scream" video, and I remember my grandmother making a point to watch it, which I thought was weird then, and still do now, as the only music I ever knew her to enjoy was the kind they played on Hee-Haw. It was a genuine "what the hell?" moment, one that goes to show the kind of weird charisma he commanded at that time.

He was probably the last genuine Global Megastar to walk the earth, the kind of celebrity who was as famous in America as he was in China, or Brazil, or Italy. For better or worse, no album will ever again sell like Thriller, and it is almost as likely that no musician will ever achieve the kind of worldwide renown that Jackson achieved.

Was he a pedophile? Well, probably. There's almost as much evidence for his innocence as his guilt, but...yeah, he was almost certainly a pedophile. And if nothing else, he was more or less completely out of his mind for probably the last twenty years of his life. I can't think of a single figure who better illustrates the way fame--and especially the kind of desperate, nasty fame we create in America--can destroy a person. Just looking at the ruins of his face, the way he seemed to be trying to make himself something more, or less, than human, speaks volumes about how a person can crack so thoroughly they can never really be put back right again. For someone who brought so many people joy, he seemed to have never truly been happy, and regardless of the crimes he may or may not have committed, he is ultimately a truly tragic figure.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

I rewatched the Townes Van Zandt documentary Be Here To Love Me last night. I'd seen it before back when it came out, but I'd forgotten how brutal it was.

In a way, it's admirable, Van Zandt's dedication to his art--his willingness to throw family, material gains, simple human comfort, aside in pursuit of his music. "There was a point when I realized: man I could really do this," Van Zandt says at one point, "but it takes blowing everything off. It takes blowing your family off, money, security, happiness, friends: blow it off." But it's also infuriating to see someone so fundamentally selfish ("he could be really cruel to the people who loved him," his oldest son says, with no hint of romanticsm). He left behind three wives and just as many children. True, he seemed somewhat content with his last marriage and family, but given enough time I expect he would have severed those ties as well.

At times, though, it seems it was almost worth it. We were joking around somewhat while watching the movie, making smalltalk, but the three of us fell silent watching a performance of "Marie", a completely no bullshit moment. Van Zandt wrote any number of sad, dark songs, but he was also the author of songs like "Highway Kind", "Marie", and "Nothin'" that are pulsing black holes, portals into a despair that is utterly inescapable. Listening, you're surprised he lasted as long as he did. His old friend Guy Clark puts it best, performing at a memorial for Van Zandt--"I booked this gig thirty years ago."

The other thing that struck me, watching the documentary, particularly during the interview sections with a visibly drunk Guy Clark, is how much Van Zandt and the entire Texas singer/songwriter scene--Van Zandt and Guy Clark and Steve Earle and others--remind me of my father and his old cronies, many (most) of whom are a bunch of drunks and fuckups, even now, well into their fifties. But they all had a lot--some would say too much--fun in their youth. They drank and did drugs and got fucked up and crashed cars and fucked each other's husbands and wives. They embodied the same kind of free-spirited outlaw/hippie/country vibe of Clark and Van Zandt, only minus the talent and success.

Still, I often find myself envying them their youth and freedom, particularly when weighed against my own rather timid and unexciting adolescence, and which probably explains to some degree my fascination/attraction to people who are kind of fucked up and self-destructive. They can burn up before your eyes, provide illumination, poke and prod into dark corners while you remain your own safe and boring self, quietly watching the dark.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

So in a couple of weeks Seven Mary Three, Sponge, and Marcy Playground are going to be playing a free concert at a racetrack here in town.  

There's always something profoundly depressing to me about seeing these kind of has-been groups still slugging it out (the same racetrack that's hosting these bands has already had Soul Asylum, Better Than Ezra, and the Gin Blossoms perform in the last year or so) in the trenches--enough of a name to be a draw, but only to people who want to hear them chug out their handful of hits and be done.  

The saddest thing about these bands is that none of them--with the exception of Soul Asylum--were ever that good to begin with.  The first Gin Blossoms album is great, and I have something of a soft spot for Better Than Ezra's Deluxe, but none of the others were anything more than second--or third--rate imitations.  Seven Mary Three sounded like the stupidest parts of Pearl Jam (and were probably the first of the Shitty Pearl Jam Knockoffs that came to define "Modern Rock" radio, awful bands like Three Doors Down and Creed and Nickleback), while Sponge were like Stone Temple Pilots, only worse. And Marcy Playground...well, their first album wasn't the worst thing in the world, but that's hardly a glowing review.  

Yet somehow all of these groups--again, with the exception of Soul Asylum--managed to have some big hits, but only one or two, and then were more or less forgotten in the great Post Grunge/Nu-Metal era, when a band as blatantly awful as Lit would be considered a cutting edge rock act.  But none of them ever stopped making albums, despite more and more diminishing returns.  And now they're playing free shows at racetracks and casinos and state fairs, taking the place of the dinosaur rock acts like Bachman Turner Overdrive and Foghat that usually play these kind of venues.  

The thing that truly distresses me about these bands is the scent of failure that clings to them. And not only their own failures of talent or ability, but the failure of the whole early 90s rock movement. Bands that formed out of the crucible of the late 80s underground, that really took to heart what it was all about.  Mark Lanegan likened it to being "in the late 60s, if the MC5 and the Stooges suddenly got to be the biggest bands in the world." And despite being a little too young to have been as affected by an album like Nevermind the way most people just a few years older than me were, being a kid when all this stuff was blowing up was nothing short of magical. It basically felt like the good guys had won, and things might be different somehow. 

This was, naturally, a pretty stupid thing to think, and just a few short years later, it was obvious that the things that were good and challenging were having their edges sanded off and were being sold back in such a way that the greatest number of people would buy it. This is how things always happen and should have surprised no one. But that does nothing to stop the weird twinge of sadness and disappointment I feel when I happen to hear an old song or catch an old video and see young people so lost in themselves, full of a potential they will ultimately betray.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The temptation, now that I've set this thing up, is to just sit down and rant and blurt...but I don't really want to do that. I'd prefer this thing to be like, I don't know, better than that?

So we'll wait. I guess.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Well. It is now summer, and the Arnold Palmer is the drink of choice for the refined gentleman.

Just getting the word out there.