Friday, June 26, 2009

Weekend Assignment #273: Music(ians) of Your Life

Michael Jackson's death inspires this week's assignment.

Weekend Assignment #273: The death of Michael Jackson has provoked a huge reaction, much of it from people who grew up listening to his music. Is there a particular musician whose work has particular meaning for you?
Extra Credit: What is your personal reaction, if any, to the death of Michael Jackson?

From Michael Jackson vigil Tucson

I vaguely remember the Jackson 5 cartoon show, and listening to Ben on the car radio; so I guess you could say I grew up with the music of Michael Jackson. When I worked for McDonald's in 1979-1980, I remember proposing my opinion that Michael Jackson would benefit psychologically from being made to work anonymously at McDonald's for a month, to get some idea what the real world is like. I still believe that premise, that a celebrity who creates an artificial world around himself to the exclusion of the real world only exacerbates any self-destructive tendencies. John always said that a celebrity who has survived fame and come out psychologically healthy could do a good consulting business helping new celebs avoid the all-too-common pitfalls of drugs, ego, and money issues. A few years later, as an employee of Buzzard's Nest records, I sold a heck of a lot of Thriller LPs and cassettes, and listened to the promo copy daily for a while. I later listened to our promo of the Jacksons LP Victory, but was less than impressed by that one.

But really, I was never a Michael Jackson fan. I'm a little annoyed that my favorite cable station, MSNBC, has been pretty much hijacked by coverage of his death over the past 24 hours and counting, and that some interviewees have placed his cultural importance above that of Elvis or the Beatles. Fair enough, though: he broke the color barrier on MTV, was hugely influential in the fields of rock/pop, dance and fashion, and fascinated the public almost as much with his tragic life and death and bizarre behavior as because of his music. And we are now in the world of Twitter and texting and 24-hour news cycles. This sort of thing is probably inevitable, if not quite reasonable. (What about Iran? What about the energy bill? Isn't anything else happening today?)

Thursday evening I left the constant Michael Jackson coverage behind on tv and headed to Reid Park with the dogs. As we passed the rose garden, I saw more people there than was usual for that time of day. That's when I noticed the four trucks from three local Clear Channel radio stations in the parking lot, soon joined by news trucks from two tv stations.

More people started arriving in the rose garden, and sure enough, the gazebo was soon draped in KRQ banners. A trio of people stood with white party balloons, on which they had written in Sharpie. "I LOVE YOU, MICHEAL" was one of the things written on them. Ah. of course. As we left, someone had just addressed the crowd about having gotten his single parent mom to buy him a tape of BAD. Then they played the song Thriller, which is still stuck in my head. Darn it.

It was a typically diverse Tucson crowd - black, white, Hispanic, kids and baby boomers, man and women. Nobody was crying, or seemed particularly upset. At least one guy in his forties was standing just outside the rose garden with his young family, a vinyl LP under his arm. But the few words I heard as I walked by seemed to be about a trip to a local casino.

I have to wonder what December 8, 1980 would have been like given 2009's technological zeitgeist. I will never forget the death of John Lennon, whose murder provoked a similar reaction but in less high-tech terms. John Lennon and his three chums from Liverpool have been a significant part of my life since 1964, a hundred or a thousand times more so than Michael Jackson. I did a project on the Beatles' music for school in 1973 or so, spent high school collecting their albums, drove across town to get a McCartney LP the day it came out, wrote to Yoko after her husband's death, and eventually saw Paul and Ringo in their respective concerts in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I was a record store owner-manager when John died, and handed out free buttons in commemoration the next day. (I think I've written about this part of it before, so let's move on.) John Lennon's death was as sudden as Jackson's, and more extreme, horrible and unforeseeable in its circumstances. And like Michael Jackson, John Lennon was a complex and interesting person in his public persona.

But that's not strictly relevant to John Lennon's musical impact. I'm not one of those Beatles fans who idolize Lennon and discount the other Beatles' contributions. Paul McCartney was and is at least as talented. They complemented each other musically, and pushed each other to collaborations that were better than anything they each did alone. George was no slouch, and Ringo did his part; each deserves more appreciation than they get. But without John Lennon, I doubt that we'd all know and appreciate his friends to the extent that we do, even today. He was the one who put together the band, and instigated many of the Beatles' musical and technically innovations. 45 years after their breakthrough U.S. tours, what John, Paul, George and Ringo did still matters.

How about you? Did you grow up listening to Elvis, the Beatles the Jackson 5, New Kids or Nirvana, or someone else entirely? Tell us about your all-time favorite in your blog, and don't forget to link to your entry in the comments below. (Also, please link to this entry in the entry you write, okay? Thanks!) I'll be back next Friday (probably earlier in the day!) to recap the results, thus:

For Weekend Assignment #272: Here Comes Summer!, guest professor Carly and I asked you to describe your summer plans. Here are exceprts from the responses:

Julie said...
Vacation? What's that? Oh, I could use a few days off, but it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

We're so swamped right now that getting away for more than a weekend is problematic. And even then it's a weekend combined with something else, like a convention appearance for me or a bowling tournament for Chris.

Florinda combined this assignment with the previous one (to describe your town or city) in her entry:

School is out for the summer now, and families will be looking for ways to keep the kids busy until it starts back up again a week or so before Labor Day. My family is no exception. The summer days in Simi Valley can get very hot and dry, but thanks to low humidity, the nights are usually pretty comfortable. However, my husband doesn't have a high tolerance for the heat, despite having lived in Southern California all of his life, so we tend to seek out air-conditioned indoor activities during the day. We'll be going to the movies a lot, or staying in to watch DVDs. This year, we want to try to make one or two trips to the beach - the nearest one is only about thirty miles away - and to use the neighborhood swimming pool. Simi Valley Town Center is an outdoor mall, so if we have shopping to do on really warm days, we'll probably go to the indoor mall in neighboring Thousand Oaks.

Mike references his own recent vacation that kicked off his summer:

Well, as you can see from my last few posts, we've already taken our summer trip. We went to Walt Disney World to see the parks and sweat as much as possible. It was a good time! That is not the norm, however. This year was our first big vacation since we had kids. (Our son is seven by the way). Jenn and I have done little weekend trips on occasion, but this was the first time we went all out on a family vacation. And, based on the cost, it's a good thing we waited this long. I need to find a place that gives the best price for plasma donations, any recommendations?
That's it for now! I'm rushing off to do a photo shoot for later tonight, but will be making the rounds properly over the next day or so - this time for sure! As always, I'm looking for suggestions for future Weekend Assignments, but at the moment I'm especially looking for participants to write the entries. Thanks!



barrettmanor said...

I was going to write about this very topic the other day, and am glad I didn't. Gave me something to write about for this!

Florinda said...

It turns out that I wrote the extra-credit part before you posted the assignment - here's the rest. One of my favorite topic areas, by the way. Thanks!

Mike said...

I'm a little on the late side, but I'm up now. Good idea for the topic!