Saturday, June 27, 2009

I was in line at the falafel place near my office yesterday, listening to "Rock With You" on my iPod. When I took my headphones off to order, I realized they were also playing "Rock With You" in the falafel place, and it was almost at the exact same part of the song. It took me a minute to figure out what was going on. And that got me thinking: One of the incredible things about Michael Jackson's life was that he didn't just belong to a few of us. He belonged to pretty much everyone who found it within themselves to give a shit about pop music.

That's why I haven't really written about Jackson's death until now. There's been so much written about him since Thursday, so many on-point and moving essays, that I'm not sure I really have much to add to the conversation. Like, check my old boss Chuck Eddy here. Good lord that guy can write.

Bad was the first album I ever bought. I was nine years old, and my family had just moved to England for a year. Right around then, my parents started giving me an allowance, a pound a week. I waited five weeks, and then I went around the corner from our house to Woolworth to buy Bad. I could've spent that money on candy or water guns or whatever, and I eventually did, but I had to have Bad as soon as possible. And I can't even tell why I had to have it. I didn't know the songs from TV or radio because TV and radio were basically never on in my house; my parents were weird like that. Maybe kids in my school talked about him? Maybe I just thought the cover looked cool? Honestly, I have no idea.

A couple of weeks later, my brother bought his own copy of Bad. We both shared the same tape player, but we both needed our own copies. We wrote "Tom" and "Jim" on the tapes and on the covers, and then we still accused each other of stealing our tapes anyway.

Man, I loved that album. Thriller and Off the Wall and old Jackson 5 compilations all followed, but that tape was it for me for at least a year. I loved all of it, even the tracks that people still think are crap: "Just Good Friends", "Speed Demon", "Liberian Girl", all of it. Sometimes I fast-forwarded past "Man in the Mirror" because sometimes it was too slow, but even that I usually let play.

The thing about this whole ridiculous story is that it is completely, entirely mundane. The same exact thing, word for word, probably happened to at least a couple of thousand kids. If there was a single kid in my third-grade class who didn't feel exactly the same as I did about Michael, he shut up about it.

Twenty-one years later, I can actually talk in music-critic terms about the incredible things that MJ did. It's absurd that he was able to become the most popular singer in the world, way bigger than Madonna or whoever, while singing against the beat on damn near every song, flattening his voice into a hard, paranoid grunt, turning the James Brown vocal style into something alien and almost sexless. This YouTube clip of 10-year-old MJ auditioning for Motown, singing a James Brown song and executing all those moves so beautifully and fluidly, just fills me with joy. If that kid walked into my office tomorrow, I'd start a record label just so I could sign him. And he adapted from that incredibly early age, adjusting his style to fit whatever was going on from 1969 to about 1991, a seriously ridiculous run that very few other pop figures have managed to equal. And he did it without changing the central feeling of wonder and weightless joy at the center of his persona, even as he swung through soul and funk and disco and synthpop and new jack swing and goopy adult-contempo balladry and hair metal and whatever the fuck else. (He never quite got rap, but that's almost for the best; no way his persona could've ever translated.) Everything he did just came out sounding like him. A lot of singers can try to make that claim, but I can't think of any others who could claim that shit quite so truthfully.

But all this rock-crit stuff feels entirely beside the point. So does all the stuff about his intensely bizarre personal life, something I've thought a lot about but not something I really want to address here. (Maybe later.) What matters right now is that this guy made the first tape I ever bought and one of the only ones I ever wore out. What matters is that seeing this guy dance on TV was like watching some kind of flickering quicksilver ghost; it didn't even seem real. He did incredible things. And right now, to me, that's what matters. That's what I'm thinking about, and that's what I can't let go.

I'll probably end up writing more about this later. It's not like I can think about too much else right now.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I caved.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

So He's Just Not That Into You is supposed to be set in Baltimore? It is not any Baltimore I've ever seen. Everyone is rich and clean and generally comfortable and sober. And attractive. Nobody has their lights shut off. The only black people are motherfucking Frangela. Maybe it's supposed to be Canton? I guess it could be Canton. That place is a total mystery to me.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

There's a new Rancid album out today, first album in six years from probably my favorite band ever. Lets up in the last third or so but otherwise just a really, really great blast of broken-teeth pop-punk. More ahhh-ahhh backing harmonies than usual. Ska is back in the arsenal again (a good thing!). There's one great jerky kinda-rapped song that somehow doesn't carry massive Transplants overtones, one really weird cowboy-song kinda thing, and one amazing Matt Freeman psychobilly joint where he screams "BOOMSHAKALAKALAKALAKA!" a bunch of times. Listening to it on the walk to work this morning, I actually got choked up.