Jun 30, 2009

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wear a Crown

I have been biting my tongue on this whole Michael Jackson postmortem for so long now that I am starting to taste blood. It was my intention to give Michael's numerous followers the chance to grieve a bit before stepping into the arena. My good friend and co-editor Ken Shropshire asked me to be cool and so I have been trying to follow his wishes. But enough is enough, I can't take it anymore. I've gotta represent.

Michael Jackson was at one point an incredibly talented transitional phenomena. He was the King of Pop, in no uncertain terms. Though some have objected to the fact that Michael bestowed this title on himself, it was a most appropriate title however he came about acquiring it. It should be pointed out however, "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" as Shakespeare once noted.

Michael's time on top was eons ago now. He has not made a significant album since George Bush 41 was the President. In all, Michael did his damage over four solo albums that spanned the years 1979-1991, not counting his early career as a incredible child performer with his brothers in the Jackson Five. Off the Wall, his best work, was the jump off in his unmatched solo career, Thriller transformed the whole culture, Bad got over off the fumes of Thriller, but by Dangerous, homie was clearly starting to run out of gas. By this point he was in the news as much for his outrageous lifestyle as he was for his music. Dangerous is also the album that featured the dreaded single Black or White. How could a black man in his right mind ever utter the line "it don't matter if you're black or white"? I mean, seriously? If it "don't matter" why did he go about changing his own skin color then? Whatever!

Anyway, the insanity started years earlier though. Here's a cat who once took Brooke Shields to the Grammy Awards, but who was more interested in playing with monkeys and Emanuel Lewis. At that point I had seen enough. Between the nose jobs, skin peels, elephant man's bones, hyperbaric chamber, and all the other nonsense, it was clear to me that Dude was the living embodiment of one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

If someone not as famous and wealthy as Michael had done all the outlandish things that he did, this person would have been committed to an insane asylum or sent to the penitentiary long ago. But with Michael, he was so famous that his fans began to apologize and make justifications for this behavior. These same apologies and justifications have typified the conversation since his death.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating his music and his legacy, but to ignore that Michael was a deeply sick person is to engage in the worst, most destructive kind of denial that could ever be imagined. If you looked at Michael Jackson's ever evolving skin color and accepted that vitiligo story, then you are perhaps as crazy as he was. If you think that a grown man's home should double as an amusement park and zoo, then you should be sentenced to hard labor and forced to clean up after those animals he kept in that zoo. If you thought that he actually sired those children, I've got news for you, spit don't make no babies!

I noticed that a number of people have turned this into anti-media crusade, suggesting that the media is somehow being disrespectful to Michael's legacy in their coverage. What is all this media bashing about? Why are some people so mad at the media for reporting all the things that Michael himself did? There is no media bias here. Michael's triumphs are as much fair game as his tragedies.

And let me set this straight before I go any further. All this crying and gnashing of teeth over Michael "not having a childhood" begs for a clarification. It is obvious that Joe Jackson was much less than an ideal father. I do believe that he abused his children, while, in essence, putting them on the hoe stroll as well. This notwithstanding, it must also be pointed out that Michael did get paid. Not that this justifies the abuse and exploitation, not at all, but Michael did make a ton of money off of his talent.

There are a lot of kids in this country who "don't have a childhood," children who get abused, molested, and treated as though they are less than human. Most of these people don't get the chance to make millions and millions of dollars singing and dancing, most of these people don't get to travel the world or be greeted by adoring fans. Most of these kids don't go on to become global icons. Most of them simply have to live with the physical and emotional scars that they have accumulated. Many of them are in the pen, or homeless, or suffering some other unspeakable fate. Many of them cannot afford psychiatrists whose skills might help them at least cope somewhat with the unfortunate hand that life has dealt them. Most of them don't have dope dealers with doctor's credentials, who can write whatever prescription they want so as to keep them high on their own supply. I can go on, but you get the point.

Michael lived a life of luxury. Like many who become rich and famous, Michael had leagues of people surrounding him who were there to cater to his every need. He was indulged and pampered and coddled beyond belief, all because he was rich and famous. None of us control the hand life deals us in the beginning, but Michael made it out of Gary Indiana, he made it beyond his abusive father, he had the chance to change his life, but instead he choose to get intoxicated off the drug of fame to the point that he became a pathetic dope fiend.

Michael represented the best and worst of this nation. He rose to the top of the heap, shocked the world and changed the game, yet not long after his rise, he quickly fell into a bottomless pit of dysfunction, all aided and abetted by his fame and fortune. Though he died on June 25, he had been walking dead for a long time.

Let me say again, Michael's fans have every right to celebrate his music. I understand that he served as the soundtrack to your childhood. I recognize that his music made you happy and made you want to dance, shout, and shake your body down to the ground. I recognize that you appreciate his eccentricities. Yes, though I don't share your admiration, I do feel you on all of this. We should all have the right to pick our heroes. Most of the figures that I have love for were deeply flawed people too. But to act like Michael Jackson was a fully functioning member of sane society whose many demented flaws shouldn't be mentioned is just ridiculous.

When will people accept that their heroes are human beings too? Michael was no one's saint. He was a very disturbed individual who may finally have found peace in the land from which no traveler returns. I was not a fan, but I can respect his accomplishments and more importantly what he meant to others. What I can't respect is this attitude of denial about who he really was though.

Michael Jackson is a figure who we won't soon stop talking about. But I just hope that as time passes, people stop acting like he was a deity. Wake up from the denial, move away from the lies, and start recognizing the real. Michael Jackson was a great artist and a especially troubled and tragic man, all at the same time.

Jun 8, 2009

The Downside of Digital

How does one define "old school"? I suspect that the true meaning of such a phrase is best understood as one starts to get older. Of course, what constitutes "old" is always relative to your own age.

I have always been old school. Growing up with a father, who always kept at least one foot in the street, meant that I was watching Super Fly when I was a mere 8 years old. Most kids my age were watching cartoons then. Me, I was memorizing lines from The Mack. While those in my age group were listening to The Jackson Five, I was all caught up with Curtis Mayfield's lyrics like those on his underrated track Kung Fu, "My momma born me in the ghetto/there was no mattress for my head/but though she couldn't name me Jesus (Jesus)/I wasn't white enough she said."

Having recently reached what I call the "half 90 mark," old school has come to take on an entirely different meaning these days. Not only I am old school, I'm now officially old, or at least older. I ain't trippin' tho. It's all good. Classic, vintage, distinguished, retro, seasoned, OG, it all applies. As RZA once said, "it takes years for this." My game simply gets better with age.

Which brings me to the feeling of confirmation that I experienced when recently hearing Jay-Z's new joint D.O.A. (Death of Auto-Tune) for the first time. Confirmation in the sense of "Yeah!" "Damn right!" "4 sho!" It's about time someone spoke up about the mass proliferation of the dreaded auto correction software that seemingly every other fool in the game has been od'ing on for the last two or so years. But not just anyone is saying this though, it is Jay-Z in particular after all, the man whose voice still rings like a bell throughout circles hip hop and otherwise. Jay has the credibility, the record sales, and the cultural significance to say what others can only mumble. Hopefully his words will have the same impact that they had some six years ago when Jigga put a stop to all that jersey-wearing nonsense with one line, "and I don't wear jerseys/I'm 30 plus." Maybe this time around the next rap fool chasing a hit might decide to be a little more original and not rely on the annoying crutch that auto-tune has become. Maybe? Just maybe?

Which brings me back to the old school. A lot of these lil' young hip hop heads regard Jay-Z as an old man now. Like the late Frank Ward said in The Mack, "you know how these lil' young macks are, don't have their shit in order." These are the ones who keep trying to say that Lil' Wayne is the best ever. Yes, these are the ones who have no knowledge of hip hop history or any history beyond what happened last week it seems. Because only a limited knowledge of history would cause one to say something so baseless as to prematurely elevate Lil' Wayne or anyone else for that matter, before their time.

Unlike a lot of my old school friends, I ain't mad at Wayne. Dude is cool, the same way that Chris Paul is cool. But as cool as CP3 might be right now, he ain't Isiah, ya dig. Don't get it twisted. We live in an era now when people simply proclaim their greatness without necessarily having the evidence to back up their claim. I come from the era of "show and prove," where you needed concrete proof or else you would get clowned for talkin' loud, but sayin' nothing. In these times we live in now, where iPods, iTunes, iPhones, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and ring tones rule, if you say something enough times people start to believe it.

Weezy told everyone he was the best rapper alive so many times in so many different formats that eventually other people began saying it for him. It's like group think in the information age or better yet digital brainwashing. But again, even though I like Tha Carter II much better than I do Tha Carter III, this is not about hatin' on Wayne. Weezy F. Baby is the first rapper to really figure out how to connect with an audience young enough that they perhaps have never purchased music in any format besides an iTunes download. In an era when people aren't even buying records--see how old school I am, I still call 'em records--Wayne figured out a way to sell ice in the winter. Yet, to go from that to the claim of the best rapper alive is to take a leap wider than the expanse of the Grand Canyon.

This celebration of contemporary figures at the expense of history is also taking place in the game of basketball as we speak. A lot of these youngsters are trying to claim that Kobe Bryant, aka Wack Mamba, is better than the best to ever do it, Michael Jordan. Again, you can't just claim that someone is the best of all time without evidence. When it was all said and done, MJ had 6 rings, 5 MVP awards, and 10 scoring titles among countless other accomplishments. Kobe is the beneficiary of the culture that Michael helped to create. But because people have such a limited historical range they often accept whatever is right in front of their face as authentic. Not to mention that people tend to quickly forget about you once you are not in their face every 5 minutes anymore.

To say that Kobe is better than Jordan or that Wayne is better than Jay-Z is as ridiculous as saying that Nick Cannon is better than Sidney Poitier. I mean, be serious, people shouldn't even be having such a silly conversation in the first place.

I guess at the core of all this for me is the metaphorical and cultural shift that we as a society have experienced in moving from analog to digital. I am one of those people who has never really enjoyed watching Kobe play. Why, because to me, his game is digital. It is computerized. Dude learned to play ball by studying video of the game, not by living it. He didn't grow up perfecting his craft on the rugged blacktop, which is where the game is created and nurtured. There is nothing remotely organic or soulful about his steez.

Now in the age of digital reproduction, Kobe's game is stealth, it is precise and it is efficient. But for me, it lacks and has always lacked flava. I like my basketball a bit grimy, with the smell and feel of the streets all over it. I like it edgy and 'hood. When you can take all this and make it work in the formal confines of an NBA game, then you are really doin' something. This is why watching the Finals last year was so cool, because Boston, in spite of its own history, had KG, P2, and Brotha Ray, reppin' that old school b-ball flair for modern times. It was the energy of street ball perfected on the professional hardwood. It was like Jay-Z bringing the suburbs to the 'hood. All in all, it looked and felt real.

Watching Kobe's game is like listening to one of those digital creations where a musical artist from one era magically sings on the same track with a contemporary figure. His game and his steez is karaoke. It is auto-tuned. If you don't believe me, notice how Kobe's and Pau Gasol's finger point, followed by hand slap, after a made basket late in Game 2 of the Finals is straight off of the oft played NBA highlight reel where Magic Johnson does the exact same thing with former Lakers bench warmer Mike McGee. It is only recently that Kobe stopped sounding like Jordan when doing media interviews. Now for the people who don't know or have never experienced any of this history then the contemporary version probably looks real good, but if you're an OG, it is as transparent as the draws that the Lil' Kim character was wearing in that performance scene from Notorious.

Auto-tune is not real and ring tones are wack. While I would be the first to trumpet the merits of the digital age--this is a blog after all--I never lose sight of the fact that though the digital has made our lives a lot easier in many cases, the flava still resides in the analog. And that's never gonna change.

Jun 3, 2009

King James, Here Come The Judge, and Terrorism on Our Own Soil

It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them. I mean, I'm a winner. That's not being a poor sport or anything like that. Somebody beat you up, you're not going to congratulate them on beating you up. I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It don't make sense to me to go up and shake somebody's hand.
LeBron James after losing to the Orlando Magic

Why are people making so much out of the fact that LeBron James walked off the court without shaking hands and left the arena without speaking to the media after losing to Orlando? Why is David Stern reaching out to LeBron to even discuss this? I don't get it? Who came up with this idea that shaking someone's hand after losing to them demonstrates good sportsmanship?

LeBron is human and his reaction to losing the series was a perfectly understandable human response. After winning the MVP award, leading his team to the best record in the league, blowing through the first two rounds of the playoffs, and being one of the featured subjects in those ubiquitously cool Nike puppet commercials, I suspect that King James was embarrassed more than anything else. He was also probably angry that his teammates left him hangin'. The last thing you want to do is go up and shake someone's hand while the basketball's world is watching after you and your team just went out the way that they did. If he had gone up to shake hands it would have been as fake as a 3 dollar bill. But many people it seems would have preferred that kind of fake behavior over the real deal.

For me shaking your opponents hand after a lose like that is the basketball equivalent of turning the other cheek. It's like congratulating someone for kickin' your ass. This makes no sense whatsoever. That's not sportsmanship, that's stupidity. The soul of basketball lies in the streets and LBJ's response was a street response. Perhaps because people want to see LBJ as a saint and not as a real person they were surprised at his response, but it's really the only response if being real is anywhere on your agenda.

It's one thing to teach children to be "good sports" but we are talking about grown men whose livelihood depends on their performance. It's real in the field. If you're not mad after losing in such a high stakes environment then you probably shouldn't be in the NBA. I feel the same way about this so-called good sportsmanship as I do about the idea that athletes are role models. This is all some bogus attempt at controlling people and making them act in ways that are not real. I appreciate the real. If you beat me, don't expect a handshake. And if you lose to me I won't be expecting your handshake either.

A few more thoughts...

Judge Sonia Sotomayor

Judge Sonia Sotomayor is being vilified for her honesty about the fact that race and gender have an influence on her decisions. Samuel Alito said the same thing during his confirmation hearings in speaking about his empathy for immigrants as someone from an immigrant background himself. Why it is ok for "Scalito" to say that, but Judge Sotomayor says it and she gets compared to David Duke? Can you say double standard?

Judge Sotomayor has more judicial experience now than any of those currently sitting on the court had when they were nominated. She has impeccable credentials, but the haters are still trying to dismiss her as simply a recipient of affirmative action. It's funny, some people are still hung up on this idea of preferential treatment and what they mistakenly call reverse discrimination. Real "affirmative action" is something like a recovered alcohol who blows off most his life prior to age 40, yet this recovered alcoholic has a grandfather who was a rich congressman and a father who was also a rich congressman, along with being an ambassador, head of the CIA, Vice President, and President. Though the recovered alcoholic has failed at virtually everything he attempted to do beforehand, he can use his family name to get elected governor of a large state and then in turn get appointed to the presidency by the Supreme Court. You want to talk about affirmative action, that's real affirmative action for you right there.

The Judge has had to work for everything that she has received. She is the epitome of the American Dream. People need to stop hatin'. It's not a good look. Besides, for once, the haters don't have the numbers to block her anyway.

And finally...

The late Dr. George Tiller

What kind of lowlife sociopath walks into a church and murders someone while claiming that they are in favor of protecting life? For all those people who mistakenly thought that 9/11 was the first time that we experienced "terrorism of our own soil," do your homework. This nation was founded on the type of acts that if anyone else had engaged in them would most certainly be classified as terrorism. The murder of Dr. George Tiller was a terrorist act, make no mistake about it. Yet the "war on terror" will not be employed to go after the anti-government militia and pro-life movements in this country. No, those terrorists will be dismissed as lone gunmen or other such nonsense, as opposed to being pursued like the real threats to society that they are. I am hopeful that the Obama administration will help the public to understand that not all terrorists live in caves, wear long beards, and pray five times a day as the media and the previous administration would have you think. There are terrorists in our midst. And no, they don't all read the Holy Koran and engage in jihad, many of them prefer reading the Holy Bible and watching Fox News.