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Friday! June 26 | The Bleat.

Hot, busy. Heading towards a Friday night that seems utterly unearned, but I’ll take it anyway. 

It’s expected that you should comment on the passing of famous people if they’re high up in the pop empyrean. I think I’d have more to say if Jackson’s music made the same sort of elemental connection I felt with other pop of the era, but it was like a well-thrown stone that skipped off the surface a few times before it sank. I worked in a bar whose jukebox played MJ all the time, and after a while you cease to think of “Beat It” as a cross-cultural masterstroke and see it as the endless soundtrack for putting up the chairs and washing down the pinball machines.

Oh, speaking of which. At the Back to the Fifties rally last week, what did I behold but this: The Secret Map, Baron. 



One of the purest tables ever made. Ride that A-B slot all day, make it knock up the free games. (Literally: the software triggered a hammer that rapped the inside of the machine when you won a game.)  Mata Hari had a long tenure in the Valli Pub, and was only dethroned by the most perfectly difficult pinball machine ever, 8-Ball Deluxe. But that’s another Bleat. 

Michael Jackson. Oh, I don’t know. Some of the songs were nifty little pop classics; “Thriller” really had it all as a work of Pop in the Warhol sense – Vincent Price narrating, a long-form video that made that brought that new art form up to a dee-luxe level, and a great deadly beat. But after that the videos got bigger, the hooks got smaller, and the idea that each new song / video was somehow a cultural event overshadowed the shrinking ideas and insular, off-putting persona. I had to watch a few tonight to put together a bit for tomorrow’s NewsBreak at startribune.com, and saw “Scream” – MJ and his sister in a white spacecraft, walking around and looking angry. So angry. Rich successful people snarling and sneering and kicking the camera and breaking things.





Charming. Apparently her previously cheerful persona was insufficiently REAL, and REAL is the thing that WE MUST BE KEEPING IT. I actually remember when the video premiered, back when they had premiers, and we all looked at each other and thought: more good hooks in a Nerf tackle box.

Then came the scandal years – the lawsuits, the hideous surgeries.  It was almost like watching the Joker carve up his face in the mirror, without the Joker’s delight in his own depravity.  He thought he was sculpting something supremely beautiful, but to the outsider who watched his face change as the stories of his personal life came out, it was like watching Dorian Grey walk around holding the picture from the attic before him, convinced it was lovely. 

I debated his influence on the Hugh Hewitt show with Jude Thursday night, and I wondered how influential he was – no one else could do a moonwalk, after all, and while a few artists grabbed their crotches after he did (something that never seemed convincing; more than anything, he seemed to be reassuring himself that there was something there) I can’t say he influenced Dance. Don’t know enough to say, to be honest. But musically? As I said, Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam had a far greater influence, and Prince a greater talent. Yes, he’s odd – a smaller, more agreeable set of demons, though, and he has an inexhaustible desire to create without freeze-drying every note into a crystalline framework, with every manufactured Yelp and Yip dropped in at the expected perfect moment. 

I wouldn’t have felt any of this if the event wasn’t being treated as a near-fatal blow to Western Culture in some quarters. He called himself the King of Pop – after which fame and sales ebbed. Of the many lessons in his life, that may be the oldest. 

That said: it’s no shame to have your best work behind you. It’s a pity to die young. It’s a testament to the work you did to be mourned by millions.

You could say that about Farrah Fawcett, too. 

If they’d invented cheap scanners in the 70s, they would have been big enough to handle a poster. 

Odd: all the other death reports that hit later in the day. Harrison Ford and Jeff Goldblum. As though there was some smiting going on. As if it’s the rapture of the celebrities. 

Relaxed tonight by starting the Mahler cycle, which I’ll yammer about next week. While I listened I did some reconstruction of an old ad I believe was done by the Lance Lawson artist. Here’s what I go through to clean this stuff up:



You can see another cleaned-up old newspaper comic here, at buzz.mn. Lance Lawson Sunday strip for your enjoyment! Later today, much later: 100 Mysteries. Enjoy your day; see you around. And of course on Twitter. 


87 Responses to Friday! June 26

  1. Bridey says:

    Jackson produced some pretty good pop, but seemed to keep trying to make it happen again like it did in 1982. Lethal to creativity — and you only get once around on that particular ride anyway, as many a pop god has discovered. But “Billie Jean” is an amazing record.

    And @JoAnne: There may be questions of proportion, I guess, but I don’t know that it says anything very bad about the culture that people are sad about the death of someone whose work meant something to them. Nor does the lack of wall-to-wall coverage on CNN mean “nobody cares” about quieter deaths. I mean, plenty of people work to help the homeless, and I have no doubt some of those people are distressed, even distraught, over the death of Michael Jackson. I guess I don’t see the tradeoff here — people not mourning a pop star won’t get anyone off a park bench. Just imho.

  2. swschrad says:

    the Jacksons, singly or not, have made no impression on me. go away. shoo.

    Stevie Wonder, now… there is a musician and a creative talent. the Tempts, Smokey Robinson… whipped up Jackson arse without raising an arm. then there was jazz and blues and Sam and Dave and the Moodies and Handel and Mozart… lots of great stuff that was not two chord rockers and fronted by rhinestones and wiggles.

    and if you wanted two chord rockers, the Beach Boys and Bo Diddley and about a thousand artists on Chess did a better job.

    Bye Michael, leave the cherubs alone.

  3. bgbear (roger h) says:

    Here is what I was thinking, when Elvis was to get a postage stamp, the choice was whether to go with young rock-a-billy Elvis or older Vegas Elvis (skinny or fat). What will the choices be for MJ: Jackson 5, The Wall, Thriller, Dianna Ross, Freakazoid?

    I go with the kid I remember on the Ed Sullivan show so many years ago.

    It the last few years I could thank MJ for putting my home town into the news for all the wrong reasons, where he brought kids to buy toys and where he went on trial for same.

  4. MikeH says:

    Back when Thriller came out, I was in high school and was probably one of 20 other people who didn’t have the album or didn’t like Michael Jackson. I guess he was a good pop musician, but can’t see what was so special to elevate him to superstar status. What was worse was his long slide downhill from there, mostly self inflicted.

    The only that sucks now is real news will be pushed in the background while the media obssesses over MJ. This is the best time for North Korea to get away with all of their schenannigans and tomfoolery.

  5. Barb says:

    Thanks for writing down some honest thoughts; a lot of this media coverage is really off-putting. Jackson wasn’t ever going to come back, and they shouldn’t try to spin a story in that direction; they should also give equal time to the scandals that ended his career. We all know about it; by not mentioning it, that sort of coverage just weakens the already seriously feeble credibility in those corners. One just has the suspicion that they’re cashing in early by praising him up to the stars today and will cash in later by tearing him to pieces after the coroner’s report comes in (who knows what caused his death, but it probably wasn’t natural causes).

    Let’s just look at him honestly. It’s tragic, because MJ’s life was so wasted. In memoriam after first hearing the news, I thought of the lovable little kid on Ed Sullivan, the Motown special where he just really blew the world away (and I wondered what Adam Ant thought on hearing the news), and, for some reason, hokey as it is, “Thriller.” I guess that’s shot up to #1 over on Amazon again; others must feel the same way. He could have done so much good, but it was beyond him. And I’ll bet he knew it, too — that’s got to be hell. Rest in peace, Michael.

    You know what I thought about Fawcett’s passing: that it was really nice to see Ryan O’Neal hanging in there. That’s a tragedy, too, though of a different sort. Not that my opinion matters one bean, but he should have asked her to marry him a long time ago, and the two of them should have made the commitment and enjoyed it. JM2CW.

    May Goldblum and Ford live long and prosper. And Lileks.com, too. :-)

  6. Pam-EL says:

    Michael Jackson: Sometimes you were interesting in various ways. Bye.

  7. SullyAg says:

    Mata Hari, one of the true classics, very pure. You could really hammer the flippers on that one: http://www.ipdb.org/machine.cgi?id=4501

    In one day, we lose the Face of the 70s and the Soundtrack of the 80s. The past is a lie, and the future is a myth.

    BTW, I think you’re all assuming that Moishe3rd meant to say he was unimpressed instead of nonplussed. Better to take him at his word, literally. His use of “nonplussed” could just as easily signal that Jackson left him bewildered.

  8. Craig says:

    So, the first spam of the morning was a Nigerian bank scam with the title: “ABOUT MICHAEL J. JACKSON FUND IN OUR BANK!!!!”

    They don’t miss a trick, do they?

  9. Ben Boychuk says:

    Mahler’s untimely death bothers me more than Michael Jackson’s. Who knows what his 10th symphony would have really sounded like? Or his 11th?

  10. Dick Hassing says:

    As a Quincy Jones fan from way back, I don’t think he gets enough credit for what he did for Michael Jackson’s career.

  11. swschrad Says:
    June 26th, 2009 at 10:17 am
    and if you wanted two chord rockers, the Beach Boys and Bo Diddley and about a thousand artists on Chess did a better job.

    The Beach Boys were two chord rockers? Really? I’m pretty sure that they threw in an A9#5 on occasion.

    Bo Diddley: Agreed. But so expressive and heartfelt. Whereas the Beach Boys were all about PRODUCTION!

    But there is nothing wrong with two chord rockers as long as you mean it!

  12. Stone says:

    ha. “Mata Hari?” “8 Ball?” BAH! For sheer fun, you just can’t beat the view from my very own basement:


    Won it on Ebay and drove all the way to Fort Worth to pick it up. Worth every penny quarter.

  13. Bridey says:

    That is a truly fantastic machine, Stone. That thing has soul.

    (And indeed, why can’t Moishe be nonplussed by Michael Jackson? I imagine the late K of P had that effect on many people.)

  14. swschrad says:

    juanito, the first couple BB albums were pretty musically sparse, in terms of tricks and techniques. it was all the harmonies at that time. and rush to get something into the studio while they were hot. but Brian started slipping in little things here and there and before you know it there was a war on inside about “messing with the formula.”

    at which time he freaked out and got off the road. it got worse, but everybody else was happy to record the stuff and cash the checks when it got down to business.

    “The Lonely Sea” on the second album absolutely starts marking increased complexity.

    anyway, I just preferred BB to much else when I discovered them a couple years later, around 64-65.

  15. Pat In Colorado says:

    Ryan asked Farrah to marry him many times. It was she who always turned him down.

  16. DryOwlTacos says:

    Interesting MJ fact on Wikipedia: He held the patent for the mechanics of a stage illusion described as “gravity defying.” Evidently he had done such a trick in a video, which was actually created in post-production, and he wanted to be able to reproduce it onstage in the live show. He got with a couple of technical advisers and worked it out. There’s a link to the actual patent documents with drawings in the Wiki entry.

    MJ was crazy clever as a showman, had moderate skill as a songwriter, but he was a pitifully dysfunctional adult human being. I really think that he never considered himself an adult, and that his interaction with children seemed to him to be on a peer level. I desperately hope that someone with a lick of sense will take his three kids under their wing and give them something of a normal life with a toehold on reality.

  17. Lou Shumaker says:

    The things you remember at a time like this:

    IIRR, the “Black or White” video debuted on TV in 1991 with a sequel. After the happy, happy morphing of the world’s population (pretty cool, that), Jackson is on the street, at night, alone. He moves among the vehicles, and he takes his fury out on them, screaming and smashing the cars, grabbing his crotch, all aggression and anger and pain.

    Amazing stuff, and it’s been censored since, either cut up or the walls are overlaid with racist graffiti (to explain why he’s so angry). Wiki mentions it gets rerun occasionally. But it occurred to me at the time that Jackson meant what he said, that was him, pissed at the world, and then he had to get put back in the box. Can’t disappoint the fans or look too weird, man. No wonder he ended up cutting himself.

  18. Paul says:

    I think the comparison of two photos tells me a lot about MJ’s sad life.

    Check out his visage on the cover of Off The Wall. It’s not a stretch to think, “he’s quite a handsome young man.”

    Then look at the photo of him at Liza Minnelli’s wedding:


    Good lord. He’s terrifying for many reasons, but one thing stands out – he’s the whitest person in the photo.


  19. Moishe3rd says:

    Well, yes and no.
    I did indeed express “nonplussed” incorrectly. I am somewhat nonplussed at the hoopla surrounding Michael Jackson. Or, to put it, as I did, obtusely, I am nonplussed at most celebrities.
    I understand the thrill of being somehow associated with the Famous, but I have always been bewildered at the vicarious pleasure that many people seem to get from worshiping the Famous.
    That was my inept comparison with Princess Diana. I haven’t a clue as to why anyone would thrill at that poor woman’s life and death.
    On the other hand, I do understand why someone would be interested in what happened to Elizabeth Bowes Lyon, who died at age 103 after accidentally becoming the mother of the Queen of England. That is fascinating “history” to me.

    Nevertheless, to be perfectly accurate, I was using the word nonplussed obtusely if not downright inccorrectly.

    Would that I were a writer and could actually express myself… Sigh…

  20. Mjx says:

    Well, this is interesting: I was about to rush to moishe3rd’s defense, regarding his use of ‘nonplussed’, but decided (being a copyeditor and all), to recheck this in the OED. Which, for ‘nonplus’ (v.) gives ’1. surprise and confuse; flummox 2. [as adj. nonplussed] unperturbed’. The first definition was how I understood it (and it made sense, at least for later-stage Michael Jackson), but that second definition is a new one, for me. And wouldn’t make any sense… and I don’t think I’ve ever come across that usage, either. Maybe the OED isn’t so hot when it comes to N.A. usage.
    And yes, I need to get out, but it’s been my busy season, and I don’t have a chance to not copyedit for long enough to snap out of that mode.

    I have to admit to a far stronger feeling of relief (following my initial ‘oh NO…’ and subsequent research scramble) at discovering that neither Ford not Goldblum was dead, than to any feeling I might have had regarding Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. They were always very peripheral figures in my life; I vaguely remember noticing, at one point, that Farrah Fawcett had taken serious acting roles, and that Michael Jackson was doing more and more insane things, until he finally became close-to-convincing evidence that the undead do exist, but honestly, both deaths seem like merciful releases from terminal disease, even if in one case, the trouble was deep in the sufferer’s psyche.

  21. Frank says:

    This whole MJ thing is really getting to me. One is supposed to not think unkindly toward the dead, if not for their sake then for the sake of their loved ones, but this outlandish idol worshipping is making the ol’ bile rise up.

    The galling bits of course are the references to the icon that he was, while glossing over the “personal legal issues.”

    The self proclaimed “King of Pop” was a pedophile

    Both sides of his persona HAVE to be taken into consideration when assessing his legacy. The boy-man (as McCartney described Jackson) was a great artist, fabulous dancer and philanthropist to many causes dealing with children. He also used these talents to molest children.

    To honor one aspect of his life while completely ignoring the other is ridiculous!

    It is irrelevant that he gave generously to children’s causes all his life, or used his talents to entertain children, if at the very same time he was offering others children alchohol, drugs and pornography in his bed. Synthesizing these two facts about this boy-man’s life ought to be fairly easy. He was a great talent with a very dark and disturbing soul.

    The media had NO problem highlighting the dark side when it profited them, why now promote the othe…nevermind, I just answered my own question. Profit.

    Anyway, having these thoughts in my head have led me to conclude that the evil far outweighs the good…because he used this good to conduct the evil.

    I cannot in good conscience honor such a person.

  22. FreeState says:

    Moishele: “I haven’t a clue as to why anyone would thrill at that poor woman’s life and death.”

    Neither do I, but my life is now tangentally intertwined (if that’s even possible) with her death. I got married on the same day Princess Diana died, so it was all over the news. I was up late the night before, so I knew about it, but my wife missed it. People at the wedding were trying very hard not to let her know, trying not to upset her. What they didn’t realize is that my wife didn’t care at all, so knowing wouln’t have made any difference.

    But, for a long time, it was very hard to forget my anniversary, since the stories about the anniversary of her death would pop up on TV in the week or two before hand. That seems to have, pardon the expression, died down in recent years.

  23. slarrow says:

    For my part, I am saddened and somewhat bemused by Michael Jackson’s death. Part of it is age-related. I’m 34, so while Thriller isn’t in my memory’s sweet spot, some of the Bad songs are, particularly “Smooth Criminal”. I’m still awed by the full version of that song in his vanity movie “Moonwalker”. When challenged by younger people about actually liking Michael Jackson, I have to tell him the old joke about how good he was as a black man before he became a white woman.

    I liked several of his songs, I really enjoyed many of his videos, but I was just struck by how the man could dance. You could turn off the sound and still see the music flowing through his body. I especially liked anything that showed a sense of humor; I liked it when he let the cocky kid shine through. With his passing as well as Farrah Fawcett, it’s like a little bit of the 70s and 80s died on the same day.

    But ultimately, Michael Jackson became a pathetic creature–more to the point, a creature of pathos. I felt contempt for him, but also pity. He had everything that we claim to want: fame, wealth, acclaim, and to a large measure, freedom from consequences. He lived in a place where reality could not touch him. And as a result, he warped. He became a perversion, a distortion of what ought to be. He became that oxymoron of celebrity, the one known and adored by all who is utterly, utterly alone.

    So rest in peace, Mr. Jackson, a peace I doubt you ever knew in life.

  24. HunkyBobTX says:

    Mjx: “They were always very peripheral figures in my life”

    Isn’t this is the appropriate position for ALL celebrities? Exception: If you know one personally, or importantly, one that knows you.

    Unfortunately, our society is obsessed with celebrity; it’s unhealthy. Many people think because they see these people on TV or hear a playback of their voices that that person knows them. They think they have some kind of a relationship with them.
    Sorry. These people never met you. They never met me. (unless they did, and I’m not talking aobuit sending you an autograph) We watched their TV shows, we bought their records (CDs, posters, etc.) But they did not know who we are.

    These peoples’ images appear on TV or their voices are recorded and broadcast to us and its for entertainment purposes only. They made a living this way.

    One of the two provided desperate teenage boys with a fantasy, and later acted in movies that at best made people realize there’s some scummy people out there who beat their wives and hopefully get their comeuppance. The other sang and danced and produced music videos that struck some deep chords in our collective psyche.

    I’m sorry they died early in their natural lifetimes, but many people do. I had a cousin my age who died of cancer before she was 40. She was far more important in my life than these celebrities. I feel bad for these celebrities’ families, because they knew the real people. All we knew were the images and caracatures of them. Those images remain; the songs are still played. We’ve lost nothing. The families and friends who that person knew have lost.

    For us, these celebrities are not really people, despite what others may argue, becasue they don’t know us. There’s no two way human contact. It’s an entirely one way road.

    If these people or any other celebrity is more than peripheral in your life, then I pity you. You need real friends. You need real family.

  25. madCanada says:

    HunkyBobTX, you don’t understand. Celebrities are pagan idols. And America is a pagan country.

  26. Brian says:

    Won’t say what I think about MJ.

    Eight Ball Deluxe was a great machine, but my fave was Lost World.

  27. Joe the Painter says:

    Huh…Funny, in a sad kind of way; There are thousands if not tens of thousands of better people than Michael Jackson who died or were killed yesterday on Planet Earth…And Jackson seems to be getting all of their recognition.

  28. zefal says:


    “Narcissism and self-indulgence” are two things andie sullivan knows a lot about.

  29. Joe says:

    I do not think people are mourning the death of Michael Jackson as much as they mourn another reminder of the passing of their own youth. Michael Jackson became a freak and everyone knows that, but he was the soundtrack of every party and “drive-time” of our youth and his passing, along with the passing of every male fantasy of “Farrah” reminds us that we getting friggin’ old! :)

  30. Mjx says:

    HunkyBobTX, I agree with you, BUT, in case my reaction regarding either Ford or Goldblum was understood as indicating a sense of closeness to them, I just want to clarify: it isn’t that.
    Still, I’ve enjoyed some of the things they did, and, even if I have no idea of (or any particular interest in) their personal lives, I’m fairly glad to know that they may show up in another piece of entertainment that I just may enjoy.
    So, although they too are peripheral to my life, I’m more familiar with their work than with that of Michael Jackson or Farrah Fawcett, since my only direct exposure to either was a September 10, 2001 Michael Jackson concert, to which I was taken by a boyfriend who mistakenly thought I’d enjoy this. In addition to the concert being interminable and numbing, I didn’t get home until 2am the next morning; I had to go to work the next day, and the combination of concert plus sleep deprivation made QUITE a prelude to coming out of the 49th Street subway entrance, and seeing the second tower of the World Trade Center collapse in a heap of dust… Very surreal sequence.

  31. MarBee says:

    So, growing up in the same atmosphere…why did Janet turn out fairly normal (for a celebrity) yet not Michael? I am dreading (and will be avoiding) the next few months of media coverage and fallout. Seriously aren’t there more important things going on in this volatile world than the death of a bizarre has-been debt-ridden pedophile (alleged…)? Liked him in the 80′s, not so much since then, but I’m sure you could probably tell.

  32. MarBee says:

    JUST IN:

    “By MITCH STACY, Associated Press Writer Mitch Stacy, Associated Press Writer – 7 mins ago

    TAMPA, Fla. – Billy Mays, the burly, bearded television pitchman known for his boisterous hawking of products such as Orange Glo and OxiClean, has died. He was 50.

    Tampa police said Mays was found unresponsive by his wife Sunday morning. A fire rescue crew pronounced him dead at 7:45 a.m.”

  33. Joe Sixpack says:

    Michael Jackson was handled. How much was really him after the age of 30 isn’t really known. It appears to be a lot like Elvis, where folks kept him ‘where he needed’ to be in order to profit from him for the duration. One imagines that MJ might have been a loss or a break even proposition for his ‘handlers’ or may have seen fit that the overdose happens.

    Michael Jackson’s music was *very* good. Lileks may not realize this, but there are a few musicians who you can immediately tell by their sound who they are. He may be too feminine to pick out a few of these names, given his proclivity for Pet Shop Boys et al. but you know when you hear a

    Michael Jackson song
    an Eddie Van Halen guitar riff
    a note sung by Ronnie James Dio


    So there’s that.

  34. madCanada says:

    Jackson will continue to be parsed on 1000 levels for many years to come … And is that not the measure of a truly significant artist? … RIP, MJ. Poor man.

  35. Mike Gebert says:

    Jackson is probably the youngest celebrity left whose death means everyone recognizes his name.

    Angelina Jolie, say, may be all over tabloids but I bet half of America has never heard of her. The top black music stars of today– 75% of America no more knows who Alicia Keys or 50 Cent are than black America knows who Perry Como was.

    It won’t be the last universal celebrity death– there’s always Paul and Ringo– but it is one of the last times we’ll all share the shock.

  36. Ramona Cunningham says:

    I feel you and your readers are a little to blase about the passing of Michael Jackson. I would argue that he made a bigger cultural imprint than, say, Princess Diana, about whom people were hysterical 12 years ago. I did not own any of his albums, but thought he was a terrifically talented singer as a child. I think the big reaction that plays out is also some collective guilt.

    I remember being in a department store at about the time “Scream” came out, and it played there. For a few moments I forgot who the singer was and enjoyed it for what it was–an edgier follow-up to “Leave Me Alone.” You are correct about the self-mutilation through surgery and the irritating personality. There was a lot of self-righteous clucking on the Anderson Cooper show about how all of Mr. Jackson’s famous friends had deserted him. However I believe lonely people are often alone for a reason. As Prince said at his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction “Anyone on your payroll is not your friend.”

  37. Emm says:

    For the record, Mata Hari didn’t have much actual cleavage.

    Just saying.

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