Tuesday, July 14, 2009

J Smooth on Michael Jackson

J Smooth on Michael Jackson:
On the night Michael died I went to 125th Street to join in with the spontaneous memorial that jumped off in front of the the Apollo. And the scene I found there fascinated me because it was this mix of powerful human emotion and bizzaro media circus at the same time. ... After awhile I started to feel like we were all caught up in this collective ritual of trying to process our own grief by making media out of it. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm not sure if it's good or bad. But I couldn't help thinking how this mix of deep human connection and weird media circus was a perfect metaphor for Michael's career.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jay-Z as rap hegemon vs. The Game as rising middle power

Tour de force post by Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy about the international relations politics of The Game's spectacular (in the sense of creating a spectacle) attacks on Jay-Z and analysis of Jay-Z faces now. Made my whole day.

I have to run but will have some thoughts on this later tonight. [Internet problems last night. Never mind, it's too late now. Good post though.]

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

'It shows you how crazy people can get'

Overheard conversations in the YMCA steam room:

A: You remember Josh? He was crazy. Really crazy. He tried to kill himself you know, jumping off a bridge in Duluth. But he didn't kill himself -- he just went splash in the water! [Hard laughter.] Yeah, he ended up shooting himself though.

B: Really?

A: Yeah. He was crazy. It shows you how crazy people can get.


B: I was in Chicago and I went to one of those gyms they have in the bottom of a skyscraper? Like a Gold's Gym, a chain, I don't remember the name of it. In the bottom of a skyscraper. I went in the steam room they had there. The room got steamed up, but it was cold. The steam never got hot. It was like a greenhouse or something. I was like, bring some plants in here.

A: Do you garden? Plant things?

B: No. Well I grow some marijuana out in the woods. On county land. For parties, you know.

A: Me too.
I overheard both of these just today. (Same two dudes, these exchanges separated by a few minutes.) And I was in there for like 10 minutes. I really need to get a waterproof pen and pad and just hang out in there and take notes...

Monday, July 06, 2009

Roland Martin does not stop talking

The news that CNN commentator Roland Martin is getting his own Sunday talk show is a good enough reason for me to tell my Roland Martin story:

You may or may not already know this, but I attended a wildly prestigious J-school, as befits my overall awesomeness and elite status. Part of what made it a fun place to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go was the fact that the school had a working news bureau in downtown Chicago, where student journalists covered actual news events and wrote stories that were published by actual news publications -- not the Trib or the Sun-Times, of course, but by a handful of other, smaller Chicago papers.

I remember the first day of classes in that downtown newsroom. Exciting! We weren't going to do any actual reporting that day, but it was a full, tightly scheduled orientation day with a lot of different parts to it -- tours, explanations of newsroom rules and so on. And one part of that orientation was a talk to the students by then-editor of the Chicago Defender, Roland S. Martin.

Martin is a charismatic guy, and he gave a good talk. Importance of journalism, holding public officials accountable, etc. The thing was: He was very comfortable talking about himself and his profession. He talked and talked. And he exceeded, by some margin, his allotted block of time. The professor whose job it was to shepherd us out of the room and into the next part of orientation -- a great teacher named Jon Ziomek -- was visibly nervous. At some point Martin was going to throw off the entire day's schedule. Ziomek stood up, walked to the front of the room, where he hovered to the side of Roland Martin like a handler about to usher him offstage.

No matter. Roland Martin had more wisdom to impart to us. Kept right on talking.

Finally, Ziomek broke in. "Well, our time here is --"

And Roland Martin said: "Oh, it's okay, I've got time."

For all I know, he realized a split-second after he said it that our professor wasn't actually worried about his time. But to me it was a hilarious moment, the hilarious obliviousness of someone who could listen to himself talk all day long.

I think that must say something about the sort of people who end up making their living as television political pundits.

However I should also say that I have nothing really against Roland Martin as a TV commentator. He is certainly not one of the worst talking heads, and arguably is even in the top half. Maybe his new show will be good!

Friday, July 03, 2009

Ways Michael Jackson is different than the Eagles: A meditation

Q. Does this mean that we will see a spontaneous outpouring of love and grief when Don Henley dies?

A. Hahahahahaha.


But why not? If it's true that the Eagles have the top-selling U.S. album of all time (more on that below), then why does it seem like they aren't even in Michael Jackson's league as musical/cultural figures? Why is it that Michael Jackson's music brought the world together, while the main redeeming quality of the Eagles is that they made for a good punchline in The Big Lebowski.

I can think of a few reasons:
    a.) no compelling/grotesque personal story. As far as I can tell, Eagles are just rich dicks. Not very interesting!

    b.) No real artistic reach. Like Michael Jackson, the Eagles occupy a hybridized musical niche -- in their case, country-rock. But while country music in recent decades has certainly incorporated more rock influences, there simply isn't a tradition of Eagles-influenced artists the way MJ spawned a billion baby MJs.

    c.) We grew up with Michael Jackson. And in more than one way: People roughly my age have our childhood memories of the Thriller era, while people my parents' age actually remember MJ as a child star. That's a different relationship than the one anyone has with some boomer-centric country-rock act, or some released-after-the-fact greatest hits collection.

    d.) Video. Via MTV, Michael Jackson reached millions and millions of kids who didn't buy his records. Like me! I was too young to be buying records, but I was well aware of Thriller and Bad.

    e.) Last but certainly not least, there are lots of reasons to doubt that RIAA number. The primary one, though not the only one, is that RIAA measures U.S. sales only. Contra Greg Mitchell, if you take plausible high-end estimates it's possible that Thriller sold more than twice as many copies as that Eagles album.
In summary, let's always remember that Michael Jackson is awesome and the Eagles suck.

Major Lazer