Sunday, June 28, 2009
Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,
Is a man who swears he's not to blame.
All day long I hear him shout so loud,
Crying out that he was framed.
To paraphrase the American author, Henry Miller, "fame is a fickle thing."
I couldn't agree more. Despite having written an entire novel revolving around the ravenous impact fame has on the famous, I still don't a clue what it's like to walk in their shoes.
But I have spent a lot of time thinking about it.
In the wake of last Thursday's shocking death of pop sensation, Michael Jackson, I imagine we’re all going to have an opportunity to give some thought to the fickle mistress that is fame. And here's a place to start—
It seems that when our cultural icons are taken from us unexpectedly as Jackson was last Thursday, our impulse is instinctual: elevate them to a pedestal while simultaneously delving into the dark crevices of their seemingly perfectly sculptured lives.
I surmise with Michael Jackson it will be different. Bar a surprise discovery of John Merrick’s petrified body (whose bones Jackson attempted to purchase in 1987) stashed away somewhere on MJ's 2,600 acre ranch, in all likelihood there are few, if any, skeletons left in Jacko’s closet. After all, a large part of the Jackson mystique wasn’t so much what he withheld from us as it was what he dared to show us.
Unapologetic and undaunted, Michael Jackson was remarkably candid about his personal life. He didn’t give many interviews, but when he did he was always revealing.
Of course, we didn’t always like what he revealed. The 2003 admission that he slept with young boys because “they need love, too,” is hardly an endearing quality, no matter how quaintly it’s couched.
And while Michael Jackson’s personal demons ultimately unraveled both his life and his art, in the end, it was his demons that gave him that transformative, angelic quality that made him so captivating.
Like a modern-day Dorian Gray, Jackson truly was ‘the man in the mirror’—self-reflective and ever-changing. But unlike the troubled nobleman at the center of Oscar Wilde's classic 1890 novel who surreptitiously sells his soul to preserve enduring beauty and an epicurean fulfillment of the senses, there were never any shades of a dark, festering Faustian bargain with Jackson.
Truth be told, the Faust in this forlorn story is Joe Jackson, who saw not just in Michael, but in all of his sons, the deal of a lifetime and cashed in unabashedly on their vibrancy and youth.
But it would be wrong to call Jackson’s life simply ‘tragic.’ Sad, perhaps, but not tragic. Jackson lacked the fundamental quality that turns talent into tragedy—hubris. Of all the self-destructive qualities Jackson exhibited, an overweening, self-effusive sense of pride was not one of them.
Upon hearing the news of Jackson’s death, I imagine the response for most of us was closer to a knee jerk reaction than anything remotely resembling the smooth, effortless sleekness so imbued in the “Gloved One’s” now-famous moonwalk.
And therein lies the real tragedy in the passing of Michael Jackson. It was so sudden, so unexpected, so abrupt. Yet after the shock subsided, the only emotion left was an overriding sense of acceptance…as if it just had to end this way.
Like any great artist, Michael Jackson dedicated his life giving himself to others. He could have hoarded his vast talent like some chastened child. Instead, he shared that talent with the world. But in doing so, he became trapped, inexplicably linked to all the people whose lives his music touched.
Jackson lived in a literal Neverland, spending the last have of his life trying to take back a childhood he never had. But after a lifetime in the limelight, the self-professed King of Pop’s palace probably came to more closely resemble a prison.
But we can take solace that those shackles he spent a lifetime trying to release himself from have been lifted once and for all. And he is now finally free…
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin'.
Like the stillness in the wind
'Fore the hurricane begins
It’s often said history repeats itself. And while that old adage may be true, an underlying objective of this blog was not to repeat a lyric once it’s been used.
But in the aftermath of the violence that’s erupted in response to last week’s Iranian Presidential election, the lyrical refrain used to herald the wave of optimism that swept across this country last November is now an ominous, and all too fitting harbinger for one of the greatest unchecked affronts to political expression in recent memory.
The tide of history is turning once again. And while “the whole world is watching” the unfolding events in Iran, it’s what they’re saying that is most alarming.
From tepidly noncommittal:
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: "I'm closely following how this investigation into this election result will come out.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "The elections are a matter for the Iranian people.”
Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak: "I'm not sure if the results reflect the real will of the Iranian people."
To outright congratulatory:
Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas: "The results of the elections in Iran show the wide public support for Iran's policy of challenge."
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari: "This is indeed testimony of the confidence of the people of Iran in [Ahmadinejad's] leadership qualities.”
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: "[A] great and important victory for people fighting for a better world.”
There’s no question what’s going on in Iran is unconscionable. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to the posturing politicians who seem more concerned with appeasement than appealing to the people who are putting their lives on the line.
And while President Obama has begun to take a more defiant view now that the protests have turned deadly, his initial response--claiming the difference between Ahmadinejad and reform candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi "may not be as great as has been advertised”--was hardly an indictment of the injustices being perpetrated in the streets of Tehran.
But thanks to the ubiquity of social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, we no longer need to rely on the “powers that be” to tell us which way the wind blows.
We can, and have, assessed the situation for ourselves:
From Serbia: “We from Serbia know best what it me[a]nt to live under dictatorship of few man. Just be brave, IRANIANS, brave and dont give up. Serbian people are with U!!!
Posted by Ivan June 20, 09 08:52 AM
From the US: “from Texas...please please please dont give up... You are all brave men and women of Iran and must continue on the path started last week. Be focused in a common goal.... our prayers are with you all....”
Posted by behzad June 20, 09 12:05 PM
From Australia: “I might be far away in Australia… but I will be praying for The Iranian people. I pray that they will be free. There is nothing more powerful than an Idea thats time has come!”
Posted by Nicholas June 21, 09 02:58 AM
From Greece: “I hope you will gain your freedom and Iranians will live out fascism.. KEEP ON FIGHTING, YOU ARE THE FUTURE OF IRAN!!we are with you,from greece..”
Posted by vangoff June 21, 09 01:04 PM
From Venezuela: “Lo mismo que pasa allá en IRAN es lo que ya pasó y continúa pasando en VENEZUELA. Por favor ayúdennos a salir de estos dictadores que se creen los dueños de todo. Dios bendiga al pueblo IRANI, sigan luchando por su libertad!!!!!”
Posted by Pedro June 20, 09 06:39 PM
But perhaps the most emotional appeal has come from the Iranian people themselves.
From Iran: “I will take part in the rally tomorrow. Maybe they will turn tomorrow's rally to violence. Maybe I'm one of those who are meant to get killed… Now I'm listening to all of those beautiful songs I've heard in my life once again.”
Posted by freedom fighter June 20, 09 08:28 PM
Back in 1963, when Bob Dylan penned the prescient, “When the Ship Comes In,” the consensus was that television would document the great injustices of the world.
But now that the major news organizations sent to Iran have either been kicked out or under house arrest, it seems the revolution won’t be televised, after all. Instead, it will be Twittered, FaceBooked, and YouTubed.
Which, of course, means the whole world won’t just be watching, they’ll be participating, too…
Then they'll raise their hands,
Sayin' we'll meet all your demands,
But we'll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh's tribe,
They'll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they'll be conquered.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
We had a falling-out, like lovers often will
And to think of how she left that night, it still brings me a chill
And though our separation, it pierced me to the heart
She still lives inside of me, we've never been apart.
Unlike Bob Dylan’s 1974 wistful song of an ill-fated love affair gone awry, America’s affair with the automobile is far from over. But as of last week, GM, who for years was without doubt the most popular girl at the party, is about to find out what it means to be alone on Saturday night.
Already, Toyota, Honda, Volkswagen and Hyundai have seen an increase in sales as a result of GM’s announcement that the once adored automaker has entered Chapter 11. America has always has a wondering eye when it comes to our insatiable consumption for consumer goods. But if the trend toward foreign femme fatales continues, our homegrown dance card is going to start to resemble something closer to a well-traveled passport.
Let's face it. Relationships are complicated. And GM’s relationship with America is no exception. Since 1908, the Flint, Michigan, automaker has sparked the imagination of America for over a century. So much so that the old adage, “as goes General Motors, so goes the nation,” wasn’t just some trite expression. It was an enduring term of endearment.
For years, we were obsessed with her stylish, shapely body; her lean, aerodynamic curves; her tight, taut lines. But as time went by, we grew bored and she grew complacent. And in recent years, GM all but completely let herself go— continuously losing market share to a barrage of suitors who weren’t afraid to appeal to our vanity. And it certainly didn’t help that she was going through money like it was going out of style.
And while we’ll probably never be able to pinpoint the exact moment the bloom was finally off the rose, one thing’s certain: It didn’t happen overnight.
As recent as December 2005, Business Week was banging the drum about the possibility of a GM bankruptcy. But then-Chairman and CEO Rick Wagner blindly dismissed the rumblings, declaring that Chapter 11 was contrary to the interests of "our employees, stock- and bondholders, dealers, suppliers and customers." A heartfelt entreaty, indeed.
But with 100,000 employees on the verge of losing their jobs, GM stock essentially worthless, and close to 4,000 dealerships on the chopping block, it turns out that in the end Wagoner only hurt the ones he loved.
There’s no question General Motors was once a great company. But like so many of those back pages we look upon with misplaced affinity and affection, maybe in the end the attraction really was only physical. Perhaps in hindsight it’s best that GM and America take a break. Who knows? Maybe the time apart will do both of us some good.
There’s always a tinge of shame associated with a failed relationship. GM, however, doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Admittedly, the federal government's decision to put the brakes on our relationship with GM has resulted in the fourth largest U.S. bankruptcy on record. But GM can take solace in the fact that three of the biggest bankruptcies in our nation's history—GM, the failure of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual—have all occurred in the last nine months.
These aren’t just trying times for GM; they are trying times for America. A shattered financial system, a real estate market in disrepair, a workforce weakened by the highest unemployment levels in a generation. History comes in ebbs and flows. GM, it seems, just got caught on the wrong side of a financial tidal shift.
Maybe bankruptcy is the best thing that could happen to GM— and frankly the best thing that could have happened to us, too.
We’ve invested a lot in our relationship with GM. Close to $19.4 billion in at last count. But even that wasn't enough to keep the nation's largest automaker in the black. Now the government is on the verge of putting another $30 billion into GM just to keep it afloat while management restructures. And while this isn’t the end of the road for GM, those carefree, top-down days are undoubtedly a distant reflection in the rear view mirror.
So how does all of this relate back to Bob Dylan? It doesn’t. Not directly anyway. Bob Dylan has always been more of a train guy. But despite the relative absence of automobiles in his 500+ song repertoire, Dylan is hardly immune to America’s infatuation with cars.
If you need proof that the mystique has a hold on him, too, look no further than the 2007 ad promoting the launch of GM’s Cadillac Escalade. Dylan offers not only his endorsement, but utters the closing line, “What’s life without the occasional detour?”
At the end of the day, the mental road block GM seems to having a hard times getting around is accepting the fact that maybe the only way to save the corpulent car maker is to set it free.
GM advertises the fact they want us back
In an ad GM is running right now, GM says ‘they get it.’ The times have changed; they've changed; and now they want us to take them back.
We’ll think about it, GM. But in the meantime, don’t wait by the phone…
If you see her, say hello, she might be in Tangier
She left here last early spring, is livin' there, I hear
Say for me that I'm all right though things get kind of slow
She might think that I've forgotten her, don't tell her it isn't so.