Life and Death and Michael Jackson

Is Michael Jackson really THAT important? More important than protestors in Iran? Famine? What about the millions of AIDs deaths in Africa? OK, music provides a soundtrack for our lives and Michael’s music has touched many millions of lives, and yes, death is sad for those of us still here, especially when death comes early in life. But really, can any one person be so important as to obliterate all other concerns?

At first I was sickened by the overabundance of Michael everywhere I turned, and admittedly, to some extent I still cringe, but reading Sarah Weinman’s June 25th post on Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, I found her perspective to be more in keeping with my thoughts, and the comments from her readers gave me hope as well. Readers commented on his “troubled life” and hoped that in death he would be at peace. “The guy only seemed to come fully alive onstage,” wrote J.D. Rhoades. “In front of a crowd, he was damn near superhuman. But you can’t live life onstage 24/7, and he could ever seem to adjust to life on Earth.”

Weinmn saves her greatest appreciation for his dancing, writing that Jackson

“represented the ultimate American narrative, reared from an early age to work hard and produce, to support a family rife with internal tensions and jealousies and to appease the hangers-on, trapped by his penchant for excess and flaws tragic and monstrous….But when it comes right down to it, what brings me back to MJ’s classic songs, his groundbreaking videos and those breathtaking live performances is the way he moved, his total command over space, the upward slope of his arch and downturn onto the balls of his feet.”

For many years now, when I hear Michael’s name his music is the last thing to come to my mind. Media attention has focused on his private life more than his music, and the videos that capture his dancing prowess are somehow overshadowed in my memories by his crotch-grabbing. But last night, Johnny Pate called and mentioned a beautiful song by Michael that he heard at the end of Ann Curry’s NBC report. The song was Gone Too Soon from his Dangerous album. I don’t own any MJ recordings, but I do remember this beautiful song in the context of Michael dedicating it to Ryan White and shining a spotlight the importance of AIDs research. (It also garnered a lot of attention when Princess Diana died and was on a compilation CD titled Diana Princess of Wales Tribute.)

It’s sad that Michael lived such a tortured life, and it is sad that he died, but even sadder to me is the current state of our culture that feeds more on celebrity-gawking and not enough on arts appreciation.

Update: Interesting article in The New York Times – His Moves Expressed as Much as His Music

Long Narrative Articles

DevraDoWrite readers may remember the name Thomas French, a masterful narrative writer I admire. (Disclosure: he was my mentor in the Creative Nonfiction masters degree program at Goucher College.) I am delighted to find that OGIC over at About Last Night has recommended one of Tom’s long articles “Elegy For The King And Queen.” This is actually a short piece in the world of Tom French and was a precursor to his 9-part Zoo Story series that ran in December 2007.

(Maybe you already read “Zoo Story” as I mentioned it in my March 11th post Multimedia Enhanced Reporting)

One of Tom’s earlier series, “Angels and Demons,” chronicling the murder of an Ohio woman and her two teenage daughters on vacation in Tampa Bay, won a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1998.

The online version of these narratives afford the inclusion of extensive audio and video extras, including interviews and commentaries from reporters and participants as well as many more photographs than ever get to run on newsprint. As a reader I love the extra photos and added perspectives, tho as a writer I sometimes chastise myself for this pleasure thinking that the idea of “a picture paints a thousand words” might encourage lazy writing — on my part, not in Tom’s case!

Other narratives by Tom include

    The Hard Road“, reports the case of an elementary schoolteacher involved in a hit-and-run accident.
    The Exorcist in Love” is a story about a mother of five investigating the paranormal.
    South of Heaven,” a 1991 series about a year with students at Largo High School, also became a book bearing the same title.

Sadly, this type of long-form narrative journalism, which was already a rarity in newsrooms across the country, is now being deemed economically unsustainable. Tom is no longer at the St Pete Times, but he is one of he lucky ones — lucky for him, and for us. As noted above, several of his serials found their way to full-length books, and such is the case for Zoo Story, slated for release later this year. Meanwhile, students at the Indiana University School of Journalism are also very lucky as Tom has joined their faculty.

Of Interest

I often watch Bill Moyer’s Journal but I missed the April 17 episode with producer David Simon:

The executive producer of HBO’s critically-acclaimed show THE WIRE, David Simon talks with Bill Moyers about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism today. After a dozen years covering crime for the BALTIMORE SUN, David Simon left journalism to write books and tell stories for NBC and HBO, including his Peabody-winning cop show THE WIRE, which looked at the drug wars and the gritty underbelly of the inner-city. Simon is now producing the pilot for a series about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans, called TREME.

Though not an avid watcher of The Wire, I have appreciated Simon’s past work at the Baltimore Sun, and am now intrigued by this potential new series.

Also worth noting is his testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee kindly reposted here by ReclaimTheMedia

Thanks, Ken, for bringing these links to my attention.