Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Has Died.

It seems surreal, and very UNREAL, to be typing those words. I'm honestly shocked. I was shocked like this when I found out that Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Belushi, John Lennon, and Mayor Harold Washington had died. Those people... you just don't expect them to DIE at that point in their lives. It's almost like you want this to be one huge April Fool's joke, except 86 days late. Something tells me this won't be the case here. That really bums me.

I was a child of the '80s, and when Thriller came out, Michael was inescapable. And we all ate it up. I got both Thriller and Synchronicity for Christmas in '83, both wrapped in the same package. I never owned a single white glove, but I did sort of learn a half-assed version of the moonwalk, and took breakdance lessons at the Olympia Park fieldhouse. I remember Michael on the American Music Awards, and later that year at the Grammy's. Memory isn't serving me; I can't remember if he was a part of that very first MTV Music Video Awards, but I certainly remember him winning a whole lot of moonman statues that night. Now that I think of it, I think he WASN'T there, but that Diana Ross collected those statues on behalf of her close, personal friend, Michael Jackson. I still remember that on the LP of Thriller, the track "Billie Jean" (side 2, track 2!) has what appear to be zebra stripes on the surface. I know now that's because of the way that backbeat translates out to vinyl grooves, but at the time, people said it was proof that the song was a hit, or was powerful, or something. I remember that my folks didn't have MTV, but that my Aunt MaryJo did. I was staying overnight at her house around that time, and was finally able to watch the legendary, landmark video for "Thriller". Say what you will about it today, but at the time, that damn video was KILLER!! Especially for a 10 year old like myself. And for my generation, he was the new hardest-working-man-in-showbiz. He took James Brown's intense stage act, modernized it, and set the stage on fire. It was truly a fun time to be a Michael Jackson fan.

When Bad finally came out in 1987, I had moved on. I didn't begrudge him any of his success, but I certainly never was moved to go out and buy it. I do think that a whole lot of music industry executives (and to an extent, Michael Jackson himself) always asked themselves why they were never able to replicate the massive success that he had with Thriller. To me, that magical time of 1982 to 1984-ish represented a period when the man could do no wrong. When you look back at the red-and-gold-fringe jacket Michael wore to the AMA's, you think, "How the hell did he pull off wearing that crazy jacket??" But back then, none of us even questioned it. (David Lee Roth was afforded the same luxury; anyone who would have thought of wearing that crazy costume he wore for the "Jump" video would have been laughed off the planet. But DLR was given a pass... because he was DLR. Same thing for Michael.) Even back in the height of his popularity, most of us dismissed his peculiarities as, "That's just Michael." For him and his handlers to even have thought that he could even match the success of Thriller (or to be disappointed that they couldn't match it) was, in hindsight, delusion on a huge scale. Thriller was a once-in-a-lifetime event, that while it made Michael, very well could have ultimately undone him, too.

As the years went by, Michael remained an electric performer, and could still be counted on for great entertainment... until about 1995. At that point, his weirdness and scandals slowly brought down what was left of his good reputation. It was sad to see him dragged through the mud like that. I honestly always felt sorry that (purely in my opinion) here was a man whose childhood was spent being a superstar, to the point that he never truly knew what it was like to be a normal kid. Supposedly, he spent a significant portion of his adulthood (and fortunes) trying to be a kid again as an adult. This, of course, caused a boatload of problems for him, and probably not all of them his fault. Regardless, the man was the target of a whole lot of nastiness, I'm sure a lot of it undeserved.

I still don't believe it. But since no one is telling me otherwise, I guess I'm going to have to accept it. Michael Jackson is dead. Michael, thank you for all of the entertainment that you gave us; you will never be forgotten. May you be at peace now.

Some photos borrowed from / Chris Walter. They are marked as such.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Name WAS Earl; another one bites the dust

Why is it that ALL of my favorites go away? Prematurely ended in their prime before they get the chance to continue all that they have to say (except the Who; they don't know when to say when, frankly). It has just been announced that the recently-cancelled-by-NBC My Name Is Earl has just run out of its last "second chance". TBS was apparently very interested in picking up the show after ABC and Fox passed on renewal of the series. However, TBS could only accept the show if the show's producer, 20th Century Fox, could "cheap down" the show's production costs. The studio (sadly, to their credit), felt that this move would compromise the show's quality. And so ends another one of my favorite shows. And what a drag; it was technically on a cliffhanger episode; the identity of Joy's second child's father, always assumed to be Darnell "Crabman" Turner, has now been cast in doubt. Earl discovers that he is most likely the father to Joy's first child, even though she thought all this time that Dodge's father was Little Chubby.

Thanks to all of the cast and crew of that show; you really were my favorite on TV. This cancellation news really hurts.

This is starting to get me really nervous; I almost don't want to choose another "favorite show" in fears of watching it die a slow, inevitable death.

In the meantime, here is a clutch of Earl-related links. Go to the NBC website while you can, and watch as many of these episodes while you still have the chance.
The show's official NBC website
Examiner article on the show's ultimate demise
The show's Wikipedia page
Another article with a few more details and quotes on the show's fate

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Thank You Friends: An Open Letter To Eric Lowen and Dan Navarro

Dear Eric and Dan:

This might be a tough letter for me to write; I really don’t want to leave anything out. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to the wonderful 100th Loft Session that you both performed on XM Radio with the incredible Phil Parlapiano. The three of you really know how to gel as a tight unit; you sort of re-define simpatico.

Last weekend, the two of you performed your final shows as a duo. I was not fortunate enough to have witnessed what I’m sure were beautiful, wonderful historic shows. But I have been fortunate, living in Chicago, to have caught you guys in concert twice. I’ve heard you on Steve Dahl’s show, cracking him up, playing music, and really sharing some wonderful stories with us. It’s through his show that I first really heard you guys. From that May 2006 radio show, I was skewered; I had to hear more. I’ve since gotten all of your CDs except the most recent one, and that omission will be rectified soon, rest assured.

Your music means so much to not only me, but to my wife and kids as well. When I played her the Steve Dahl show as well, she also ended up loving your music as well. My wife and I were blessed enough to catch you in January 2007; not long after that wonderful show, we found out she was pregnant with our daughter. We also saw you guys at the Taste Of Randolph fest; in that sense, my daughter has been to two LowNav concerts before she was even born in September. It’s been my tradition when each of my two kids were born to compile a lullaby CD for each of them. On my daughter’s CD, I included “Cold Outside” (the Steve Dahl show version, from May 2006), “Maybe Later”, “I Don’t Believe In Yesterday” (which, incidentally, makes a wonderful song to segue into coming off of John Lennon’s “Imagine”), and “Broken Moon”. My 5-year old son almost subconsciously sings along with “Cold Outside” whenever it comes up on that CD. Trust me when I tell you your music means a LOT to us!!

Not only have you blessed us with your wonderful music through the years, you’ve shown us humor, incredible strength, and grace when life deals you a crummy hand. Eric, the public face that you’ve chosen to show us in the face of your diagnosis with ALS has been so inspiring. For all of us fans, it’s been heart-wrenching watching the inevitable elements of this disorder play themselves out. But you’ve only chosen to share with us the fact that somehow, despite the horrors that ALS deals out to you and 5600 others annually, it is possible to continue to function, to continue to create, to continue to inspire, to continue to cause laughter, to continue to touch hearts, to continue to want to find a cure for ALS, but most of all, to continue to entertain. In that respect, you’ve never flagged. And Dan, you’ve been an inspiration yourself not only by being an active voice and advocate for ALS (you’re still an advisory trustee in the Greater Los Angeles ALS Association), but an unfailingly loyal friend to Eric. As cliché as it sounds, both of you will always be inspirations to me.

So now, as you’ve reached El Fin Del Camino, I’m choosing to see this as a beautiful, happy celebration. Eric, as far as I am concerned, you are retiring from performing life with full honors; you and Dan have given us a legacy of infinite music and laughter, genuine emotion and true beauty. I’m looking forward to reading your blogged thoughts on your website. You and your family will always be in my thoughts and prayers. Dan, I know that you are continuing on; I can’t wait to see you the next time you come through town. You will no doubt continue to bless all of us with your music, and I hope that you also continue to play with Phil Parlapiano. But as the performing duo of Lowen and Navarro heads off into the sunset, please don’t ever doubt the rich legacy of musical wonders that you’ve blessed the world with. You’ve certainly touched my life forever, and I know that you will continue to touch souls everywhere.

Jack Murphy