Thursday, June 25, 2009

The day the music died

I wasn’t the first kid to get into Michael Jackson back at Hill Elementary. That honor went to the cool kids in my class: Adrian and Case. Case was an old friend of mine but Adrian had rolled into Austin from somewhere else and was one of the few kids with divorced parents. Of course no one would have cared if it wasn't for the fact he was always the first to get Panno Dor parachute pants or a Swatch or some sweet-ass Nike hi-tops which were like $100 at the time. Even at that young age we knew no one in a functioning relationship would have shelled out that kind of cash on a punk-ass nine-year old.

And Adrian was punk-ass. With a punk-ass mullet. But he could dance and he got me into Michael Jackson.

We were in third grade when “Thriller” came out in the fall of '82. Obviously, Michael had been performing and recording for like fifteen years but I had just been a kid. "Thriller" was the album that made him a superstar and a straight-up idol. And an idol for my generation. Without that album we'd have never thought to glue sequins on our gloves or roll up our pants and wear red socks. And I would have never have lusted over both the “Thriller” video jacket and the “Beat It” video jacket like I did. Honestly, I kind of still want both of them. How cool would it be to bust one out tomorrow?

I've always thought that was an incredibly exciting time to be growing up. In that next year alone, Van Halen’s “1984”, Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”, and Prince’s “Purple Rain” all would come out. Even today I still look back on that period as one of the best of my life, not least of which because of the music. The radio was loaded with great songs, many of which still hold up today.

But towering above all of it, was Michael Jackson.

This was also around the same time that portable electronics were taking off and surely their success wouldn't have been what they were without such a great product to play on them. Cassette tapes were replacing LP’s and music was becoming portable. Jamboxes with cassette players were becoming pretty cheap and common. For the first time in my life, we could take our music with us. And we all did. I mean, that was something. The birth of tapes meant the birth of the mix tape. And of course nights spent waiting with a finger on the record button until the radio played that song you couldn't live without. But most of all, those little players let us listen to Michael Jackson on them. Wherever we were. With whoever we were with.

I distinctly remember buying my first AM/FM Walkman that summer of 1983 and just spending hours out in the yard, or on my bike, or in the car, or up in my favorite tree doing what I still do with my iPod: listening to music, wherever I am. Lord knows it's done my hearing no favors but I'd do it all over again.

And because for the first time we had a way to play recorded music at school (or after school, as was the case more often) it became all about trying to impress each other with our moves. Some of the moves were influenced by movies like "Breakin'" but most of them came from Michael Jackson's videos. No one topped him, then or now. Even me.

Like everyone, I always loved Michael’s music but it was his videos and his dancing that were really the star. He was made for video, for MTV. Not since Elvis swiveled his hips on Sullivan had anyone’s movements elicited such cultural response. From fashion to dancing to what it meant to be a superstar, Michael informed it all.

The ultimate incarnation of Michael Jackson for me though was the night of Motown’s 25th Anniversary show when he tore up the stage. It was the night the moonwalk went from a dance move to a movement.

And I would argue the world was never the same. That's the memory of him I'll take with me. That and all the good times I had in grade school, junior high, high school, college and even now dancing to his tunes.

Sure, there have been pop stars since and no doubt more to come but no one's ever had that much electricity. With the way the media works now I don’t even know if it’s possible to harness that kind of power anymore. We see so much of stars now that we’re sick of them before their second album drops (which inevitably is like three weeks after their first).

No one ever said he was the King because we all know there can only be one and his name was Elvis. But Michael was undoubtedly my generation's King. Our King of Pop.

And sadly, the King is dead.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Billions better spent

(this was a thingy I wrote a while back but never posted. It's still kinda relevant I think.)

Nothing against the folks at GM, but if we're gonna throw money at something why not throw it at something that actually has a prayer of making both a difference and some scratch? I mean, how much GM stock are you buying up right now? Exactly.

So why is our government loading up on it? This ain't charity. If you're gonna spend my money, spend it on a company that has some hope of changing. Or a company people might buy something from. Or a company we can get our money back from and maybe a little extra.

Perhaps something like this little outfit: Tesla

Based right here in sunny California, USA. They're fully electric and something tells me they wouldn't be $49,000 if their competition wasn't being subsidized by our government.

Of course, if people started buying them they'd need a place to build more of them. Michigan seems like it might be a good place from what I hear. Imagine all the manufacturing facilities you could buy and convert with even just the latest $30 billion we threw at GM. A lot I would think. And maybe this time the unions could make deals that won't bankrupt their employers. Just a thought.

GM was a great company. It was a great 20th century company built to run in a 20th century business climate making cars that ran on 20th century fuels. It's a lot like how the defense department was set up to deal with 20th century threats. And it's why we were caught with our pants down when a gang attacked us and not a country with a flag.

You can't force Rockport to suddenly turn around and become Nike. You'd have to fire the whole place and then magically find 100,000+ new people to replace them. GM is a goner. Mark my words, it'll happen. They're too deeply entrenched to ever be the things their new ad claims they'll: leaner, meaner, greener. No, they, won't.

As an Apple guy, the way I see it is this is like pumping a bunch of money into Microsoft when putting the money into more Apples would in the long run actually solve problems rather just lead to small, incremental changes that really amount to no change at all.

GM will likely make a car (or more likely truck) that might get maybe 20 or 25 mpg and they'll praise themselves as having turned the corner. Meanwhile, Toyota and Honda will release plug-in hybrids and other players will no doubt enter the game. GM will then ask for more money to get to the 30 mpg mark before realizing people don't buy gasoline-powered cars anymore. Then we'll be stuck with cars no one wants and be proud 60% shareholders of jack shit.

Let it go. If we're gonna stick with capitalism we can't pick and choose which companies are important.

Or if we do, let's bet on a winner.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It Might Get Loud

This will easily be the best movie you'll see all summer.

Although that "Hangover" is pretty darn good. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Recently, the Senate from my great home state of Texas decided that a good place to let people carry concealed handguns would be on college campuses. Someday someone will have to explain that to me. I guess they figured after incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech and Texas’ own 1966 incident that the answer was to add more guns to the system. So, the hope goes, that when the next nutjob starts popping off shots some heroic student will rise to the occasion and be able to knock down the threat with a handgun that’s been tucked away in a backpack.

What the fuck ever, Texas.

It’s bad enough that less than 60% of us even get college degrees in a time when life without one is decidedly more restricted, but now we’ve got a bunch of amateur gun owners running around in the hopes they’ll save the day when the shit goes down. Aren’t we stupid enough as a society already?

I know, I know. After the routine background check and completion of that gun safety course everyone will magically turn into Dirty Harry, ready and able to defend their campus at all costs. And, of course, they'll do it all with their guns held sideways while sliding across the floor like the video games. But back here in the real world we all know it ain't gonna be like that. I mean, have you met any college kids lately?

The best case will likely look something like this: instead of one or two lone shooters amidst all the mass confusion and panic, you’ll have several in several different locations. And exponentially more panic. Even better, everyone with a gun will likely look a lot like a college kid! So the campus police force will then have to figure out who is who before doing anything that actually might save lives. That’s gonna be awesome.

If we were really serious about saving lives and preventing these types of things from happening, we’d make saving lives a priority, not just taking them. We'd not just say we value life but make actual efforts to protect it. Instead of allowing concealed handguns, we’d encourage kids to carry first-aid kits, to be the kid who saves 32 people. We’d make sure every student learned CPR—even make it so kids felt stupid if they didn't know it. Most importantly, we could do a better job of preventing these goddamn massacres from happening. Hell, maybe even make handguns harder to get, not easier. We could even make an effort as a nation to not be so obsessed with guns and war. Let's take this a step at a time though.

But if you find yourself thinking rationally or wondering why Texas is encouraging gun proliferation as a way to cut down on gun violence, just remember that guns never end up in the wrong hands. And the best way to fight fire is with more fire.

Good luck, Texas.

Let's hope the House votes this nonsense down.