The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

“I Shall Be Released”: Michael Jackson Dead at 50

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.


BLOGGER’S NOTE: Wanna keep on keepin’ on with Dylan? Well, that’s what those links to the right are for. Or maybe you’re in the mood for a mystery? Check out BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.


June 30, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

November 4, 2008: The whole world is watchin’

Oh the foes will rise,

With the sleep still in their eyes,
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’.
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal,
And know that it’s for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.

In two days, America will pick a new president. The reality, of course, is that the man who will lead us into the new millennium has already been chosen.

Brought out of Africa, blessed in the cornfields of Kansas and baptized in the warm waters of the South Pacific, he came with a simple, prophetic promise: Make right a world that has gone decidedly wrong.

And while there are those who will dismiss this assessment of our next president as nothing more than bombastic hyperbole, there is no denying the fact that the press has anointed Barack Obama a modern-day political messiah— David to the world’s Goliath, the man who will save America, and in doing so, just may save the world.

The time is right for a savior. For the last 40 years, America has been in the wilderness. In March of 1968, Lyndon Johnson, covered in the blood of 50,000 men, was crucified for his trespasses in Vietnam. Twelve years later, a born-again peanut farmer from Georgia turned the other cheek when 52 Americans were taken hostage in Iran. But in ‘doing the right thing’ Jimmy Carter let a ragtag band of religious zealots cast a stone that shattered America’s resolve for years to come. In 1992, America thought they had found a man who could transform a nation that had spent a decade teetering on the precipice of Babylonian excess. But instead of restoring our faith in our better angels, Bill Clinton succumbed to the temptations of the flesh and he, too, was banished.

And then He came.

Little is known of Barack Obama’s early years. Once he answered his calling as a community organizer in his 30th year, however, he quickly began to change people to his way of thinking. His opponents portrayed his philosophies as radical, even dangerous. But he triumphed over his adversaries, and wrote of his trials in a book he titled, Dream from My Father— a memoir that chronicled a father who abandoned him at his time of need, yet someone whom he has always kept close, especially in moments of doubt.

Many are bothered that the pundits are so overwhelming behind Obama. Yet as any student of history knows, there are two sides of history: the right side, and the wrong side. But we are not talking about that pedantic, petty, “you are either with us or against us,” mantra the Bush Administration has perpetrated against the American people for the last eight years. This is different.

For years, we have been like a ship lost at sea as our moral and ethical bearings have given way to greed and gluttony. But the tide is about to turn, and the hour is rapidly approaching. And while the pundits may be on the right side of history, the pundits have gotten it wrong.

Electing Barack Obama as the first African American president isn’t about standing on the ship’s bow and shouting that Pharaoh’s days are numbered. It’s not as black and white as that. There are larger factors at play. And when the history books are written, it will become apparent that the decision to cede the moral direction of a nation to a man about whom little is known but much has been entrusted was never our decision to make in the first place.

What happens in the days that follow is…

Then the sands will roll,
Out a carpet of gold,
And the ship’s wise men,
Will remind you once again,
That the whole wide world is watchin’.

November 3, 2008 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , | Leave a comment