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At the risk of beating a dead horse (and let's just marvel at the horrifying nature of that cliched expression for a moment, shall we?), operating as a luddite while working within the framework of pop culture journalism is career suicide. Given the fact that I'm so enamored with analog technology that I had a typewriter tattooed on my arm and only play cassette tapes in my car, this presents some challenges for me.
A few years ago, I helped launch the online music blog of another local alt-weekly, something that I was proud of and excited about at the time, but am now retrospectively grateful that I don't have to swim the cesspool of snark that it rapidly devolved into. But even more than the unpleasant nature of vitriolic comments found on that site and countless others, the primary issue I have with blogs in general is when the desire to break news or simply make waves results in half-baked analysis of major cultural events. While there's much to be said for breaking important news and the visceral nature of an immediate response, the writing I'm ultimately most interested in is what's written in the ripples afterwards.
I was thinking about this last Sunday afternoon, when myself and the rest of the world had finally had 72 hours to digest the death of the Gloved One. I was listening to a girlfriend DJ a happy hour set at Hazlewood. She played the requisite MJ cut ("Beat It", as I recall), which caused the conversation in my group to alight briefly on the subject again, but only long enough for everyone to reiterate the standard refrains of "I liked Off the Wall more than Thriller", "I'm nostalgic about rollerskating to the Jackson 5", and "Man, the bad jokes are already everywhere, aren't they?" A couple of songs later, she dropped the needle on the title track from Purple Rain and it hit me: thank God it wasn't Prince! I'll expand on that more in a moment, but first, let's contemplate this amazing clip of James Brown on stage with both Michael Jackson and Prince:
As I mentioned in an early post, I felt relief when I heard he had died. This has nothing to do with undervaluing his early work or innate gifts, but the simple realities that the guy had to be in an immense amount of psychic and physical pain--and he hasn't created worthwhile art in at least two decades.
If one thinks in the semi-selfish terms of pure cultural loss and of pop artists who hit their stride in the same era, it's much more devastating to me to think of losing Prince. Back catalog size alone does not a great artist make, but he certainly has more mind-blowing material than Jackson ever had, and the breadth and depth of his talents surpasses him by more than a few yards. Furthermore, though he's certainly not without his own irksome peccadilloes, the Purple One has refrained from going so off the deep end that it's a challenge to still enjoy his art. And he's still frequently rendering decent results. I'll take a steadfastly ambitious (if narcissistic), born-again Christian over a creatively stagnant, self-mutilating pedophile any day.
As far as the strong writing emerging in the ripples, Greg Tate's piece in The Village Voice is excellent. It's brimming over with thoughtful analysis about race, collective cultural identity and sharp ruminations on MJ's tipping point ("When did the Man in the Mirror begin to turn into Dorian Gray?"). He really knocked it out of the park, as did his colleague Jessica Hopper, who took a road trip to Michael's hometown of Gary, Indiana, also chronicling it for VV. I'm guessing Sasha Frere-Jones is going to have plenty to say in next week's New Yorker, but he currently seems content to give himself more time to let it all sink in, something we all should probably consider.