Tag Archives: Opinion

Little Drummer Boys

Now that we’re mired in the Season of Christmas, I have a confession to make. Of late, I’ve become something of a Scrooge over Christmas music.

I haven’t always been this way. Since I’ve been married, my wife and I have made a tradition of buying one Christmas album a year, and we’ve amassed quite a collection during our marriage. And it’s quite eclectic – I tend to like the quirky stuff like Captain Sensible’s One Christmas Catalog, and my wife is more a traditionalist. Starting on Thanksgiving, I’d slowly start to incorporate Christmas songs into my iTunes playlists, until by the final week it was 100%.

Single_Harry_Simeone_Chorale-The_Little_Drummer_Boy_coverThen a few years ago somebody at Clear Channel got the idea to stunt a Cleveland radio station by going 100% Christmas music starting a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. It was kind of cool… but then the next year, everybody was hopping on the bandwagon, the stuff was everywhere and the Halloween costumes were barely moved to the clearance rack. That’s when I began the arcane practice of banging my head on the steering wheel during trips across the FM dial.

I became more and more enscrooged about it until this year. Maybe it’s because I’m no longer working in advertising, and therefore have not been writing about Christmas since July. Or maybe it’s because I no longer have to wake up to the stuff. But I’m back in the mood of voluntarily listening to Christmas music.

Now there are a couple of songs I don’t care for that will have me reaching for the iPod and dialing up my Jandek playlist. The 12 Days of Christmas is the worst holiday song ever, in my opinion, being tedious, repetitious, boring and… I don’t care. Not far behind it is The Little Drummer Boy.

But there’s a big difference between the two. That is, while I have yet to hear a version of 12 Days I like, there are some Drummer Boys out there I have become friends with. Thanks to my unscroogeness this year, and to a friend who apparently adores this song and has been posting versions of it daily on his Facebook page, I decided to come clean and do a countdown of my favorite versions of The Little Drummer Boy.

So here they are. And be warned: These are the only ones!

5. Mannheim Steamroller
Because they made it sound like prog. And I loves me some prog.

4. Dandy Warhols
To paraphrase something from another friend of mine, the Dandy Warhols are my favorite band whenever I’m listening to them. And you know that even though they’re singing this one, they don’t mean it.

3. Michael Franti and The Blind Boys of Alabama
Makes the story what it should be: a narrative. And the Boys bring it with gospel.

2. Bing Crosby and David Bowie
Who would’ve thunk it? This odd couple really works. And ever a sucker for multiple vocal parts, I like the intertwining of the two songs.

1. Miracle Legion
I love the stripped down arrangement and the odd harmonies. Who were these guys? And were their originals as good as this cover?

Happy holidays, and may all of your Scrooges be slight!

Update 12/20/2012: So today I am reminded of my sins. I was wrong. There is one version of The Twelve Days of Christmas that I like. But ONLY this one:

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Handwriting is on the Wall

I have just heard the news that cursive writing will no longer be taught in Ohio schools, making it the third state to abandon the skill (behind Indiana and Hawaii). The keyboard is king now, the thinking goes, making unnecessary a discipline that teaches manual dexterity at the fine motor level. In these modern times we live in, cursive is slowly being traded as a youth-learned skill in favor of manipulation of a joystick.

That’s pretty sad. We’re slowly losing something useful, something that was a rite of passage in our schooling, and something that serves as a unique identifier and perhaps even a mirror of our personality.

I say this in spite of my never having really gotten the hang of cursive. My penmanship was wobbly and inconsistent, and I always had to labor at it. Printing worked better for me, probably since I did an unusual amount of writing as a kid before the cursive lessons started. I was actually faster at printing, and over the years, my printing evolved into it’s own kind of cursive, though it doesn’t look anything like when I try to write in cursive. It’s neither writing nor printing, but it is distinctive.

Quality cursive is a subjective thing anyway. Two of my oldest friends vary widely in the quality of their penmanship. One has a tight, elegant, kind of writing that resembles a city skyline. It’s amazing looking and could be a font. The other writes in broad, palsied, wavy lines that look like Charles Schulz’s lettering in the last few years of his life. Even his printing is sad looking. But both are enormously successful in their respective fields.

What always amazed me was how cursive seemed to cookie cutter the handwriting of girls. Our cursive system turned out millions of girls who wrote with broad, loopy writing, the kind that seemed to encourage the dotting of “i’s” with tiny hearts or flowers. Being a callow youth, I immediately judged girls on this kind of penmanship, and I never dated anyone whose writing looked like that.

In fact, my wife has the most amazing handwriting I’ve ever seen. It took me a couple of years to be able to read it on the first pass. Her letters are long and thin and slant off to the right like a field of wheat bending in a breeze. The loops she pens are gracefully thin and tight, with just enough space inside to distinguish one letter from another. It’s graceful and compact and is as unique as she is.

My children, on the other hand, were educated during the ascendancy of the keyboard, and interestingly enough, they both lean more toward printing than any brand of cursive. Further, what training they did get in cursive managed to generify their penmanship, and their styles of printwriting are remarkably similar. Both have a practiced signature, but it consists mostly of straight lines occasionally interrupted by a loop. But as their father, I can tell them apart.

Perhaps it’s time for cursive to go, given how keyboards now dominate our lives. But that’s not a good thing. It was a good discipline to learn. It gave you a unique marker beyond the fingerprint. From personal experience, I can say that writing by hand gives you a more intimate connection with the words in your head. For most of the novels I’m working on or have planned, I already have opening scenes written by hand (including the soon-to-be-released The Mushroom Shift, which was the first time I wrote a first chapter by hand).

Time and progress leave things behind, and for better or worse cursive is looking more and more like a dinosaur. However, being modern has its price. I can’t imagine Sullivan Ballou’s letter or the train station scene in Casablanca being improved by a laser printed missive in perfect 12-point Times New Roman.

Five Reasons Why I Don’t Do the Grammys

“And lo, all across the land there was a great ourcry,
with wailing and gnashing of teeth and shaking of fist,
for in the west it was the time of the gramophone,
and the people, while they were vexed at what they saw,
could not help but watch.

Once again we find ourselves in the aftermath of the Grammy Awards. I didn’t even know they were on until this morning, when I opened up Facebook and found several friends posting about the results in dismay. As if they couldn’t have guessed what was going to happen. Can the leopard change its spots, after all? What else do you expect from an event that, each year, gives Lady Gaga the chance to dress like an animal rights activist’s nightmare?

As a recovering Oscar addict, I know what it’s like to succumb to the allure of the cult of personality (to coin a phrase). But the Grammies have never held much allure for me, even though I’m big on music. Maybe it’s because they’ve never been big on the same kind of stuff I was.

But just for the sake of reference, here are five reasons why I don’t bother with this annual pat-yourself-on-the-back fest. Reading and acknowledging them is the first of twelve steps to freedom:

1) Any time any industry gives an award to itself, it is immediately suspect. They tend to be petty and incestuous. Trust me on this. I work in advertising, an industry that has nothing on Hollywood when it comes to giving one’s self awards. Also, I used to be able to vote for such an award in a different part of the entertainment field, and there wasn’t a year that went by that wasn’t filled with bile, backstabbing and brutality.

2011 Best New Artist Winner Esperenza Spalding. One of the rare years the Grammys got it right. Still, if I were her I'd be worried about my career.

2) 1979 – The band Taste of Honey – those perennial favorites – win the Grammy for Best New Artist. The losers that year? A bunch of folks you’ve probably never heard of: Toto, The Cars, Chris Rea and Elvis Costello.

3) 1989 – For the first time, the Grammys give an award for best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. The winner? Not Jane’s Addiction. Not Metallica. The award went to… Jethro Tull. Now don’t get me wrong, I likes me some Tull, but Metal they ain’t. (When Metallica did win a couple of years later, they thanked Jethro Tull for not having an album out that year.)

4) 1990 – Best New Artist: Milli Vanilli. Enough said.

5) The Grammies are named after a useless and out of date piece of technology. Maybe they should be named after the Phonograph… the Phonies? Ooops. How about the Compact Disc? The Seedies! Oops again. Well, then they have to be renamed after their big bone of contention, the mp3. The “Mpties.” Well, maybe they should stick with Grammy.

The Kindle Blues

I thought that people who did a lot of reading were supposed to be smart.

See, at the end of 2008 I ordered an Amazon Kindle, and it arrived at the end of February in 2009. I love it. It’s a brilliant device that does one thing – let you read – really, really, really well. But for such a brilliant device, it’s inspired an awful lot of unbrilliant thinking on all sides of its release.

While I was waiting for my Kindle to arrive, I subscribed to Amazon’s discussion board for the Kindle in the hopes of having a leg up before when it actually came. Well, I got that. But I got something else.

It seemed to me that a lot of other Kindle owners have the biggest entitlement mentality I’ve ever seen. I know not all of them are like that, but the ones with their hands out are the biggest complainers.

While I was waiting to get my Kindle, Amazon made the decision to quit making the original model, and introduced the Kindle 2. Everyone in line for the old model would now get the new model instead. That was pretty cool of them, right?

Except among some of the owners of what is now called the Kindle 1 – especially the more recent owners. There was outrage in some corners. Some who had bought the K1 and enjoyed it up until Amazon’s February announcement decided this switcheroo was unfair. Amazon had knowingly sold them an old product when they knew a newer version was coming out.

Using this same logic, they were probably shocked when the car in their driveway was suddenly made obsolete by the newest model. The same with their TV sets, their blenders, their sofas, and especially their computers – but do you suppose they demanded a free replacement of any of those? Amazon’s woes continued in this vein as they introduced a bigger model (the DX) and an international model of the K2 (the K2i).

The wave of unbrilliance continued as Amazon tried to hold the prices of bestsellers to $9.99. Rabid customers tried to organize boycotts when prices on some books went higher than that. This has been compounded by the fact that Steve Jobs capitulated to publisher demands in order to try and make the eReader software on the iPad more competitive against the Kindle.1

What Jobs’ turn as Neville Chamberlain did was empower publishers to put the screws to Amazon’s pricing policies for the Kindle. If Apple gave them terms, then Amazon should cough up the same agreements in spite of previous precedence. The result is “The Agency Model” – a fancy term for publishers setting their own prices for eBooks.2 And by the publishers’ way of thinking, that price should be about the same as a trade paperback.3

Of course, there’s a lot of whining going on about this, too. The entitlement readers probably attended the school that in the 2000’s claimed that “music should be free.”

Now there is a little bit of logic behind their desire for low eBook prices. After all, since there’s no paper, ink, labor, shipping, storage, etc., needed for an eBook, they should be practically free, right?

Wrong.

I agree that eBooks should have a lower cost than DTB’s (Dead Tree Books), but as something of an industry insider, I also understand that there are some book-related costs that publishers still can’t shake, namely, the cost of their infrastructure – buildings, desks, and all those editors, proofreaders, sales persons… and then they have to pay the authors something, right?

Plus, the publishing industry has another dirty little secret they’re not sure they want you to know. That is, in an eight-figure deal (that’s millions with an extra digit in front of it – tens, twenties, thirties, etc.) with a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, they do not get their money back in associated book sales. What they have basically done is paid an exorbitant amount of money to have a prestige author in their house’s lineup. And no, they don’t make money from movie sales, etc., because the agents for these writers have already negotiated to keep those. Where they make their money is from mid-list authors, the ones who meet their sell-through and go on to make profits for themselves and their publishers. These are the names you’ve probably seen on the Bestseller Lists and wondered who in the world they were. Now you know. They’re the publishers’ bread and gravy.

The other dirty little secret of the publishing world is that right now, they’re in the same mess that the music industry was in a decade ago when mp3’s were coming into their own. And judging from their behavior, they have learned nothing from the mistakes the music industry made back then.

As example, early on in the Kindle’s history, many publishers put the smackdown on the Text-To-Voice feature, which reads any text document on the Kindle in a well-rendered synthetic voice. They claimed it was a threat to their revenue from audio books.

Well, let me tell you about Text-to-Speech. As I have already chronicled in these pages, when I was doing the most recent edit to …and that’s the end of the news, I loaded into my Kindle so I could read it without being tempted to edit it. While commuting, I tried using the T2S on the document and… what a rush it was hearing it read my own novel to me. I was so thrilled, you’d have thought I was listening to an audio recording of it by James Earl Jones.

But while the synthetic voice (you have a choice of male or female) is nice, it still has oddities of pacing and pronunciation (it never did pronounce my female protagonist’s name correctly). And if I was going to listen to, say, Moby Dick and had the choice, I’d take a James Earl Jones recording of it over either Kindle voice every time. It’s a no-brainer that the publishers have made, in their avarice, a brainer.

The transition to eBooks is going to be a rough one.4 Amazon has stumbled in the process too, like with their release of 1984 and Animal Farm in unauthorized editions, and the, um, Orwellian way that they took them back. But they apologized and made good on it, something a lot of publishers have yet to catch on to.

All we can do is sit tight and see how it all spins out. Meantime, anybody got a suggestion for a good book to read?

  1. Although I can’t understand why he did this. He was the one who, when he found out about the Amazon Kindle, said he wasn’t worried because “People don’t read anymore.”
  2. But Amazon is rubbing publishers’ noses in their own dirt – check out the Kindle pricing of an eBook, and some will say “Price Set By Publisher”. But I suspect this is not so much to fight back as silence the entitlement-minded whiners who say the price is too high.
  3. Or, they have the right to delay release of the eBook, anywhere from three months after the hardcover to coinciding with the release of the paperback.
  4. No, I’m not one of those doom and gloomers who thinks that eReaders spell the end of the book – just like CD’s and mp3’s put an end to vinyl, right?

Tiger Woods and the Hugh Grant Maneuver

Here’s a little something I wrote for the blog where I work. I was so pleased with the result that I decided to share it with all of you lucky folks, too. H/T to Dan Sonnier for most of the jokes and the link to the CG.

Just in time for Christmas, America is enjoying a steaming bowl of Schadenfreude — and the unfortunate person getting stuck with the bill is Tiger Woods. I’m going to assume you haven’t been living in a cave or been in a coma and will spare you the details. But you know things are getting bad when the jokes start. And start they have:

  • What’s the difference between a car and a golf ball? Tiger can drive a ball 400 yards.
  • Tiger Woods wasn’t seriously injured in the crash, but he’s still below par.
  • Tiger crashed into a fire hydrant and a tree. He couldn’t decide between a wood and an iron.
  • I don’t know how Elin putts, but it’s clear she can’t seem to hit the driver.
  • Actually, her short game is bad – she can only hit woods.
  • And don’t miss this little bit of Internet spoofery on the subject.

The whole situation has even brought this interesting use for CG graphics to light.

So while Tiger talks of transgressions and generally tries to avoid the subject, you know that someone in the Woods camp, be it a handler or manager, has uttered the three words nobody wants to hear: Public Relations Nightmare.

How does one handle such a situation? Commentator and columnist Larry Kudlow, who has seen his share of bad times, gives the best suggestion I’ve seen, but to me it’s merely a good start. It doesn’t go far enough to staunch the flow of tabloid headlines and begin to rebuild the good will that has fled the Tiger Woods brand.

What would I do if Tiger (or, let’s face it, his proxy) were sitting on the other side of my desk asking for my advice?

I would say, “Tiger needs to perform the Hugh Grant maneuver.”

The what?

It works like this. In 1995, the career of actor Hugh Grant was in full swing and he was dating one of the world’s most desirable women (Elizabeth Hurley) when the LAPD literally caught him with his pants down in the company of a common street prostitute. On the eve of the release of his latest film, his wholesome image was instantly tarnished.

What did Grant do? As part of the promotional tour for the film, he had scheduled an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He kept the appointment and made his appearance before a doubtlessly skeptical audience that wasn’t sure what to expect.

Leno’s first question? “What the hell were you thinking?”

Then Grant, in a clearly embarrassed and contrite manner, dismissed advice he had been given to spin what happened, took his lumps from Leno, and said, “I did a bad thing.”

Just like that he was forgiven because, hey, we’ve all been there in one way or another. While the film Grant was promoting didn’t do well (it may have had something to do with the fact that it was a clunker from the start), his career survived, with performances that often draw comparisons to Cary Grant. And his relationship with Hurley? It lasted another five years before they parted.

So Mr. Publicist? Tell Tiger to stop hiding behind smoke and mirror statements on his web site and behind polysyllabic words like “transgressions.” Call a sin a sin. Book him on Jay Leno and let Jay ask him The Question. And tell him to answer with candor and honesty.

Hugh Grant was just a British actor. Tiger Woods is an American legend. As we showed with Grant, we’re willing to forgive a lot. That goes double for our heroes. But first he needs to come clean.

More on The Hugh Grant Maneuver:

Watch Jay Leno grill Hugh Grant

Read about Grant’s arrest and image rehabilitation

Why I Don’t Do NaNoWriMo

Well, tomorrow it begins. All over the nation, nay, the world, word processors will fire up as literary aspirants everywhere prepare to do battle with themselves during NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – the solitaire sporting event in which folks try to complete a 50,000 word novel during the 30 days of November.

And every year before NaNoWriMo begins, someone drops me a line and says I ought to give it a try, usually implying that I would kick butt and take names at something like this. While I appreciate the confidence in my abilities, I’ve never had the urge to participate in the month-long write-a-thon. Maybe because I’ve done so many of my own – I tend to write the ends of my novels in one marathon burst, the record being 80 manuscript pages in one day at the end of The Company Man.

How’s about would I recommend it to someone wanting to write a novel of their own? My stance there is a little different. If you’re already thinking about it, if your mind is already made up, go for it. It has a lot of value as a motivator because it wields some really big weapons: a deadline, a community of people involved in the same trial, accountability (if you have a blog and put their progress widget on your blog), peer pressure (if you tell your friends what you’re doing – which technically you could do without NaNoWriMo). There is something to be said for doing what you can to cross the finish line.

On the other hand, I do have some concerns with what the program does in terms of writer’s habits. Those are just as important – a writer needs great work habits to sustain their careers if they’re serious about it. The publishing world doesn’t need a bunch of novelists who can only work 30 days a year. They’re looking for people who produce with regularity.

And that’s the thing. NaNoWriMo is largely a motivator that doesn’t, in my view, deal with a lot of the other aspects of writing that are important if you’re looking for a career beyond November. By focusing on getting the words on the page, it slights the actual work that goes into writing a book.

Here are some other reasons why I don’t participate, some practical, some not:

  1. It’s for Young Turks, not me. I’ve considered myself a writer for 29 years now, so I’m old and set in my literary ways (although my methods of writing do continue to evolve). This fancy stuff is for the new kids. NaNoWriMo is the loud, fast, and angry version of novel writing. It’s kind of like the year is 1977. I’m Yes or Emerson, Lake and Palmer and the new kids doing NaNoWriMo are the Sex Pistols and The Clash.
  2. It’s a Cheat. Really. You’re not writing a novel in 30 days. You’re doing the work of putting the story on paper in 30 days. By tomorrow you’re supposed to have done the work of outlining the book and working out the character arcs, all of that (unless you’re going to Jack Kerouac it and start writing without an idea). And then there’s all the work required on the back end – something called revisions. NaNoWriMo focuses on the romantic part of writing a book – the author alone in a room, struggling with a blank page.
  3. It’s Not the Way I Work. When I write a book, I usually know the opening scene and the ending of the book. I start with little else other than a sense of what the story is about, and I let the characters talk to me, developing the outline as I go. I take a more leisurely writing pace, about 1000 words a day as things develop. As a result, there’s an average of 100 “writing days” in one of my books, with many “non-writing days” in between spent making notes (hint: all of those are actually writing days).
  4. The Prep Required Would Make Me Not Want to Write the Novel. For me, part of the fun and magic of writing a novel is watching the plot fall together with all of the attendant unexpectedness that writers typically talk about. It’s about the creative journey. If I have to outline completely first, the mystery is gone because I know how the story unfolds. And I’ve never finished any story that I’ve completely outlined first.
  5. Their Format Does Not Fit the Kind of Novels I Write. Officially, the novel starts at 40,000 words. The typical novel sold on the shelves today, the kind most editors look for, is 100,000 words. NaNoWriMo runs 50,000. It’s a healthy length – probably the length of Shane or Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or some of those early Nicholas Sparks books. You can hit that length writing about 8 pages a day (depending on your font and type size). That’s close enough to my current writing pace that I could probably stretch it. But to get to the length of the typical Joe Clifford Faust novel, I’d have to write 16 pages a day. Um, don’t think so.
  6. I Already Know I Can Write a Novel. NaNoWriMO strikes me as a writer’s journey (well, in this case more of a forced march) for the novice to discover if “I have it in me” to write a novel. I already know I have it in me. I just started what will be my 13th (written) novel. (Yeah, that means that there are some that never made it to publication.)
  7. NaNoWriMo May Shoehorn You Into Things You Don’t Want To Do Later. I feel that part of the journey in writing a first novel is the all-important one of Discovering How You Work. You can read all the advice books by writers you want and try out their Guaranteed Methods of writing, but the only right method of writing a novel is the one that works for you. How are you going to stretch out and discover that if you’re grinding your fingers into bloody stubs during a 30 day marathon? I feel that NaNoWriMo shoehorns writers into the same kind of writer’s journey. It also shoehorns them into one way of writing – loud and fast.
  8. It’s a Brutal Schedule That Could Discourage As Much As It Helps. Like I said, I’m a marathon runner, not a sprinter. I know lots of people that NaNoWriMo has left in the dust. Some learned from their failure, some didn’t.
  9. If You Really Want To Be A Writer It Doesn’t Matter. If you’re determined to be a novelist, NaNoWriMo might give you a jump start – but in the long run you’ll find that it’s one of those tools that you use once or twice and end up leaving behind, because you will have discovered yourself as a writer.

Want to find out if you can write a book in 30 days? Be my guest! If I were young and unpublished and hadn’t written a novel yet, I would be all over this. But keep in mind that there’s a reason why most authors only do one book a year.

However, if you think you have a novel in you, you have the other 11 months of the year to work on it, too. If crossing the finish line is your goal, go for it. But if you have something in mind that’s more long term, you might want to stretch out, experiment, and find a more comfortable way of writing.

So that’s my NSHO. If you want to do it, don’t let me stop you. But it would be good of you not to ask me to read the results. After all, I’m busy slowpoking through one of my own projects. Besides, you might want to consider a revision first… more of that unglamorous part of writing…

Michael Jackson: Three Questions and Two Observations

I suppose every other blogger in the world is writing something about Michael Jackson right now, and why should I be any different. But I’d like to think that I’m taking a somewhat different approach. Rather than focusing on blah blah blah no matter what you thought he was an influential icon blah blah blah, I’d like to share some thoughts about what kind of impact that his death (note I didn’t say “tragic” or “early” or “unexpected”, as I suspect these all may be disproven in weeks to come) will have on our popular culture from this point forward.

Not that I’m an expert on popular culture. But in this case, I happen to have written a novel (okay, technically two, but in my mind and heart it will always be one) about celebrity and popular culture, and even though nobody read it, I still feel obligated to expound here. So bear with me. Or go top your coffee off, because this should be over quickly.

The Coffee Shop Observation. If you want to know what’s going on in America, where opinion’s at, what the populi is voxing, go into a coffee shop or doughnut shop early in the morning and listen to the bunches of older folks gathered around a table commenting on the previous night’s news. I’d have given up doughnuts long ago had I not discovered that there’s a lively crowd at the mom and pop chain that I stop at once every week or two.

However, this morning there was a crowd of populi at a Starbucks that I rarely go to – but my wife was driving this morning and goes her own way, as the song says, so that’s where I went for this morning’s Frappuccino. It surprised me to see a bunch of boomers in there conversing, but there they were, and as the conversation about Shaq coming to Cleveland petered out, someone said, “How about Michael Jackson?”

Someone else said. “Yeah. All that money sure didn’t help him, huh?”

Then they started in on a more interesting and long-lived subject: Farrah Fawcett.

Mood in America: Outside of Newscasters with ratings to earn and that ever-shrinking base of fans who believed that MJ was pure as the driven snow, MJ interest is tepid at best. “What? He died? He was young, wasn’t he? Hmmm. Now what did the Cavs give up to get Shaq?”

1. The Joke Question. I don’t know about other countries and their cultures, but part of the way Americans deal with tragedy is to laugh at it.

It’s true. I was in a blue collar job earning college money on the day Elvis died, and I remember when I head the news. It was the end of the day and I was sitting with rest of The Crew, as we were called, doing our traditional thing of spending the last 15 minutes of the day eating sunflower seeds and drinking Coke. The announcer on the local radio station came on and breathlessly annonced that the King of Rock and Roll had died. And most of the guys in the crew broke out laughing.

That was an odd, surreal moment. And it was my first close-up look at that cultural phenomenon. There’s something about the American psyche that requires humor to heal (“What kind of wood doesn’t float? Natalie Wood!” “What does NASA stand for? Need Another Seven Astronauts!”).

So my question is, when the jokes begin, will they be a rehash of the ones that surfaced when Jackson was in the middle of the child molestation imbroglio, or will they mine cruel new territory? Part of me doesn’t want to know the answer. Another part of me can’t wait to find out.

And there’s another part of the question: had Jackson not died, would we be getting Farrah jokes? And were she still around, would there have been Ed McMahon jokes? Or weren’t they high profile enough to earn that?1

2. The Elvis Question. Speaking of The King, I’m wondering how much of the remains of Jackson’s fan base will go into hardcore denial once the smoke has been cleared and the remains have been disposed of. Will we start hearing rumors that Michael wanted to get away from it all and start life anew somewhere else? Hey, we know he was no stranger to facial plastic surgery…

Will there be Michael Jackson sightings? Will there be rumors of a surprise comeback in, oh let’s say 2012 because that would give him two-and-a-half to recover, and according to the Mayan calendar the world is supposed to end then anyway2 – it would be an appropriate sign of the apocalypse3.

Note to the Jackson Family: If you know what’s good for you, don’t cremate. Make sure there is something left over for a future DNA test. And whatever you do, make sure that the name of the deceased is spelled correctly on the tombstone.

While I’m on the subject of Elvis. You know how it seems that Presley has put out more stuff dead than he did while he was alive? Look for that to happen with Michael Jackson. The reason is directly related to the next question…

3. The Survivors Question. My final question – or is it actually a third observation – deals with interesting times ahead (in the Chinese sense) for the Jackson family. And no, I’m not talking about the three children Michael leaves behind – although part of me says that, at this particular juncture, they may actually be the three luckiest children on the planet.

I’m talking about Michael’s sibs – LaToyah, Jermain, Marlon, Nip, Bink, Tuck, Hoover, and Frito – whatever their names were. All of them except perhaps Janet. What will happen to them in the wake of Michael’s death?

See, even though he was technically broke, people kept putting money into Michael’s coffers, largely because of his potential income – which was mostly an unrealized income given Michael’s latter-day record of putting together money-making projects and then busting out of them (his London comeback shows were shaping up to be that way big time – apparently MJ had attended only two of the 45 rehearsals that were held up to yesterday). This in mind, it’s sad to note that of all of Jackson’s “potential income”, the most lucrative thing in his possession is probably his ownership of the catalog of Beatles songs.

Anyway, Michael had a steady income from ill-advised investors that made him the big moneymaker in the Jackson family. Because of this position, rumors were always rife that Michael used money as a bludgeon to keep his sibs under his thumb, going so far as to put them on salary so their show-biz aspirations didn’t upstage his own.

Bizarre, if true. So don’t be surprised if the following months bring odd news from the ranks of the Jackson family. And if Bilbo and Frodo suddenly become famous again, then maybe there was something behind all of those weird rumors.

The Self-Proclaimed Title Observation This is just something I want to get off my chest. You might have noticed that not once in this entry have I referred to Jackson as “the King of Pop.” I will never refer to Jackson as the King of Pop. Ever. First of all, it sounds silly to my writer’s ear. It’s attaching an inflated title to something of little or no substance. Think about it. That title is about as substantive as saying that you’re the Shah of Cotton Candy.

Besides, I have no respect for that title because he didn’t earn it.

I’m serious. If you recall, he issued a press release bestowing the title upon himself. Apparently he couldn’t wait for his adoring fans to come up with a title for him like Elvis’ fans did for him. I mean, c’mon. The Beatles never held a press conference declaring themselves to be the Royal Family of Rock and Roll4, right?

In my book, you don’t write titles for yourself (something our elected officials might want to make note of). If someone else wants to dub you something, fine. You thank them, then you don’t mention it yourself. You don’t go giving yourself accolades just because you think somehow you deserve them. We don’t deserve anything in this life. Just this little thing I have with a concept called humility.

One Bonus Prediction. In days to come, Michael Jackson’s death will be revealed to be not all it was initially reported. Shocking or saddening revelations will follow, along with a lot of finger-pointing by various factions. And the press will eat it up, because they’ve got to have something to fill their time with, and they sure ain’t gonna comment on the President’s bumbling. No special insight here on my part. I’m just sayin’.

  1. As I go to post this, one has surfaced on Facebook this morning: “Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. Two white women in one day!” I call that a twofer.
  2. I don’t know what allegedly gave the Mayans special insight as to when the world will end. Those who say they are “experts” say that it is because the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. Funny, I thought it ended then because that’s when they ran out of room on the rock they carved it in. Hey, my desk calendar ends in December. Does that mean there’s no 2010?
  3. Remember, the world was supposed to end as the calendar flipped from 1999 to 2000 (c.f. Prince) – and 2000 was supposed to be the year Elvis made his back-from-the-dead comeback (because his shows always began with the “Theme from 2001” – never mind that this was not actually the name of that particular piece of music).
  4. Although John apparently declared that Paul was the Walrus. Or something like that.