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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Jackson’

Our culture has an endless fascination with the rich and famous, which becomes especially acute when an iconic star passes away (e.g. Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston…).  Last week’s untimely death of pop music star, “Prince” is a case in point.  For days, or sometimes weeks, the media is saturated with images of the star, clips of weeping fans, tributes from other celebrities, intrigue about the facts surrounding their death, a sudden burst of interest in their catalog from decades ago, often times revisionist retrospectives of their body of work, a slow parade of alleged insiders who claim to have some new tidbit of information, and sometimes even a star-studded funeral to send them off.  We tend to view their life through the lens of their glorious accomplishments and their vast renown; but I would suggest that more often than not they pass from this life broken and alone.  The myth of fame and fortune is stripped bare by death.  I doubt seriously that anyone has ever asked that their gold records, or Grammy award, or Oscar, or Olympic Medal be brought to their bedside as they face their final minutes.  Ultimately, the quality of a life isn’t defined by its shiniest moments, but by those day to day instances when no one is looking.  In the end, it will be about who we have loved, and who has loved us.  The piece that follows is something I wrote years ago to portray the emptiness of such an existence.  For me, fame and fortune is like this hollow mansion.

*

Hollow Mansion

*

My eyes flick open to the dim light of the pre-dawn morning

and my head throbs with the dull ache of the night before

There is a beautiful woman lying beside me

but I find myself straining to remember her name

When she wakes, I’ll have to pretend that last night meant something to me

but for now, I couldn’t be more alone

*

As I stare at the ornate ceiling of this massive room

I can see all the cracks along its edges

They not only speak of the sandy soil on which this estate was built

they testify to the weak foundation of this new life that I have established

While everyone else’s eyes are naturally drawn to the beautiful gold trim

all I can see is the fractured façade

While they all seem to notice the extravagant furnishings in each room

I find myself focusing on the vast empty space created by every high ceiling

*

These thoughts take me back to the water stained ceiling of my childhood bedroom

and I find myself wondering whatever became of that little boy

I also remember lying awake in a little trailer, many years ago

wondering how I was going to support my young bride & our new baby

Back then, paying the bills was my greatest struggle

but now that those debts are more than covered, I’m struggling with the price that was paid

*

I’d trade everything I’ve gained to erase the hurt and confusion in my children’s faces

as I pulled our family apart on the way to making my own dreams come true

I’d give it all back for the woman who loved me

when I had nothing to offer other than a desire to share her life

I’d gladly forfeit the drafty halls of this hollow mansion

for the warmth of the place that I used to call home

I’ve finally figured out that it’s better to have one person who loves you for who you really are

than to have ten thousand who love the person they imagine you to be

*

Unfortunately, by the time I came to understand this, it was too late

As the raging waters of my desire had already swept away any moorings for a bridge back

So as the first rays of the sun begin to creep across the windows

I swallow a couple of painkillers to prepare for the day that lies ahead

And as the beautiful stranger lying next to me stirs from her sleep

I push my face into a smile and utter, “Good morning darling”

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1. Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin: Originally hired as a bassist for the popular English band, “The Yardbirds”, Jimmy Page eventually came to share guitar duties with the legendary Jeff Beck. But as the group began to unravel, Page attempted to put together a new lineup, and tour as, “The New Yardbirds”. Allegedly, John Entwistle of “The Who” joked that this new band was going to go down like a lead balloon, so when the original band members forbade Page to use the Yardbirds name, “Led Zeppelin” was born. Despite the bumpy transition, Led Zeppelin’s debut album was an immediate success, and went on to become a rock classic.
2. Achtung Baby – U2: From the band’s debut album, “Boy” (released in 1980) until their classic 1987 release, “The Joshua Tree”, U2 had experienced a steady rise in both artistic and commercial success. It wasn’t until the release of their 1988 documentary, “Rattle and Hum”, that the band received its first notable criticism, with some describing it as, “bombastic” and “overly pretentious”. Disillusioned by the music industry in general, and bored with what had become their signature sound, the group’s 1991 album, “Achtung Baby” was a radical departure in almost every way.
3. Off the Wall – Michael Jackson: The Jackson Five’s departure from Motown records in 1975 seemed to mark the end of an era. Though the group continued to tour and release records, their popularity steadily dwindled. Because Michael was the main songwriter, and focal point of the band, there was no reason to believe that a new solo record would do much to change that trend. But the 1979 release of the album, “Off the Wall” set off a new era of stardom for the singer that eventually eclipsed everything that had come before it. An artistic leap forward, it laid the foundation for the phenomenal “Thriller” album, which was released just a few years later, and went on to become the biggest selling album of all time.
4. 1984 – Van Halen: The years that followed the band’s spectacular 1978 debut release, “Van Halen”, found the group steadily touring and recording. And though it would be difficult to argue their ongoing success, it was hard not to notice the progressively declining quality of their albums. Despite its commercial success, longtime fans couldn’t help but be dismayed by the remake filled album, “Diver Down” from 1982. Given those factors, there was no reason to expect the stunning return to form that “1984” represented. On many levels it was the band’s most successful album.
5. A Momentary Lapse of Reason – Pink Floyd: For long time fans, it didn’t seem possible to make a legitimate Pink Floyd record without founding member Roger Waters. But guitarist David Gilmour and company did just that with this 1987 release. Though not necessarily ranked with their best work, this album was highly successful, and proved to be a credible addition to the bands enduring legacy.
6. Fleetwood Mac (1975) – Fleetwood Mac: By the time that Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks arrived, “Fleetwood Mac” had already been a band for almost a decade, and had released nine albums. But the addition of these two distinctive artists radically changed the chemistry within the group, and propelled them to a whole new level of popularity. This album not only topped the chart, it sold over 5 million copies, and produced three big radio hits (i.e. Rhiannon, Over My Head, and Say You Love Me). More importantly, it set the stage for the group’s next album, “Rumours”, which went on to be one of the biggest selling albums of all time.
7. Infinity – Journey: Originally formed in 1973, the band was made up of veteran players from the San Francisco bay area; including Santana alum Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon. But after the groups first three albums failed to consistently connect with a sizeable audience, their record company recommended a change in direction, including the incorporation of another vocalist. This shift from a jazz/rock to pop/rock style, and the addition of Steve Perry’s striking vocals, proved to be a winning combination, as their 1978 release, “Infinity” went on to achieve platinum status, and set off a string of highly successful albums.
8. Back in Black – AC/DC: The death of lead singer, Bon Scott, seemed to signal the end for Australian rock outfit AC/DC. His charisma, and distinctive growl, were at the heart of the band’s sound, and looked to be irreplaceable. At that time, few could have anticipated the emergence of new singer Brian Johnson, and the release of what is arguably the bands most complete album.
9. Third Stage – Boston: Though not considered to be on a par with the band’s first two albums (i.e. 1976’s “Boston” and 1978’s “Don’t Look Back”), this album is notable for the eight year span that preceded it’s 1986 release. Multiple law suits, and techno-wiz/guitarist/producer Tom Scholz’s constant tinkering, led to the delay. Despite the gap, this album did manage to continue the bands string of multi-platinum success.
10. Heaven and Hell – Black Sabbath: Considering that Ozzy Osbourne was the face, the voice, and ultimately the stage persona of the band, it seemed unlikely that the group could be successful without him. But when his rampant drug & alcohol abuse caused the band to “fire” him in 1979, they decided to regroup with former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Surprisingly, this new lineup reinvigorated the band’s music, and was well-received by die hard Sabbath fans. It’s interesting to note that it was the daughter of the band’s manager, Don Arden who recommended Dio as Ozzy’s replacement, and that years later she (Sharon Arden) became Mrs. Ozzy Osbourne.

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1.    ABBA Songs:  Quite possibly the guiltiest pleasure of all, much of ABBA’s music was kitschy and light weight; yet irresistible nonetheless.  Though never to be mistaken for high art, these songs still sparkle and dare you not to sing along.  Favorite – S.O.S.

2.    Three Dog Night Hits:  This bands eclectic catalog and shifting vocalists made them hard to pin down; but their knack for producing catchy songs, that get stuck in your head, is undeniable (e.g. Joy to the World, One, Celebrate, Liar, Shambala, Mama Told Me Not to Come, Never Been to Spain, Black & White).  Favorite – Liar

3.    Electric Light Orchestra Records:  Despite their progressive rock trappings, ELO was first and foremost a pop band.  Jeff Lynne’s penchant for Beatlesque hooks, combined with a group full of genuinely talented musicians, produced a bowl full of ear candy that’s still fun to dip into.  Favorite – Evil Woman

4.    Bread Ballads:  Though the lovelorn themes of their ballads could be a little overwrought at times, David Gates expressive rendering of these songs makes them hard to resist.  Favorites – Everything I Own & Guitar Man

5.    Michael Jackson Hits:  Though dubbed “The King of Pop” and posthumously hailed as some kind of pop culture martyr; few of Michael’s songs could actually stand on their own merit lyrically or musically.  Ultimately it was his genius as a performer that breathed life into them and rendered them unforgettable.  Favorite – Off the Wall

6.    Pre-Disco Era Bee Gees Hits:  Arguably, songs like “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart”, “Lonely Days” and “Run to Me” were the ultimate showcase for the collective vocal talent of the brothers Gibb.  They possess a timeless quality that their later disco era hits often lacked.  Favorite – To Love Somebody

7.    ZZ Top’s Pop Songs:  Though many a rock purist lamented when ZZ Top traded in their crunchy blues rock sound for the “Eliminator” era pop sheen of hits like “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs”, several of those songs have aged rather gracefully; still provoking a volume increase whenever they come on.  Favorite – Sharp Dressed Man

8.    Journey Records:  Although their lyrics were largely standard pop song fare, Journey consistently created well produced and highly listenable records.  Whatever they may have lacked in the lyrical department, they more than made up for with outstanding musicianship and the impassioned lead vocals of singer Steve Perry.  Favorites – Lights & Send Her My Love

9.    Eighties Synth Pop Hits:  In the early eighties, bands like “The Cars” and “Blondie” ushered in a new wave of young artists, many of whom were armed with state of the art synthesizers and other techno gear.  This produced a dazzling array of new sounds, as bands seemed to appear and evaporate on a daily basis.  Though the wave seemed to ebb rather quickly, it left behind a rich cache of pop gems that are still worth listening to.  Favorite Bands – Tears for Fears, The Pretenders, Til Tuesday, The Eurhythmics, The Cure, INXS, Men at Work

10.  Garth Brooks Songs:  Though disdained by many country music purists, Garth Brooks clearly has a way with a song and knows how to connect with an audience.  In the end, we all would probably admit to having “Friends in Low Places” or maybe even to being one.  Favorite – The Dance

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