Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Why? Why? Human nature. Why? Why?

A good friend of mine in Nashville asked me the other day over the phone what I made of all this social networking stuff. "Isn't it kind of what you have always been doing?"

It's true - I'm not very good at very many things, but social media does make it much easier to do things I was pretty good at when they were much harder to do, like connect with people in distant places and stay connected over distances and share stories and songs with people I seldom get to see.

Hey, I'm the kid who won a national letter writing contest when I was 13. My regional post office was in East St. Louis, an all-black hamlet, where I went to accept my award - right after I was almost killed in a motorcycle accident, and so was highly susceptible to life.

I was growing up, at the time, in Granite City, Illinois, an all-white steel town. Watching that black mayor and that black postal master riff verbally, back and forth, was an ear opener, for me, on the possibities of language and the intelligence of African American men. It changed me forever for the better in ways I am still discovering, as the white guy who now works at the black newspaper.

I worked all day, today, in a black newspaper's newsroom, as the Michael Jackson funeral ceremony poured into the room from our tiny television. Like millions of people, I will continue thinking about the event and the music and life of Michael Jackson for a long time to come.

We never gave up our front page to his passing - just a headshot teaser to the arts page, which he dominated last week, as he will dominate our national celebrity column this week - but almost everyone in our newsroom was knocked out by this unexpected death and the way it forced us to revisit the incredible and disturbing life that has now ended.

And the music! Everybody wanting to testify as to what was their jam.

After some thought, and research to remind myself what I might have overlooked, I decided (another surprise) that "Can't Stop til You Get Enough" is my jam, the one song of Michael's I'd keep with me if I could have only one.

A surprise, because for most of my life the Michael Jackson song I have kept closest to me is "Human Nature," from Thriller, an album I experienced from the day of its release and cherished at the initial height of its towering popularity.

This is all bringing me back to being a creature of the internet before the internet was created. For I remember very well being a teenager in Granite City, Illinois, perched on a cheap bunk bed in a small, poorly made apartment building that would be classified Section 8 not long after we left it.

I would lay in bed with the stereo playing but a tiny black & white TV in bed with me, playing soundlessly. I would spin records and flip channels and mix my own music videos in my mind while also reading a book - perhaps The Stand by Stephen King, published in 1978, just four years before Thriller was released in 1982. Though four years were a lifetime to a boy my age.
Kinda like now, all of us, reading email, listening to music, reading stories online, watching videos, all staring at a laptop like the little boy on his bunkbed.

"Why? Why? Tell them that it's human nature. Why? Why?" I actually remember lying on that bunkbed and applying this rather expulcatory reasoning to my own early romantic indiscretions, as if it were inevitable to screw around.

Michael, as I read from the record label, was only the messenger. This infidelity song was written by Steve Porcaro, formerly of Toto, and John Bettis, a former band member of Richard and Karen Carpenter's who penned the lyrics to many of their hits, as well as "Crazy For You" (Madonna) and "Slow Hand" (The Pointer Sisters), all songs I love.

Now that last bit was cheating on my part. That's one thing the internet is great at but at which I have always sucked - remembering names, dates and details.

I indulged in these memories, really, as an excuse to share a new cover of "Human Nature" by Uni & her Ukelele featuring Griffin Point. That's a picture of her up there from her MySpace page. Looks like she would have fit right in over at Neverland Ranch ...


"Human Nature"
(Porcaro, Bettis)
Uni & her Ukelele

From the free-download MOONLIGHT, GOOD TIMES & BOOGIE A Cheese on Toast tribute to Michael Jackson.


None of this matters much alongside K. Curtis Lyle's poem about Michael Jackson and his death, "The Coming of Man," which I take to be definitive.

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