when did you get back from the moon

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A paragraph I covet, from Margo Jefferson's On Michael Jackson, talking about the latter MJ's performance of "Billie Jean" on the Motown 25th anniversary special (itself now almost 25 years ago):

"'Billie Jean' is a song about anxiety and guilt, desire and resentment; fathering a child and being a child. In the bridge, when he sang of how Mama warned him, 'Be careful what you do / because a lie becomes the truth,' he jumped straight into the air three times. The genie in the bottle is a young man who can't control his energies. In the repeat bridge, as he recalled 'the smell of sweet perfume / She brought me to her room,' he jumped from foot to foot with his knees up, like a boy having a tantrum."

I'm reading it because I'm in the middle of a big listening-to-Michael-Jackson assignment (to give my ears something to do while my eyes and hands are busy on the Great Big Project); also discovering that the pumped-up, slicked-out arrangements of the Jacksons' post-5, pre-split albums are my kinda thing in a way they never really were before. "Can You Feel It" used to be my idea of a punch line; now I... feel it.

My orbit right now is tiny; there are a few days in each week when I don't leave the house at all. Today's expedition outside included a 70-family garage sale. The first house we went to has a couple of attached apartments whose tenants apparently tend to leave behind music when they move out. There was a suitcase full of jewel cases for enticing things: Nurse With Wound, Stereolab, Thinking Fellers, Patsy Cline, the Urinals. How much? "A quarter apiece. They're all empty--somebody just left the cases." But there was also a box of old LPs, all evidently from 1970 plus or minus a year and all well-played and well-loved: Willie Mitchell, Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway, Al Green, King Curtis. A handful of those went home with me.

(Willie Mitchell is playing right now: "Wade in the Water." Every time I hear anyone's version of that song I get a little flush of shame that I didn't recognize it as the source of Tony! Toni! Toné!'s "Little Walter" for years.)

This coincides, more generally, with my rediscovering the pleasure of music after a few months where listening to recordings seemed more like a responsibility than like something I did for fun. (Most people probably didn't notice I was having that phase; I think I hid it reasonably well.) What was responsible for the reawakening? Besides that Arthur Russell thing I mentioned a few weeks ago, probably the Blow's Paper Television, and a curious little synchronicity where a few things over the course of a few days reminded me of how much I loved Shudder to Think in 1994, including finding out what a Kissi penny is. (I downloaded a couple of songs from A Shudder to Think Tribute--you know, guys, it's customary to give these things a title in addition to the descriptor--and was pleasantly surprised by the Firebird Band's version of "She Wears He-Harem," or rather by the fact that it doesn't try to sound like STT's version.)

Went with the Small One to the Belmont library's toddler-age story hour today, at which so many other baby/parent dyads showed up that the facilitator read stories and sang songs for a few minutes and then just let the babies wrestle with each other and toys in a big happy knot on the floor. At one point a general wave of crying broke out for a minute or two. "It's okay! It's okay!" I murmured into my baby's ear. "We're all upset about habeas corpus and the torture bill and the Public Expression of Religion Act! But at least it's not like they're amendments--they're blatantly unconstitutional, as I hope even the current Supreme Court is going to have to admit, and they really just look like show-off bills to lead into mid-term elections. Plus Mark Foley, as Slate put it, just 'hit career-alt-delete.' There's hope, little one!"

1 Comments

bitterbyrden said:

Kissi penny! That's awesome. I love that.

And, matching the choreography to the lyrics of Billie Jean -- that's awesome. Knowing what we know (or assume) now, it's practically canon: sometimes Michael's the boy having the tantrum, but sometimes he's the boy and other times he's the tantrum.

What a creepy world. Squeeze your child affectionately for me, please. And his mom. And his dad. And Portland. It's okay with me if you do that all in the privacy of your own hermitage, too.

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This page contains a single entry by Douglas published on September 30, 2006 10:43 PM.

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