Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Elvis, Michael Jackson, and Sarah Palin

I was never an Elvis fan as a kid. In my world you either grew up with the Beatles or with Elvis but never both.

I missed any of the “good” Elvis years. I was born in 1969 so by the time I aware of him he had turned from the young, edgier, star to an older, bloated, caricature. He shook hands with Richard Nixon while professing his anti-hippie views. What’s not to dislike?

Looking back historically it became clear to me that in his prime Elvis was the real deal. Elvis had a much richer voice than any of the Beatles. Elvis’ music was just as catchy. Many artists whom I love were greatly influenced by Elvis, from Jim Morrison to Thin Lizzy to U2.

But Elvis had some bad advisers, Colonel Tom Parker being the worst. He isolated the young artist, turned him toward some bad decisions and away from some opportunities. That and Col. Parker dealt himself 50% of the profits from any Elvis venture.

While it may have been clear that Elvis wasn’t comfortable telling his management “no,” a lot of people seemed unable or unwilling to tell Elvis “no,” most tragically his doctors. He was over-prescribed many drugs. Clearly his death was hastened by his prescription drug abuse. I’m sure he didn’t think he had a drug problem, since the drugs were given to him by doctors. He wasn’t scoring drugs like some dirty hippie, right?

Elvis: dead on the toilet. An inglorious end to be sure.

I was never a Michael Jackson fan either.

Had I been exposed to more Motown records as a kid, I might have been a fan of Michael Jackson from his Jackson Five days. Not so much. Of course I had heard plenty of Jackson Five songs (like I had heard lots of Elvis songs) but I wouldn’t have went out and bought any of their albums.

Off the Wall came out in 1979. By that time I was a rabid KISS fan and wanted nothing to do with dance music. 1979 was all about the FM soundtrack (great, great collection of songs there, worthy of a blog post of its own), or even the Grease soundtrack, but Michael Jackson might has well have been a Gibb brother. No thanks.

So when Thriller came out, there was just no way. A ton of #1 songs is hard to argue with, but c’mon… (or “sham-on”-on, or “mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-coo-sa”-on) dance music is dance music. I might tap my toes to it but I’d sooner buy a Madonna album (yick).

So while Michael Jackson was clearly talented and very influential, I didn’t fully appreciate him as an artist. I might not even now but I won’t rule out feeling kinder about the music as I age, if only for nostalgia.

Like Elvis, Michael Jackson also had bad advisers, first and foremost his father, Joe Jackson. It seems unquestionable that Michael’s strange adulthood was the result of an abusive childhood. But there were more bad advisors including lots and lots of folks who were attracted to Mr. Jackson because of his money and in spite of his just plain weirdness.

If you are rich enough you can buy yourself a chimp (against better judgment) but for the love of Dog somebody should have said “no’ to his inviting children for sleepovers. No, stop, wait a minute partner, whoa hold up there little buckaroo – whatever verbiage conveyed the message most effectively.

Like Elvis, he had plenty of doctors who wouldn’t refuse his request for dangerous prescription drug and, like Elvis, prescription drug abuse contributed to his untimely death.

The similarities between Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley seem clear but why, you might ask, am I grouping my Govenor, Sarah “Skinny G” Palin with them?

Skinny G (or as she will now be known on this blog “Skinny GOA”) shared a lot of traits with The King and The King of Pop.

All three were talented, all three were lucky, all three were ambitious, all three are American icons beloved by zealous fans, and all three had some of their wackiest ideas validated by sycophants who had little regard for the health and wellbeing of their employers/colleagues.

Skinny GOA has been something of a giant-slayer for most of her political career. She beat incumbents to win the office of Mayor of Wasilla. The Republican Party old boy network didn’t like her but she still won the office of Governor of Alaska. She was the ultimate underdog. You had to love her.

Well, you might not have but I certainly did. I never had a pair of blue suede shoes or a red leather jacket with lots of zippers but I jumped on the Palin bus. Heck, I ran to catch it.

She was a true-believer and although I didn’t share either her religious or most of her conservative political beliefs, I loved her go-getter spirit and I figured that as Governor she wouldn’t be able to actually do any damage to our civil liberties. Alaska is a red state but we do things our own way. We have no problem telling our government that they are full of crap whether it’s because they are leaning too far left or right.

Then a curious thing happened. John McCain tapped her as his Vice Presidential pick for the 2008 Presidential election.

Skinny GOA had previously done things her way, following her beliefs, and ignoring any discouraging words. This had worked for her. She probably thought her string of political good luck was not just incredible but actually God’s will.

I don’t know this to be true but it’s the only explanation I can come up with for what has followed the 2008 election loss. She didn’t go home and quietly regroup. She didn’t return to Alaska to focus on serving out her gubernatorial term.

Skinny GOA had become a national celebrity and it seems there wasn’t a camera she didn’t want to stand in front of or a microphone she didn’t want to speak into. From People to Runner’s World, she was a magazine icon. She was one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” She flew away to attend lavish parties and give speeches and stump for other Republicans.

And since it has become clear that she would have had a tough fight for reelection she has decided to resign her office a year and a half before the end of her first term. Why? She claims she is doing Alaska a favor by not being a lame duck and that she has a higher calling.

This scares me. If she is really as unswerving in her beliefs as it appears, especially in her belief that she is always right, she’s only going to listen to people who agree with her.

Skinny GOA, I know you don’t take advice from bloggers and you’ve never taken advice from me personally (although she has stopped wearing Bono sunglasses in photos) but please, please use this new opportunity. You already have a book contract due, just take some time to lay low and reflect.

I know you don’t believe the media who berate you (and they have mercilessly) but don’t believe all the cheerleaders either.

Not everyone who agrees with you is your friend. Good fortune is not an endorsement from God that you have been chosen for some special mission. Having a higher profile doesn’t make you right, it just makes you louder.

Fame and not being told “no” killed Elvis and Michael Jackson.

It is my sincere wish that Sarah Palin’s post-gubernatorial life is long and happy and healthy.

I also hope she receives, and more importantly takes, better advice than the other mavericky icons before her.