I knew the Cuddy Family when…

June 18, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Posted in alaska, anchorage, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I spotted this neatly written graffiti message on a bridge railing in the city park the Cuddy Family bankrolled.  I survived the Anchorage of the late 1980s — sort of — but I’m assuming the writer is referring to a different Cuddy family.  [The real Cuddys were definitely not holed up in a rental eating survival food, as near as I can tell.] This other Cuddy Family is everyman — people who were around to witness every wonder of nature, every debacle and myth Alaska ever offered.

I knew the Cuddy Family when….

…they could buy a politician for the price of a riding lawn mower.
…they headed down the Stampede Trail with a .22 rifle and 10 lbs. of rice.
…”the stars were aligned” politically in Alaska and the USA.
…street dancers studied Dostoevsky.
…Anchorage turned to a miserly curmudgeon for leadership in time of greatest famine.
…pot got more votes than the winning candidate at the top of the ticket.
…”Secede or Succumb” was a popular bumper sticker.
…lying on your resume’ was just good business practice [pre-internet era] — unless somebody found out you weren’t really ever on the City Council in Helena, Montana.
…begging for change on a street corner was practiced by a happy soul who was the spiritual opposite of most of today’s haggard cardboard sign holders.
…”cheating the other guy” was a funny idea [before we became the other guy].
…some clown wanted to turn us green!
…we did not cut down living artifacts like “loop trees”.
…we did not lust after chain restaurants.
…a truck stop grew up to be a five mile long flea market.

More later, as I think of them.  I have to work now.

Feel free to decode the ones above, or add some of your own.

Jackson’s impact

June 26, 2009 at 8:31 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Lukewarm pans by two of my Alaska media heroes today were a little disappointing.
Shannyn Moore said: “I’m shocked at the lionization of Michael Jackson. Isn’t anything else going on in the world? Really? Gold records, plastic surgery and little boys.”
and Aaron Selbig: “I’m sorry but Michael Jackson was a pedophile who got away with it because of his wealth.”

Perspective, please!  I’m a little older than either of these two, so I recall events a bit differently. 

It would have been enough for most child stars to have sung “I Want You Back”.  Jackson was ten when the song was a hit, his older brothers playing the music and Michael the writhing, soulful singer of songs with adult themes.  Rolling Stone’s Illustrated History of Rock and Roll describes the song this way:

“…the record explodes off the turntable with an intricate Sly [Stone]-influenced arrangement featuring some of the toughest bass, drum, paino and guitar playing on any soul record anywhere.”

And remember that this song was supposed to be in the category of bubblegum music — fluffy, watered down and meaningless.  It was anything but.  It may have been distributed partly on the back of cereal boxes, but it was the real thing!  The Jackson 5 went on to record many more hits, layering increasingly complex and multifaceted themes and musicianship.

In 1979, at age 20 Jackson released Off the Wall, a Quincy Jones produced masterpiece that cemented Jackson as the most talented working singer-composer-entertainer of his generation.  Relentlessly energetic, gritty, street smart, rhythmic, flawless.  Play this one today and it’s every bit as good as it ever was.

By the time of Thriller [1982], Jackson had been crowned King of Pop, and he was an unstoppable force.  He broke down all racial and cultural barriers.  Because of him there could later be De La Soul, Black Eyed Peas, Public Enemy and all the other artists who infused black culture into mainstream pop culture.  The world is a better place for all of that.  He accomplished it by brute force.  For all his effeminacy and kitschy pastiche, he was also an uncompromising, take no prisoners, winner take all madman who left everybody else in the dust.  There’s every reason to believe he could have regained his musical status or even exceeded it, given more time.

It’s worth mentioning that I wasn’t listening to mainstream music very much in 1982 — but I could still recognize and acknowledge that what Jackson was doing was monumentally groundbreaking and stunning.

Accusations of pedophilia were serious and troubling.  Also inconclusive, I think.  Is he guilty?  Who knows — a tossup, speculation.  Were the parents of the alleged victims opportunistic?  In a big way.

And holding the kid out over the railing — no one normal, who isn’t higher than a kite does anything like that. 

I suppose it’s just too tempting to fixate on what was wrong with Jacko [lots] than appreciate his accomplishments.  I think he’s the most important American pop musician ever — a catalyst, a tempestuous towering monster; a man with no peers.

Update: Words about Michael Jackson from another Clark:

MICHAEL JACKSON, R.I.P.: The ultimate tabloid celebrity was also the ultimate mess of contradictions, as you’ve long known. He was a devout student of classic R&B who had a series of nose and chin reconstructions, straightened his hair, and wore whiteface makeup on and off stage. He was a self-made sex symbol whose mark of “toughness” was to shriek in an attempt to reach the high notes of his early fame. He was a creator of effortless-sounding music whose life was rife with chaos, drug/alcohol abuse, and music-industry sycophants. He was a beloved entertainer who was accused of some of the most heinous crimes. He’d attained unlimited wealth (or the closest thing to that any African-American man has ever had), then spent the last third of his life scrambling to avoid total financial collapse.
In all the TV, radio, and online chatter in the first hours since his demise, I’ve been reading and hearing the wildest tales. Given what we know about his life, even the wildest of these rumors seem believable, whether or not they’re true.
My favorite quotation about Jackson came in a Facebook message from ex-Seattle semiotician Steven Shaviro: “MJ, in his musical genius and in his sad racial and sexual confusions, epitomized American civilization more than anybody else ever did.”

Update 2: This is a really great story, by a former Anchorage radio and TV personality.

Although it always seems convoluted and weird and hard to explain in retrospect, the work of artists who move us knits further into our fabric than the simple enjoyment of a particular tune. That’s how it is with my memory of Michael Jackson. His introduction to me was the sweet spot in the middle of a riot, so the two are understandably inseparable in my mind.

In 1969 I was 7 years old. So was my friend Kevin, but somehow he got a grade ahead of me at St. Frederick’s. During the riots in ’67 and ’68, we both wound up in the same dumpster after being chased by National Guardsmen during a daylight curfew. Why the hell they decided to let us all out of school the minute the violence spilled over from the high school into the rest of the city is beyond anyone’s comprehension save the combined wisdom of the Pontiac city council. It was their idea. Jesus, their IQs alone must’ve totaled 100. One of them even came up with a patently brilliant way to keep the riots from happening again.

“Hang basketballs in nets along the ceilings in the hallways of the high school. When the shit starts, let the basketballs loose. Everybody knows that niggers would rather shoot hoops than start trouble.” The remarks were met with laughter by those assembled. It was a different time then – really fucking different.

It was Kevin’s idea to jump into the dumpster. It proved to be a sagacious decision, one that kept my ass from getting kicked for the umpty-millionth time. But then again Kevin had rescued my white hide on more than one occasion. The day that Isaac Jefferson announced that he was going to kick every white muffucker’s ass on this here school bus, Kevin stepped between him and me.

“You leave him be. He’s not white. He’s Scottish.”
“It’s the same goddamn thing!”
“Ain’t. Now go on.”

Isaac complied, but I could tell it wasn’t because he was fooled by Kevin’s bullshit ruse. I suppose he thought that any white kid worthy of a black kid’s protection must be seated pretty damn close to the right hand of God. My ass went un-kicked for one more day.

The day we wound up in the dumpster, I just kept my trap shut and followed Kevin’s lead again. When he decided it was okay for us to bail, I followed him back to his house. We ducked and weaved through the neighborhood alleys and hedgerows like our TV heroes did on “Combat” and “Rat Patrol”. His mom wasn’t home, which was a good thing. Usually she’d be watching Jack Lalanne about that time, monopolizing the mammoth black and white Motorola. Now it was all ours.

There was an afternoon music show on. I can’t remember the name of it now, but most of the time it featured music and artists that we both found too emotionally distraught, sexually-charged and confusing for our pre-teen minds. But today we happened to cut in right in the middle of a song being sung by a brightly-dressed group of young black kids. The sight of them made Kevin squeak and run out of the room. “The Jackson 5!” He came running back in with a shampoo bottle in his hand and sang into it with all his prepubescent, falcetto might.

Simple as one two three
Do re mi…

I was dumbstruck. Here on the screen was a kid near my age that embodied every quality that I ever wanted to possess in all my seven years: good looks, soul, nuclear-grade charisma, and unmistakable blackness. I was so stunned I couldn’t move. Eventually Kevin shook me out of my worshipful stupor and got me to sing the Tito-and-Marlon parts.

“Whycome I gotta sang the backup all the time, Kevin?”
“Because white people cain’t sang. You know that.”

I had to agree. I was no Michael Jackson. And I had certainly never heard any white person sing like Michael Jackson.

Then something absolutely horrible happened. My parents moved us to Iowa. I was the only white kid I knew in Pontiac. And I was probably the only kid in Iowa who thought he was black. After being weaned on Motown, I had to learn to love Skynyrd, Styx, Head East, Zeppelin, and Molly Fuckin’ Hatchet.

Redemption came when Michael released “Off The Wall” in 1979. I jammed a copy into the cassette player in Jay Bocchart’s Chevrolet Sex Van and changed that white boy’s world permanently. The way I remember it, Michael proved to be the gateway drug that led Jay to Earth Wind & Fire, The Ohio Players and Parliament, which in turn led to a funk-inspired sojourn to Michigan City, Indiana to purchase a pair of six-inch Sly Stone stacks. Or maybe that was Jeff Hundley who bought the stacks. Either way, famous negroes were beginning to corrupt (or save – depending) the youth of the corn belt and I was glad to have played a part.

My first semester of college, I had sex roughly three hundred and fifty million times after using a Jackson-laced soundtrack as a seduction tool.

When I was 20 years old and had become a jaded, cocaine-fueled Top 40 disc jockey, Michael released “Thriller”. Shortly thereafter, his fame swelled to rival the girth of the sun. The monumental impact of the album was lost on me. The station I worked for had the album in a rotation so tight the tracks practically overlapped. I was numb to it. Shortly thereafter I lost touch with his music altogether.

Tonight I started over at ABC.

I love you, Michael. Thanks for everything.


Update 3: More testament to the depth Jackson’s appeal — punk rockers, even!

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