I spent the Saturday after Michael Jackson died laughing and talking smack with a bunch of my John Muir buddies at a fun campus picnic sponsored by the alumni networking site, www.GoMustangs.ning.com. (If you went to Muir you need to check out this site! Props to Nishon Paxton for setting it up). The good times continued that evening when a few of us met at the Vertical wine bistro in Old Town to celebrate our dear friend RJ's birthday. We wound up at Twin Palms where a live
band was playing Old School party music including, naturally, a super-size helping of Michael Jackson jams. We had a ball dancing to the classic songs that shaped our teenage and young adult years. It's a testament to Michael and his collaborators (Quincy Jones, Rod Temperton, et al) that those songs are so artistic and timeless that even a cover band can make them sound great!
When the band took a break the DJ kept the MJ celebration going and we were all out there doing the zombie dance from "Thriller." Then, the mixmaster changed up. He slammed us back into the present day with a monotonous house track.
Please don't stop the muuuu-sic!
Please don't stop the, Please don't stop the
Please don't stop the muuuu-sic!
Then the DJ dropped some rap song about guys getting intoxicated and "making it rain" $100 bills on exotic dancers with big behinds.
Hearing those songs right after a Michael Jackson medley was actually depressing. It demonstrated just how far mainstream music has deteriorated since the heyday of the King of Pop. Michael Jackson's next-level of artistry highlights just how simplistic, uninspired, formulaic, unimaginative and deliberately commercial a lot of today's mainstream music has become.
Along with being artistically superior to a lot of today's sounds, Michael Jackson's music was upbeat, happy, fun and idealistic. It was all about love, the celebration of life, bringing people together and making the world better. That's why folks in every corner of the world connected with Michael; we were all touched by his joyful, optimistic, humanitarian vibe. And The King wasn't alone in embracing those themes. That's what music in the '60s, '70s and much of the '80s was all about. Those of us who grew up in Pasadena's wonderful, integrated schools in that era lived the reality of those musical messages.
But today's music is rife with conflict. So many songs overflow with profanity, violence, pornographic sex, selfishness, greed and deceit. Turn on the radio or the TV video networks and you hear song after song about strip clubs, dope dealing, gun violence, drug and alcohol abuse, guys bragging on their gang affiliations, guys and girls cheating on each other, people defining their worth by material wealth (even wealth obtained through illicit or illegal means). Every other album's got a parental advisory label on the front. Dis tracks are everywhere and beefs between artists spill over from the recording studio into real life so that the music industry is divided into antagonistic cliques and camps.
Suffice it to say that I was happy when the band came back from their break and resumed their Michael Jackson tribute. Hearing those happy, empowering and amazingly-crafted tunes reminded me of what once was and what could be again if we all tried a little harder.
My daughters and I put an American flag up in front of our house on the morning of the 4th of July. The flag is a complicated symbol for our people and plenty of friends have told me over the years that raising Old Glory is insulting or naïve considering all the racist oppression (much of it government-sponsored) that's been dumped on us throughout American history. I empathize with that point of view but I've never had a problem waving the flag for two basic reasons which I'd like to run past you now.
First of all, the flag belongs to us, because America belongs to us. Racists want the world to believe that the United States was built and made great entirely by white men. But we know better. The U.S. has always been racially and ethnically diverse and the countless contributions by men and women of color -- on all levels of society - have defined this nation from the very beginning. Our blood, sweat and tears, our intellect, ingenuity and joy are integral parts of the American historical, institutional and cultural fabric. So, no matter what anybody tries to say, the United States is, has been and forever will be our country!
My second reason for displaying the flag is that it symbolizes the ideals stated in the Declaration of Independence and the laws codified in the Constitution -- the two great documents which define our nation and which were crucial to our struggle for freedom inside the "Land of the Free." The righteous battles for civil rights were fought through boycotts, marches, sit-ins and voter registration campaigns. But, ultimately, our victories over segregation and discrimination were secured in the federal courts where heroes like NAACP lawyer Thurgood Marshall used the U.S. Constitution to overturn one racist law after another.
Malcolm X made a profound point when he said that if we truly were Americans we wouldn't need Constitutional Amendments to protect us and to ensure our freedom. That's true. But because a lot of very un-American Americans were committed to denying us our rights (which, according to the Constitution are God-given), we needed the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Once those were ratified, our people gained the legal ammunition to ultimately destroy legalized segregation and discrimination.
The Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution lay out a philosophical and legal framework which leaves America no legal or ethical choice except to live up to the ideals of "liberty and justice for all" - even if America continually has to be forced, kicking and screaming to do so. America is a concept which demands equality and freedom for all. That is an ideal worth celebrating. That is what the flag represents to me, and this is why I flew the flag on the 4th.
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.
Think! It ain't illegal . . . yet!