Reflections on the Passing of Pop Royalty

I felt compelled to write something about the passing of Michael Jackson – after all, the name of this blog is "Pop Culture Gangster" and Michael was the "King of Pop."  However, since there has been about ten million articles and blogs already written on the topic, I knew I couldn't add much to the stories written about his accomplishments, his contributions to music and dance, and the tragic figure that he had become in what turned out to be the last years of his career and life.

What did intrigue me was the sheer volume of articles, stories, and overall outpouring of feelings about Michael Jackson as both an artist and a cultural icon.  I don't personally remember the passing away of John Lennon or Elvis Presley, so I really don't have a reference point for something like this – an artist who has global appeal and influence being taken away from their fans earlier than anyone would have thought. 

It made me wonder who else in the world of music might have such a big cultural impact with their passing – who else might get a slew of schedule-shifting television specials put together and broadcast within 48 hours of their death? 

As I developed a list in my head, I realized that most of the artists who come to mind were… well, older.  Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Mick Jagger and/or Keith Richards all immediately come to mind.  Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys may also make the cut (or at least he should).

What's interesting about that list is that none of them had a debut album that came out after the 1975.  It is difficult to think of an artist whose initial recording was released in the last 30 years, endeared themselves to many millions of fans crossing over generations, and have maintained their cultural and artistic relevance.  The only artists that come to mind are Madonna, Prince and U2. 

One could argue that the lack of those major, global arena-packing stars is a sign that popular music's quality peaked sometime in the late 60's – early 70's and has declined since then.   It would make sense that in our hyper-connected world it would be easier for pop stars to become global megastars.  However, I don't think the quality of music has declined and believe that our connected age has ironically made it more difficult for a star to obtain that critical mass for "global domination." 

These two issues are actually intrinsically linked.  There is plenty of good music still being made out there – in fact, in the coming weeks, I hope to share my thoughts on a few artists that I"ve recently discovered which I think are making original, high quality music.  They are also artists who can easily make a respectable living monetarily while staying true to their artistic goals thanks to the new global village.  Big contracts with big record labels selling big numbers of albums isn't the only measure of success any more. 

With all the options available to both artists and fans to distribute and obtain music, it is easier to follow more bands – especially more obscure bands in small genres – that there isn't a need for people to gravitate towards a single band.  That diversity of music is good for music and art – but bad for mega-global superstars. 

The music industry is well aware that every time they lose an artist like Michael Jackson, they not only lose a great musician but a rare breed in today's world: an artist that can move millions of units quickly and easily, and reach across generations and demographics.  It is a great irony that as music has become more liberated, it also means that more people who are interested in the music have access to it, but it results in less people are interested in a singular sound or artist. 

That brings us back to Michael Jackson - an example of pure showmanship and talent that can impress anyone with ears and eyes willing to listen and look.  There is no doubt that he had both – in case you didn't know, he wrote some of his biggest hits himself, including "Bad," "Beat It," "Billie Jean," and "Smooth Criminal" all great pop classics.  He had an ear for an infectious hook, but he also often wrote surprisingly personal lyrics, not just light fluff. 

His influence is so far-reaching, it is difficult to gauge what would happen to him in today's age – would he reach the same levels of fame?  Would he be able to break through the cacophony of artists and genres available in stores and on line? 

The days of the global mega-star are probably numbered – as I said, most of the artists on that list are getting on in years.  Perhaps they will live well into their old age and when they pass there will be much mourning but not shock.  If they are taken away earlier than that, perhaps the world will stand in the solidarity that only comes from the horror of losing someone too soon.

Either way, the passing of Michael Jackson isn't just a loss of a great artist and performer, but is a step closer towards the end of an era in popular music that has existed since the first time Elvis Presley shook his hips on TV, one that could be replaced by a world where artists perform for smaller, more devout audiences.  We may not see a day again anytime soon when we all gather around the TV for a performance like Michael's on the Motown's 25th Anniversary Special, but hopefully we'll be able to gather around the iPod and hear his influence among many artists for many years to come.  

For the Howard Roarks Out There

I'm a bit of an architecture and civil engineering geek.  I can't pass by an article in a magazine or newspaper that is about a cool new building, a major construction project, or a proposed new development.  It doesn't get much more modern and non-traditionalist than this…  Top 10: Architecture of Star Wars.  While the article itself is pretty interesting, I would encourage you to follow some of the links they provide throughout the article, especially if you are a design/architecture geek like me.

Social Networking News

So I have this blog (obviously).  I also have another blog where I review hot wings, and another that I don't attend to that much which tracks my barbecue experiences.  I also have my main domain name, which is simply a holding place for most of my links.   Then of course I have the obligatory Facebook profile, and I even still have a MySpace profile (that no one has done anything with in about eight months thanks to Facebook).  I've got my profile up on, and for more professional-related endeavors, I have my LinkedIn profile, and one on Plaxo, plus a few others that sites have cobbled together for me, with mixed results, which is interesting – social networking that I don't even have to interact with – is that called anti-social networking or social anti-networking? I recently joined on the Twitter bandwagon with an account there, which I find myself using far more than I thought I would.  Part of the reason is because I have it linked in to my Facebook profile, which uses my Tweets to update my status.   I also have my Yelp! account and Digg account linked into my Facebook profile.  Which means my Yelps, Diggs and Tweets are showing up here on this blog and on my Facebook profile. 

If you followed all that, then you should read this article about "Time Saving Social Networking Strategies" which makes me look like a rank amateur.

With all this online networking, it is bound to lead to some off-line meet-ups, and sure enough: Forrester is hosting a "Tweetup" in Boston in July, and there's even a new company dedicated to it called Tweetnetworking.   Do people Twitter about being at a Tweetup?  Do they Twitter while there? 

Remember when the Matrix movies seemed like a real head trip?  The whole alternate reality thing seems kinda tame now that we're in the world of Web 2.0!

What I Believed in “Night At the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”

I wasn't a huge fan of the original Night at the Museum – I thought it was a cute, fun movie, that's about it.  We went to see the sequel in IMAX, and while the action and special effects were great, there were times where the movie's sheer ignorance of reality interfered with the enjoyment of the movie. 

Here is what I CAN wrap my head around:

  • A magical ancient Egyptian tablet bringing museum pieces to life
  • An ancient Egyptian doorway to the underworld that releases evil spirits

Yes, those two far-out things I can understand. What I CAN'T understand is:

  • What the heck is going to happen come the morning when the Smithsonian workers show up and find the entire front of the building smashed?
  • At the end of the movie, Larry looks at his watch while standing in Washington D.C. and says "only an hour to sunrise" but then has Amelia Earhart fly them to New York City… in a prop plane… and the sun still hasn't risen yet when they land 
  • After Amelia drops off Larry and the other exhibits, she takes off to fly back to D.C., which would all have to happen before sunrise since otherwise, she'd be crashing (not to mention the fact that the sun is visible earlier in NYC than in Washington and in the air in a plane than on the ground)
  • That the Washington Mall would be so empty of people and government security that a 40-foot tall walking Abraham Lincoln wouldn't attract a little attention
  • That a major street in NYC would be empty enough to land a plane at any time of night
  • That the tablet apparently has a MASSIVE working radius.  They take it from the art museum to the main Smithonian building to the Air & Space museum and to the Lincoln Memorial, while one of the characters is at the White House.   This is a distance of a little over a mile, just from the Smithsonian to the Lincoln memorial.   If this is how it worked, shouldn't all the museums within about a 1.5 mile radius in Manhattan start coming to life in the first film?

Here's the problem – obviously  you need to suspend some belief when it comes to a movie like this, and I'm more than willing to go along with the idea that an Egyptian tablet has some power to bring museum piece to life (as odd of a power as that is…).  I'm not that cynical.  However, when they start getting sloppy with things like "an hour to sunrise" and then they fly to NYC in a prop plane and it is still dark out… then I start questioning everything, and I end up asking questions that are way too logical, like "what's the working radius of the tablet?" 

What ends up happening is that these stupid little mistakes in the story become downright distracting and ends up taking away a lot of the magic from an otherwise enjoyable fun little movie with a lot of action.