Friday, June 26, 2009

It's Good (and Bad) to Be the King

Officially, that joke about Michael Jackson going shopping at K-Mart has become unfunny as Michael Jackson succumbed to the effects of being the king of something yesterday. He was the King of Pop, and it killed him.

If you look back through the history of kings, you will see that all of them died eventually for some reason or another. King Henry VIII of England suffered tragically from being married all those times and from eating things like pudding of goose blood. Elvis Presley, of the kingdom of Rock and Roll, died after eating deep fried things and pills, followed by never pooping. And, of course, no amount of moisturizer could have saved King Tut.

Being a king is hard work. You have a lot of followers. People scrutinize your every move. And the amount of gold you're expected to wear is bound to lead to some kind of scoliosis. (Or in the case of King Midas, a severely painful affliction and deep regret bought on my an itch in a very unfortunate location.)

Beyond that, there is also the fear of being overthrown at any moment. Elvis feared the Beatles. Henry VIII feared James IV of Scotland. And Tutankhamun feared gangrenous leg fractures. And their fears were all completely understandable. James IV started an uprising. Tut broke his leg. And the Beatles were all secretly vampires.

Michael Jackson had his fears too: allergens, growing old, losing his fame, etc. (In a strange twist, he didn't fear public speaking, disfigurement, or having no beer money.)

And so, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, has now tragically joined the ranks of the rest of those kings. King George, who lost the U.S. colonies to some rebellious shenanigans. King Lear, who lost all three daughters, his land, and his life. And King Kong, who lost his footing.

Michael Jackson, it might be argued, slowly lost his mind. He had more plastic surgery than is probably advisable. He dangled babies willy-nilly. He danced and waved through accusations, trials, and more Dateline specials than almost anyone who has ever lived. But, like most kings, he left his place in history. He was significant.

So, maybe he didn't defy the Pope and end up forming a whole new branch of religion or behead anybody. But he sure reigned a lot longer than that loser Edward VI.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My (Not So) Secret Ambitions

At the age of ten, I took up the clarinet.

I was going to be the world's greatest musician. From the moment I first wrapped my lips around that clarinet mouthpiece, I knew that suddenly the keys would make sense to me, and I would play a beautiful and very touching tune that would make my band teacher weep. How hard could it be?

Pretty hard, it turns out. There are so many holes in the clarinet. And these button things you have to hold down in random combinations. And you have to blow into it in a certain way so that the reed doesn't squeak. And stuff like that.

"Take your clarinet home and practice," our teacher reminded us. And did I? At first. And, boy, was I popular.

"Play us a song!" my grandparents would request, and I would entertain them with a few bars of "Go Tell Aunt Rhody." At the end of my performance, while my grandparents lamented the old gray goose and their eardrums, I would feel reassured that I was indeed the best musician of all time.

But soon, my grandparents lost interest, and it was up to me to simply practice of my own volition. With no captive audience, I found the clarinet to be rather boring. Not to mention that it made our dog howl. So my practices became shorter and shorter, until one day I just started to "forget" to bring it home every night.

"We paid $400 for that clarinet," my parents said. "You have to practice."
"Sure, sure," I replied, barely looking up from Nancy Drew and the Case of the Mysteriously Broken Clarinet Reed.

On the rare occasion I did bring it home, I shoved it into my oversized book bag and pretended I just had a lot of studying to do when my friends got suspicious.

At the age of thirteen, I took up the piano. "Look at me! I'm Jerry Lee Lewis!" I cried as I pounded out "The Rainbow Connection."
"That's good," said my piano teacher, "but your left hand isn't moving."
"But it's so haaaaaard to make my hands do different things at the same time!" I would whine. And my piano playing days were numbered.

"Hey, I know," I said at 15, "I'll take up the guitar!" And so I convinced my parents to buy me one for my birthday.
Two weeks later: Chords! I don't understand!

And so I gave my clarinet to my sister, my guitar to my brother, and only tinkered with the piano at Christmas when I needed accompaniment for my famous one-woman rendition of "Carol of the Bells."

Singing! Oh, yes. That was perfect. Who needs a musical instrument when you can sing? And so at 16, I decided to become a famous singer. Because if I really concentrated, I could do a pretty convincing mimic of Patsy Cline. "Sweeeeeeeeet dreams of youuuuuuuuuu!" I crooned night and day. And as Patsy spun in her grave and the glass in our bathroom windows rattled, I convinced myself that I was the best singer in the world.

It was about that same time that that hack Lee Ann Rimes became famous and stole my thunder and someone told me that I was too fat to be famous.

And so I gave up my singing career and just went to college instead. Which brings us to today, where I cannot play any musical instruments and I only sing when someone says, "How does that song go again?" (I'm lying. I totally sing every time I clean my apartment and think no one can hear me.)

So I didn't ever get famous through my musical ambitions. Will I ever? No. And will the music enjoying public be missing out on something great? Perhaps. I do look pretty awesome in faux leather.

Related: Eddie Izzard clip