Jeff Spevak, Writer

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Tag: Michael Jackson

Ryan, you couldn’t have done it without us

Ryan Adams.

An often-repeated story about Ryan Adams has him playing a solo acoustic show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. Someone in the audience is repeatedly shouting a request: “Play Summer of ’69!” Adams ends up storming into the audience, finds the guy, hands him two $20 bills and tells him to leave.

“Summer of ’69,” of course, is a pop hit by Bryan Adams. And a pop hit unworthy of Ryan Adams, apparently.

In the years since, the incident has been cast as a humorless rock star overreacting to a disrespectful, possibly drunk, fan. In a piece he wrote for The New York Times, Adams – Ryan, not Bryan – confessed that the incident left him so scarred that he had to go into therapy. And, perhaps in an effort to address this demon, Ryan Adams has since played “Summer of ’69” a few times at shows. Why, in one those moments of synchronicity that convinces you there is a God, and he has a sense of humor, the two men even share the same birthday, and Ryan has said he emails Bryan birthday good wishes.

I understand. One thing our artists share with the rest of humanity is they come in all flavors. Ryan Adams is one of the sensitive ones. Maybe that’s why I own a couple of his albums. I like the artists whose introspection spirals into self-flagellation.

But, I guess I won’t be buying Big Colors, the Ryan Adams album that was scheduled to be released in April. The Capitol Music Group, which was to distribute the album, will no longer do so. Adams has lost a couple of sponsors, radio stations are dropping him from their playlists. That’s in response to more than a half-dozen women having accused Ryan of manipulative behavior and harassment: Musicians that include Phoebe Bridgers, Courtney Jaye and Karen Elson. Or musicians who have confirmed he’s capable of such behavior: Jenny Lewis and Liz Phair. Accusations that include dangling career-enhancing promises in front of them in exchange for train-wreck relationships that have even included him threatening suicide. The accusers include his ex-wife, Mandy Moore, herself a musician who you may recognize from the television show This is Us. And there is one woman who says she was 14 when she first began trading sexually explicit texts with Adams. The FBI is supposedly looking into that one.

Adams denies the accusations, but does admit, “I am not a perfect man.” Yes, he’s confessed he’s had drug issues. And – just guessing here, I’m not a doctor – psychological issues. Yet in sharing his sensitive side with us, through song and his New York Times confessional, it doesn’t occur to Adams that others around him may have vulnerable psyches as well.

So this news goes hand-in-withered-claw with R. Kelly, the hip-hop artist who has been accused of having sex with an underage girl. A grand jury was seated Monday to hear the charges. And there is Forever Neverland, the documentary featured at the recent Sundance Film Festival. It airs stories by men, young boys at the time, who claim they were sexually assaulted by Jackson at his fantasy-driven ranch, Neverland.

Actually, this isn’t news. We’ve been hearing unsettling stories about R. Kelly for years. Stories, even, that he kept women as prisoners. And while I haven’t seen Neverland, I’m pretty confident that I know that story. Jackson owned massive amounts of child porn. And something else I read about a few years ago, a story that didn’t get much attention: After Jackson’s death, besides the child porn, investigators also found animal-torture videos. According to experts in child abuse, that kind of thing is a device used to break down a child’s resistance against his or her victimization.

Add to these the sordid side of the film world, and accusations of sexual harassment or abuse against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Woody Allen.

I suppose you could call me a hypocrite because you can no longer find the music of R. Kelly and Michael Jackson, and now Ryan Adams, in my music collection. They have been purged. Yet I have an album by the old Western swing bandleader Spade Cooley, who beat to death his estranged wife. I have records by Son House and Lead Belly, bluesmen who did time jail time for killing people. And some by Jerry Lee Lewis, who married his 13-year-old cousin. Maybe it’s the passage of time that allows these crimes to fall into the category of curious history.

But maybe, I just feel differently about a guy like Ryan Adams because it’s coming from my time, a moment of which I’m in charge.

None of these supposedly modern-day men have been found guilty of anything. But there is an air of entitlement here: People of power preying on the weak, whether you’re talking movie moguls or funny uncles. Or reality television stars who somehow stumble into the White House.

How do they get away with it?

They have our permission.

“Ryan had a network too,” Bridgers wrote on her Instagram account. She dated Adams, she says, until his “obsessive and emotionally abusive behavior” brought an end to their relationship. “Friends, bands, people he worked with. None of them held him accountable. They told him, by what they said or by what they didn’t, that what he was doing was okay. They validated him. He couldn’t have done this without them.”

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The Critical Mass

I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Oct. 31

This morning’s coffee was imported from Mexico, which you may interpret as a statement on immigration policy if you wish. First music of the day, the Debussy opera Pelleas et Melisande. It’s in French. The dog is chewing on a rawhide bone from Brazil.

1, In a front page dominated by analysis of the upcoming election on Tuesday (same stuff you’ve been reading for weeks), Page 1 shares a little space with this story: The first sign of Alzheimer’s disease is often “Unexplained Debt and Creditors’ Calls,” resulting from “an inability to understand money and credit, contracts and agreements.”  Remember that, as well, when casting your vote on Tuesday.

2, After the discovery of what appears to be two bombs on planes from Yemen, and bound for the United States, “White House officials do not want to look as if they are seizing on a potential catastrophe to win votes,” The Times writes. “But at the same time, they remember when President Obama was criticized when he said nothing publicly in the three days after an attempt to blow up an airliner on Dec. 25.” You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

3, I do not own a cell phone. It’s endorsing mediocre technology and communication. In the magazine this week, in a piece called “Funeral For a Friend,” Virginia Heffernan voices what we’ve lost as and lines dwindle.  “Your phone voice was distinctive; your phone manner was distinctive. You thought a great deal about people who rhythmically and mysteriously inhaled and exhaled cigarette smoke while they talked, or left long silences or didn’t hang up immediately after saying good-bye.”

4, An elementary school in Los Angeles, which Michael Jackson briefly attended, has removed the plywood obscuring the name on Michael Jackson Auditorium. The support to reveal the sign, covered up seven years ago after Jackson’s arrest on child-abuse charges, was nearly unanimous in the community. One dissenting voice has come from the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “Already it’s extraordinarily hard for sexually violated kids to come forward,” said the network’s director. “When we honor accused pedophiles, especially one as high profile as Michael Jackson, it risks intimidating even more victims.”

5, The Sunday Styles section, in a story headlined “The Great Unwashed,” describes a movement whose devotees do not shower or wash their hair daily, and do not use deodorant.  “We don’t need to wash the way we did when we were farmers,” says Katherine Ashenberg, author of The Dirt on Clean: An Unsanitized History. According to The Times, “Retention of the skin’s natural oils and water conservation are two reasons.” Researchers may be coming around to this idea as well, noting the skin holds many beneficial germs.”

6, The Week in Review ponders why, as millions of dollars from Wall Street, corporate America and special interests  pour into Republican campaigns, President Obama – raised by a single mom who sometimes had to resort to food stamps to feed her family – is portrayed as an elitist. “The elitism argument is kind of a false one because the president talks about people’s economic interests and middle-class families,” The Times quotes Democratic strategist Anita Dunn, who apparently advises Obama (It’s been my experience, in watching Obama during this campaign, does do exactly that). “And those that are supporting Republican candidates right now – because they think they’ll look out for their interests – are going to be very surprised when they find out what the corporate sponsorship of that party is buying.”

7, On that note, in an editorial, The Times notes that nearly $4 billion is likely to be spent on the midterm elections. By contrast, it’s estimated that $2.85 billion was spent n the 2006 midterms.  “Much of this is a direct creation,” The Times writes, “of the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., which has cut away nearly all campaign finance restrictions.”

8, In another editorial, “It is past time to pull the plug on the ‘virtual fence’ that the federal government has been trying to erect on the border with Mexico,” The Times writes. A $7.6 billion project that began with the Bush administration, it’s an overwhelmed piece of non-functioning technology that mistakes tumbleweed for illegal immigrants. “So long as there is a demand for cheap labor, a hunger for better jobs here, and almost no legal way to get in,” The Times writes, “people will keep finding ways around any fence, virtual or not.”

9, Columnist Frank Rich, quoting many old-line Republicans, notes that Tea Party candidates who win on Tuesday will quickly be incorporated into the Republican Party. The greatest service that the Tea Party is providing, Rich writes, it allowing Republican candidates to hide from the massive failures of the Bush administration. By the time the next presidential election rolls around, “the equally disillusioned right and left may have a showdown that makes this election year look as benign as Woodstock.”

10, Thomas L. Friedman notes that while India is thriving in the new economic environment that was launched by American innovations such as what was happening in Silicon Valley more than two decades ago, the U.S. is standing still, and poised to go in reverse. “The U.S. seems sadly unprepared to take advantage of the revolution it has spawned,” he says one Indian editor writes in Businessworld magazine. “The country’s worn-out infrastructure, failing education system and lack of political consensus have prevented it from riding a new wave to prosperity.”

11, It is astonishing the degree to which we are distanced from the events of the world. Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic, a fine book about Civil War re-enactors, notes that Nov. 6 will be the 150th anniversary of the election of Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War, Horwitz writes, 75 percent of eligible southern men served in the military, more than 60 percent of northern men did so. One out of three southern men died in the war. The public saw gruesome testimony of the war through battlefield photos of the dead brought to them by this new invention, photography. “We’re spared this discomfort today,” Horwitz writes, “with the American dead from two ground wars air brushed from public view.”

12, The Pee-wee Herman comeback is real. The Pee-wee Herman Show opens Nov. 11 on Broadway, and advance sales are reported to be “solid.”

13, In a review of Grant Wood: A Life, Deborah Solomon describes Wood’s most-famous work as “a pale, homely farming pair posed in front of their white house, looking as if their dog had just died.” That’s as fine a summary of “American Gothic” as I’ve ever read. R. Tripp Evans’ summary of Woods’ life seems equally interesting. A strange, taciturn, incoherent man who lived with his widowed mother, always misplacing his keys and wallet, addicted to sugar to the point that he’d sprinkle it on lettuce. The painter’s brief marriage, described as “calamitous,” to a light-opera singer 10 years older that he prompts Evans to postulate that Wood was a repressed homosexual, but the evidence suggests merely a repressed human.

14, I was puzzled by Lee Siegel’s “Beat Generations” Oct. 10 essay in the Book Review, which suggested that Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac and Tea Party chanteuse Sarah Palin had more in common than is immediately evident. In a letter to the editor, Seton Hall professor of English Jeffrey Gray found what troubled me. “Presenting the Tea Party as hip bohemia obscures the fact that what the Beats ushered in, in the 1950s, was the beginning of the end from a Tea Party standpoint,” he wrote. “Rejection of capitalism; flight from jobs and family in pursuit of mystical or sexual ecstasy; fascination with ethnic others; experimentation with illegal substances; and general descent into hell in a handbasket.”

The Critical Mass

World’s Least-Interesting Dinner Party Announced

 Barbara Walters’ new “The 10 Most Fascinating People of 2009” list includes Michael Jackson’s three children, who are 12, 11 and 7 years old. A 7-year-old, most fascinating? Where’s Balloon Boy? Perhaps what Walters meant to say was “10 People Caught in the Most Fascinating Circumstances.”

Also joining the Walters dinner-party game  is bird nest-headed pop star Lady Gaga, overexposed mom Kate Gosselin, American Idol curio Adam Lambert, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, comedian-filmmaker Tyler Perry, conservative pundits Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and Jenny Sanford, apparently advancing to fascinating levels when her husband, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, went hiking on the Appalachian Trail and ended up in Argentina. On the celebrity meter, Gosselin is already feeding on leftovers.

And no, you’re not as crazy as Walters. That does add up to 11.

My list, which comes with a dinner invitation: Barack Obama, alt-country chanteuse Neko Case, documentary bomb-thrower Michael Moore, David Grann (author of The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon), The New York Times columnist Frank Rich, MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow, Congressman Barney Frank, wiseass singer-songwriter Todd Snider and world traveler/ex-chef Anthony Bourdain. And – I don’t know how Walters could have possibly overlooked them – the couple that crashed the last party Obama attended, because I can always use some smarmy, polo-clubbing, reality-show wannabe, high-society fame hookers to kiss my celebrities’ asses and explain why they’re getting more cable-news time than that adorable Balloon Boy. At lease Balloon Boy can vomit on cue.

OK, that’s 11.

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