Archive | July 2009

Michael Jackson and the archetype of the tortured artist

Michael Jackson - 2 viewsMulling over the life and death of Michael Jackson, I realize he’s entered an archetypal pantheon – that of the tortured artistic genius. Van Gogh and Charlie Parker come immediately to mind, along with all the other jazz and pop stars – Bix Beiderbecke, Hank Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon. Then there are the nineteenth-century romantic poets and composers, like Byron, Poe and Robert Schumann (the latter shared my bipolar diagnosis.)

Unlike the rest of these artists, Michael Jackson (aka Wacko Jacko, as the NewYork Post used to call him) lived past the height of his powers. I’m not an expert on his oeuvre, but I believe his last significant song was written to commemorate the death of Princess Diana in 1997. In the years since then, he’s been known more for his bizarre behavior than for his music, but I’m glad that since his death, the media has seen fit to focus more on his musical contributions than his personal quirks.

I woke to the news of  Michael’s death in a Sheraton Hotel in Milwaukee. My husband and I had flown in Thursday night for my fiftieth high school reunion, and Friday morning he turned on the TV. They were talking about Michael, playing clips from his videos, and I asked, “Did he die or something?” My husband replied “Yup.” I realized instantly that I would probably always remember that moment – just as I remember where I was when I learned of the deaths of Jack and Bobby Kennedy, John Coltrane and John Lennon.

Was Michael really a tortured artist? In an interview with Barbara Walters last night, Barry Gordy claimed not – at least not while his career was on an upward trajectory. But driven he certainly was. While still with the Jackson Five, he covered the walls of his room with affirmations of his goal: to become the greatest entertainer in the world. And he pursued that goal relentlessly, driving himself despite exhaustion and chronic pain from multiple injuries. Reportedly he suffered from terrible insomnia since the late 1980’s. Pain and exhaustion drove him to drug abuse, which may in turn have damaged his creativity.

Charlie Parker and Miles Davis in the 1940's

Charlie Parker and Miles Davis in the 1940's

Drugs exert a terrible toll. Charlie Parker inadvertently inspired many jazz musicians to turn to heroin, but Bird was famously quoted as saying, “Anyone who thinks he plays better when he’s juiced or on the needle is out of his mind.”

At the end, according to the National Enquirer, Michael was down to 105 pounds, far too low for his height of 5”11”. Rehearsing for his London concerts, he was emaciated, but according to a show insider, “he convinced himself he needed to lose even more weight to keep up with the intense dance routines he made famous 25 years ago.” The extreme exertion could have caused an electrolyte imbalance and cardiac arrest. And then there are those rumors of a possibly lethal injection. Diprivan, a powerful drug normally used only by anesthesiologists in hospital settings, was found where Jackson died. The thought that he may have sought total anesthesia in his quest for a decent night’s sleep is truly heart-wrenching.

There’s much more I could write, and perhaps I will, but in the meantime, I’d like to hear from you, my readers. What are your favorite memories of Michael? And what do you think of the tortured artist archetype?

Relishing my freedom on the Fourth of July

Fireworks 4th of July

For me, one of the blessings of being officially retired is the freedom to follow my bliss, as Joseph Campbell recommends. Today I’ll be following it away from my computer and out into my garden. The sky is brighter and bluer than it’s been in many a day. Across the lake, I hear the joyous shouts of children at the beach. Snyder’s Lake is fed by springs, and it’s probably still unseasonably cold, but I’ll check it out if it suits my fancy. Then in a few hours my husband and I will head over to Albany’s Empire State Plaza with our folding chairs, enjoy some greasy carnival food – funnel cake if I’m lucky – and some free entertainment topped off by the great jazz singer Al Jarreau. (His song “Morning” from a couple of decades ago is one of the most transcendently beautiful pop anthems, right up there with Brian Wilson’s “God Only Knows.” And then the fireworks – deafening and spectacular, synchronized to patriotic music, probably including Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American.”

On this Independence Day, I’m grateful to live in a country that enables me to enjoy my freedom in so many ways, thanks in part to the largess of the Social Security system.

Is anyone out here reading this today? If so, stop. Turn off your computer, pour a libation of your choice, and drink a toast to your own freedom, and the liberty to follow your bliss.

Calling guest bloggers: my virtual door is open!

Chihuly florabunda rose

Chihuly florabunda rose

My trip to Wisconsin for my 50th high school reunion was a great success – I’ll post more about it soon. In the new schedule I envision for my blog, Fridays will be reserved for my own miscellaneous musings. I see the rest of the week shaping up according to the schedule below. As always, this site is a work in progress, but I’m ready to open it up to guest bloggers. Your posts might be appropriate under any of the Monday through Thursday headings. Topics in parentheses are suggestions; they’re not all-inclusive.


MONDAYS: THE ART OF MARKETING (finding agents and publishers; publicizing and selling your work)

TUESDAYS: THE ART OF WRITING (creative approaches to overcoming writers’ block; plotting, character development, editing)

WEDNESDAYS: SOCIAL JUSTICE (topics of social concern, including the causes I’m most involved with – overcoming the stigma of mental illness, attitudes to illness and aging, funeral consumers’ issues)

THURSDAYS: MYSTERY WRITING (interviews and articles featuring my mystery-writing colleagues)

FRIDAYS: JULIE’S RANDOM MUSINGS (my day for self-indulgence, posting about my personal experience, memories and whatever suits my fancy) 

Although mystery writing is my primary passion, I want to reach out to a wider audience with this blog, and with a different focus for each day, there’ll be opportunities for those of you who aren’t mystery writers to post as well. I spent May and June learning about blogging with the Blog Book Tours class, and in those two months, an average of 37 people visited my blog each day. Not bad for a novice, but I plan to do far better. Please join me on this exciting journey – together we can take it to the next level!

As always, I welcome your comments here. But if you’d like to discuss being a guest blogger on this site, please e-mail me separately at Read my own posts to get an idea of the tone of this site. Your contributions should be 400 to 700 words, and it’s OK with me if you’ve already posted them elsewhere. I can’t wait to hear from you!

Fourth of July postscript: I will start this schedule in earnest right after Labor Day. I was feeling super-ambitious when I posted two days ago, but realistically, I want to enjoy my summer – if it ever stops raining here in upstate New York. So until September, I’ll be aiming for three days a week, probably Mon-Wed-Fri. But even with this abbreviated schedule, I welcome your contributions. Within a couple of days I’ll post submission guidelines on a new page.