Not So Much Like a Virgin

Madonna’s self-proclaimed world peace tour arrived in Abu Dhabi via Tel Aviv and opened with the Material Girl mowing down with her assault rifle as many minimally dressed, mostly black men with well-oiled muscles as possible while repeating for at least five minutes, “Bang, bang, I shot my lover dead.”  Fake blood included.  Peace. It’s something to get you into the groove.

There was also Madonna swigging from a Jack Daniels bottle, a parade of monks, herself kneeled in prayer in the nativity position of her namesake, a cross, and a lot of toned flesh and cursing.  Heck, more than half the things Madonna did on stage would have gotten a UAE resident arrested.  But Madonna became known for always being able to strut her stuff where others can’t:  For example, she did what she wanted on stage in Abu Dhabi but the Sex in the City ladies were banned from the big screen here.

I’m used to pop stars in the US calling the audience motherf….and stripping down to their black lace bras.  I’ve been used to that since the 1980s, when Madonna pioneered the shock-over-substance approach to superstardom.  It was unbecoming yet charmingly unique 25 years ago when she was in her 20s.  Now it just feels unbecoming because of time and place—hers and her audience’s.

While she kept her 25,000 waiting for three hours in the 100 plus degree weather (okay, by the time she came on it, it was only in the low 90s, so maybe we have no right to complain), we had plenty of time to watch young women who had passed out from heat and alcohol get carried out in stretchers to the first aid center in back of us, little girls arrive in matching Madonna clothes, and the multinational gay brigade come out in full homage.  It was just like being in LA—but in Abu Dhabi.  What I was seeing seemed even less likely to be an outdoor event in the Gulf than if Michael Jackson had eventually taken to the stage instead of Madonna (Given how that the looped track of his greatest hits kept playing while we waited and sweated, it did begin to seem like a possibility).  But Michael Jackson didn’t make it.  She finally did, and that’s when a lot of people left.  It was a mix of the lousy acoustics of the DU Arena, her off sync lip syncing, the general fatigue of standing in the heat that long, boredom with all the tired routines, and people taking offense.

The shock value in LA would have been zero—aside from thinking, “Really? Same old stuff?  Nothing new to do? Fanning your crotch in your majorette outfit for the benefit of the audience isn’t so cute on you at 54-years old.”  At the same time, there’s something admirable about someone who can’t still do the same thing 25 years, like lip sync, pretend to play the guitar and dance all at once–and all in spike heels.  Especially for those of us who couldn’t have done it then or now.

But in Abu Dhabi, the concert seemed not so much out of time, but out of place.  Or maybe it was in place—after all it did really happen—and time is changing the place.  Certainly more than time has changed Madonna.  So how much should time change things?  Too big of a question of us with heads still throbbing to the beat of  “Bang, bang, I shot my lover dead.”   Peace out.

Attending Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Today several people stopped me on the street to ask me how Michael Jackson’s memorial service was.  It took me a while to catch on that they weren’t all psychic.  I was wearing the gold wrist band that everyone in LA knows means you had a ticket to the event.  I did indeed, thanks to my friend Scott, who beat the odds and was one of the 8,500 people out 1.6 million to get free tickets. And good ones at that– in one of the premier seating boxes.  Lucky, you might say, but then there’s something odd about saying you were lucky to go to a memorial service of anyone, including the boy you had planned to marry in seventh grade, not that he had been aware of the plan.  It was a day as sad, weird, and uplifting as the man and his music.

Keeping in mind that I still cry at reruns of Little House on the Prairie, I’m glad Scott brought a hanky for me, as I soaked it.  Today was a tear fest from the moment his one-gloved brothers regally walked in with his casket until the end when his daughter collapsed into her aunt’s embrace.  In between that, there was a celebration of a man who everyone under the age of 55 can say they grew up with, whose image and music have been a fixture of every place I have lived, from Minnesota to Beirut to the UAE, where posters of his London concerts have been hanging up at malls for months.  It was also a celebration of African Americans and the strides they have made since the Jackson 5 became a part of the American landscape.  I wouldn’t go as far as saying, as Al Sharpton implied, that Obama was able to become president because of Michael Jackson, but when MLK’s daughter spoke of how MJ had called Coretta Scott King in her final days to lift her spirit, there was no denying the power Michael Jackson has had on the entertainment and social fabric of  the country. It was also a celebration of family, and how it rallies together, and of talent—his and those he inspired and was inspired by.  Lionel Ritchie, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey, Usher all at their most powerful today, and what a privilege to hear them sing in the same place at the same time.  And I suppose for anyone of a certain age, there was sorrow in losing the biggest icon of your lifetime, a person who made you dance and hum for most of your life with a sound and moves that were so distinctly his.  They just don’t make icons like Michael anymore, and given the advent of Andy Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes of fame for everyone, they probably won’t.

Al Sharpton also said to Michael Jackson’s kids “There wasn’t anything strange about your daddy, but it was strange what he had to deal with.”  And that statement is perhaps more about growing up in the limelight and growing up based out of Los Angeles, where yes, you get to be as weird as you want, but you also have to accept that every bit of your weirdness is up for media hyperbole and dissection.

It’s not completely without irony that the Barnum and Bailey Circus will move into the Staples Center tomorrow, as many refer to LA’s media as a circus.  But today, LA ran like a well-oiled machine, and pulled off a show for the world without any chaos.  It might have taken thousands of policemen, transit authority workers, and city staffers,  but as my friend Natasha said, it was an LA response to an L.A. story. And what happens in LA—at least when it comes to the entertainment industry—happens everywhere.

Outside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Outside Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

Michael Jackson's Memorial Service

RIP MJ