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The King (“Of Pop”) Is Dead

Michael Jackson

“A.B.C.’s of a legend remembered”

by R.A. Moore

The green and gray Sheriff’s Department helicopter, labeled Rescue 5 just sat down at the Los Angeles county Coroner’s building.

As the personnel climbed out of the unit, removing their flight helmets, the fading evening glow of a California sunset cast its auburn rays on the remains of pop idol, Michael Jackson.

He seemed to still possess his aura of legendary stature as he glowed from beneath a radiant white body-bag. A glow I had first seen in the face of a little boy, dancing and singing on a small color television set in a two bedroom apartment in Opa-Locka Florida when I was 5 years-old. The explosive shuffling and gyrations of the little front-man, with butterfly-collars being towered over by his brother’s, amazed me. It caused a little white boy with shoulder-length, blonde surfer hair to be infused with the energy of music.

We lived in a small apartment and the only furniture we had was a set of bunk-beds and dresser in my room and a double bed and corner stand with a television in my mothers’ room. While playing in the floor of my bedroom I would hear the Jackson 5 singing “ABC…EASY AS ONE, TWO, THREE” and I would have to come running into my mothers’ room, trying to mimic “little Michael”. Saturday morning cartoons would bring the animated show of the Jackson 5 and I would have to be tube-side as well. My mother would come to tell stories, which she still recites on occasion, of how they would have some of their wild hippie parties and I would end up getting up on top of the coffee table and dancing while friends gave me money. I believe she says I made enough the first time to buy a pair of shoes for myself.

By 1979, we had moved to Georgia, but we came home to my Grandparents house for the Christmas Holidays. While we were there for that week I had the chance to go out with my mother and aunt to see the movie Star Trek- The Motion Picture and while we were waiting for the show to start, we went into a record shop and I had the opportunity to purchase a couple of records for the first time with my own hard-earned cash. I bought Michael Jacksons’ OFF THE WALL and Electric Light Orchestras’ Discovery albums. I think I wore permanent grooves in the section of the record where the track, Don’t stop ‘til you get enough was. I have to admit that while I loved borrowing rock records from friends of Kiss Alive!, Kiss Alive2,Destroyer and AC/DCs’ Let there be rock and Highway to hell, I was a damn closet- dancing fool. The man had energy and didn’t give a damn to show it and it was contagious.

Later, as I hit High School I remember seeing the first boy to own a patent-leather, bright red zipper jacket. By this time I was hard-core rock and metal and I remember everyone either giving the boy total hell or on the other end of the spectrum lining up to ask him “where did you get that jacket?”. I remember watching M.T.V. premier the Thriller video and everyone conversing for weeks after about the choreography and make-up of the video. I still see groups trying to perfect their versions of the iconic video for Halloween shows and haunted houses every year; 27 years later.

Weird Al Yankovic would come to parody Michael Jackson in his rendition of Beat it, which was hilarious. Saturday Night Live would parody his odd choice of fashion choices like the single white glove thing and high-water slacks combined with the now infamous crotch grab. Whatever the parody, negative as it may have been interpreted it was publicity just the same. He never stopped selling his music.

As the 90’s faded into the millennium I have to admit I lost touch with Michael Jacksons’ work, although I do remember hearing a song he did with his sister Janet, Scream that I thought was pretty cool. He seemed to be losing his stature as a pop icon. Plagued with constant controversy and tabloid snipers, some instances brought on by his own peculiar personality, I think the legend became man again in some twisted, tattered and lost form. His success became his demon; his absence of childhood became the imp that whispered in his ear of paranoia and the need for seclusion. Anything placed too high suffers the possibility of becoming top-heavy and crashing to the ground. The aura of the endeavor can withstand eternity though.

I have been lucky or cursed enough, whichever way you choose to look at it, to have lived in a moment of history that encapsulated world changing personalities. I was old enough to remember watching Elvis Presleys’ enormous funeral procession. I watched the coverage on the news of John Lennon taking a bullet. My eyes shed tears once again the day we lost the phenomenal guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. The man in black Johnny Cash cast a tall, dark shadow on the music world the day he left. There have been many, and I’m sure you have someone in mind that hits home for you too.

Tonight as I finish this article with the news coverage rolling tape over and over again of the bright orange ambulance trying to back out of the gates of Michael Jacksons’ home, I feel grateful to have witnessed another human being come full circle.

I think I’ll go make a fool of myself one more time and slide around on the kitchen floor in my socks dancing while I listen to “Little Michael” sing, “A.B.C…EASY AS ONE, TWO, THREE…”.


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Jazz Psychedelia

The Spaceman Of Ocean Beach

San Diego, CA

YOU GOTTA HEAR THIS

The drunken, sporadic genius of O.B.’s Spaceman

By Sarah Gordon

If you hung out in Ocean Beach in the ’80s or early ’90s, you surely knew Spaceman. Every day, the old, blind and usually drunk man sat in his wheelchair on Newport Street wearing a self-promoting “Spaceman” t-shirt and giving out “space numbers” to passersby.

If you wanted to be on-board the Rillosporian spacecraft when it rescued humankind in 2005, these space numbers were essential digits. It’s a long story-one that Clint Cary, aka Spaceman, had been telling anyone willing to listen since the late 1950s. Known for their esoteric spirits as they are, OBecians were generally receptive to his strange tale.

A few months before Spaceman died in 1993, friends helped him set up an exhibit for the annual O.B. Street Fair. In a tent illuminated by black light, fairgoers viewed the Spaceman’s paintings. The recent works were familiar-good for a blind bum, anyhow.

But the earlier works from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s-before Spaceman lost his vision-were stunning. In florescent paint, exotic landscapes and metaphysical visions evoked Marc Chagall, Picasso, and other top-notch modern artists. People left the tent thinking there was a lot about the Spaceman they didn’t know.

“I would say the majority of the people who knew him remember him from the ’80s,” says Rick Bollinger, writer and director of the new play, The Glorious Perception: Conversations with the Spaceman of Ocean Beach. “What we’re doing in the play takes you back.”

Back to 1963, when the 54-year-old Cary arrived in San Diego, possibly fleeing from the law in Pasadena. The friend who was supposed to meet him at the airport was busy, so he asked his neighbor, Bob Oaks, to do it. On the ride home, Oaks and Cary began a friendship that would last 30 years.

“My play is… really about Spaceman as seen through Bob Oaks’ eyes,” Bollinger says.

Oaks, who died in 1997, was a coffin and plot salesman by day, a professional jazz musician by night. He lived in a small cottage at the bottom of the O.B. fishing pier for more than 50 years. Divorced and never remarried, his teeny living room was a 24-hour, jazz-fueled bachelor pad, packed every night with musicians who would drop by unannounced to jam.

“Oaks embodied the creative spirit-that idea of living art, living your dream. That little home of his became transcendental to people who came there,” Bollinger recalls.

“So Oaks and Spaceman were a match made in heaven. Oaks believed Cary was a great artist and a great storyteller, and if it hadn’t been for Oaks, Cary definitely wouldn’t have stuck around O.B. as long as he did.”

It’s not quite accurate to say that Spaceman lived in O.B. continuously for 30 years. He was frequently in jail for petty crimes and spent two years in a state mental hospital. But when he was free, the funky crowd in Oaks’ living room lapped him up. A cat who’d been abducted by aliens, escaped from a drunk tank through an air vent, thrown a pie in the face of a policeman and painted mad, visionary canvases was someone worth knowing.

Still, Spaceman could be a crashing bore when he was drunk, Bollinger says. He speculates that Oaks helped shape Spaceman’s reputation for being fascinating, whereas without Oaks, people might have seen him as merely obnoxious.

Oaks was able to present a filtered version of Spaceman because he captured the best of him on audio tape. Filling more than 500 reels, Oaks obsessively taped decades of music and action in his living room. These archives contain his own audio diaries (many documenting Spaceman’s antics), as well as hundreds of hours of the Spaceman himself wending raffish tales.

“Oaks would make these tapes, and then play the tapes for other people to hear,” Bollinger says. “Spaceman would be gone, off running crazy and drunk in the streets, and Bob would be in the pad, telling people, ‘You’ve got to hear this!’

“That’s why Spaceman became a legend.”

Before his death, Oaks gave all his tapes to Bollinger, who has been transcribing, cataloging and obsessing over the material for the last 10 years. Using direct transcriptions as dialogue, Bollinger’s play attempts to recreate the lively scenes from Oaks’ living room. The main characters, Oaks and Spaceman, take turns telling stories. Between anecdotes, jazz musicians jam. Each of the show’s four nights features one of four local jazz figures: Daniel Jackson, Lori Bell, Joe Marillo and Gilbert Castellanos.

For a first time director, Bollinger has assembled a remarkable list of musical talent. But he says it was no trouble recruiting.

“Every single one of these musicians actually played at Bob Oaks’ house,” he explains. “So they’re not doing this thing for me, or even for the Spaceman. They’re doing it because they were there, because that was an important scene for them.”

Bollinger also expects that more than half the audience will have known either Oaks or Spaceman, or both.

“After they see this, people are going to be coming up to me with stories I haven’t heard. As much of an expert as I’ve become over the last 10 years, I bet I’ll know a whole new side of the Spaceman when all this is through.”

[This article was originally ran at sdcitybeat.com/cms/story/detail/?id=1325&atype and dated 10/01/2003. The videos were obtained via YouTube. ~RR]