Fame and Fortune

General Stanley McChrystal
General Stanley McChrystal with two members of his inner staff.

General Stanley McChrystal views himself as a badass. Being a badass is cool, if you’re Bruce Willis playing a role in a movie, but in real life, if you are over the age of 25, being a badass is just immature. Maybe it’s time we had some adults running the military.

Now, apparently McChrystal and his wife have been married for 33 years and only see each other about 30 days a year. When she came on a special trip to Paris to see him, he takes her out drinking with the boys.  Maybe she didn’t mind. But, over the last two days I’ve read a number of things about  McCrystal’s drinking that make me wonder-from his preference for lime beer, to an incident back in his college days when a classmate found him passed out in a shower after drinking a case of beer. Generally, a case of beer is 48 cans or bottles. Let’s say it was only 24 or 12, that’s still a lot of beer. If you are still drinking like that in your 50’s, well, it could mean . . .

Brain: Are you pondering what I’m pondering, Pinky?

Pinky: I think so, Brain. But aren’t you supposed to put the lime in the coconut?

On a related subject:

Fame and fortune, how empty they can be,” sang Elvis Presley.

Elvis-Michael Jackson

Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, and I’m sure there will tributes and blog posts galore about it, but since I was not blogging last year at this time, I’d like to jump on that bandwagon and make a few remarks.

I always knew Jackson would die too young, and tragically. By the mid-1980’s it was obvious that he was going down the same road that Elvis did. If I could see that, you’d think others could have, too, and perhaps done something to prevent it. Which only makes his death even more unfortunate.

I was watching CNN that afternoon when they came on with breaking news that Jackson had been taken to Cedars Sinai. I had a gut feeling right then that he was already gone.

Back in the day, when the Jackson Five came along, I was too old for teeny-bopper stuff, so I didn’t pay any attention to Michael Jackson until Thriller was released. “Billie Jean” was basically a rip-off of the Rolling Stones song “Miss You” but it had a beat and you could dance to it. I was watching the Motown 25 Special when Jackson performed the song and did the “moon-walk”, and I was blown away. It was similar to watching the Beatle’s first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (which I did); it was that electrifying. The guy was channeling Fred Astaire, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Elvis, and then heading off into a brand new territory that was all his own.

Then he just sank into weirdness. Remember when he wanted the Elephant Man’s bones? And I didn’t care much for the records after Thriller. The fire he lighted onstage for the Motown 25 show turned out to be nothing more than a wisp of smoke.

The parallels between Michael Jackson and Presley are many, and a little bizarre, considering his “marriage” to Elvis’ daughter.

Elvis Presley became world famous in 1956 when he was 21 years old. After that he lived life in a cocoon, a bubble, and never had a chance to mature as a human being. Like Michael Jackson, it started with a sizzling television performance. Not the famous only-filmed-above-the-waist performance on the Ed Sullivan Show, but an appearance on the Dorsey Brothers program, where he wiggled his hips, leered, and sang, “Baby, baby, let’s play house,” and he wasn’t talking about playing with dolls and miniature tea-cups.

At the end of ’56, it was off to Hollywood, then the Army where he got special treatment, and then a life of seclusion behind the gates of Graceland. Unlike most of us, there was no requirement for him to grow as an individual, confront his mistakes, compromise in his relationships, become skilled at problem solving, or learn to be responsible for his behavior. He was the King. Rarely was he told no, rarely was he disagreed with, and only in a few instances did anyone ever suggest that he should be held accountable for his actions. He was 42 when he died, but in terms of development, he was still 21.

When Elvis died, John Lennon, quoting a English poet, said: “The courtiers killed the king.” Only in the last few months of his life did anyone in Elvis’ inner circle attempt to prevent his self-destruction. By then it was too late.

Likewise for Michael Jackson. His childlike persona belied his immaturity. Episodes such as the one where he dangled his son outside a window also showed that his juvenile behavior could be dangerous.

The greatest enemy a celebrity faces is not artistic or business failure, nor intruding paparazzi, mad stalkers, or even their own misbehavior. It’s the sycophants and parasites around them, who feed off them, enable them, use them, and in some cases, may even kill them. Probably the only way to survive fame is to develop a sense of identity rather than a persona, to create a life that is not completely dependent upon your celebrityhood, and to surround yourself with people who have nothing to lose if they say that you are wrong or that you need to grow up.

Elvis didn’t have that. It appears that Michael Jackson didn’t either.

Frankly, though I have some empathy for him, I’d rather not remember Michael Jackson. But when I do, it won’t be for the person he was, because I didn’t see much there I liked, nor as a performer. The King of Pop was a self-given title, not earned. In terms of artistry, the truth is he’s nothing more than a blimp on the screen. When I remember Michael Jackson, it will be for the great potential that was wasted, the incredible talent that never matured, the promise of what might have been.

Worldly fame is but a breath of wind that blows now this way, and now that, and changes name as it changes direction.

Dante

If you live through the initial stage of fame and get past it, and remember that’s not who you are. If you live past that, then you have a hope of maybe learning how to spell the word artist.

Patrick Swayze

Fame is a bitch, man.

Brad Pitt

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