Sunday 16 June 2019

Declan Lynch: 'Blame it on the blindness of a starry-eyed world'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

There was a pretty good joke on Twitter a few weeks ago about Michael Jackson. I don't recall the name of the person who made it, but it went something like this.

"Blame It On The Boogie is one of my favourite records because towards the end, Jackson sums it up in a PowerPoint presentation:

a) Sunshine,

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b) Moonlight,

c) Good Time,

d) Boogie."

After Leaving Neverland, this may be the last joke about Michael Jackson that you'll be seeing for some time - if not indeed for all time. His records will hardly be played much on the radio any more, so we may assume that jokes will also be barred.

Indeed, one of the main reactions to the documentary was this issue of Jackson's music and whether people will ever be able to listen to it again, regardless of how much they had enjoyed it in the past.

They wrestled with the philosophical and the ethical dimensions of this, now that their opinion of Jackson the man has deteriorated from bad to worse, to something even worse again.

There was also the odd mention of the distinctions we are able to make in other cases, between the monstrous behaviour of the artist, and the greatness of the art - should that distinction not be made for Jackson too?

But really, these were easy questions to be asking, on this occasion. To some, it might have appeared as if they were wrestling with the most profound dilemma yet presented to us by the modern world, but in truth, it was like someone trying to decide if he should blame it on the sunshine, the moonlight, the good time, or the boogie.

It wasn't that hard, really.

There were much better questions being raised by Leaving Neverland, and most of them were not about the King of Pop, and the numerous children he abused, but about the child-like nature of the multitudes who are still trying to tell themselves that they only realised the full extent of this last Wednesday. In the words of the money-men, they hadn't "priced it in".

But they should have "priced it in" a long time ago.

Instead many were prepared to excoriate the parents of Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson, with viewers claiming that such things could never have happened on their watch, when in fact it all happened on everyone's watch - the world was literally watching as Jacko hung out with these kids in ways that just couldn't be right.

If anything, the parents were slightly less likely to understand the true nature of what was happening, because they were also getting the full blast of Jackson's powers, they could see him at his best, they had been sucked into this machine in which very strange behaviour was regarded as normal and even desirable to keep the whole show on the road.

The rest of the world had the luxury of distance, of detachment; they were getting relatively minor doses of Michael's celebrity radiation, yet they were finding it impossible to enjoy Billie Jean last Thursday, like they'd enjoyed it on Wednesday? There was even a slight note of self-pity in it, that Jacko had let them down for the last time.

Which is beyond child-like, and is tending towards the infantile - and this is the major triumph of Leaving Neverland, the way that it captured the infantilism of a culture that is so drugged by its worship of the rich and famous, it can't even form an intelligent opinion of the totally obvious activities of Michael Jackson.

How fascinating it is, how incredibly well it works, this hiding in plain sight. We now look back at pictures of Jimmy Savile in the 1970s, openly groping children on Top Of The Pops, and we marvel at how he thought he could get away with it.

In the time of Jacko, we had supposedly become more sophisticated in our awareness of how these things work, yet throughout his most majestic years, he travelled the world in the company of small boys, and still there were people giving him the benefit of the doubt in 2019?

If course he was beautiful and a genius, but this thing can work for the ugly people too - Trump has it, this deep sense that some people will believe absolutely anything, prostrate as they are on the altar of celebrity.

But theirs is not just an awareness in an intellectual or generalised sense - it is a visceral understanding on their part, a profound contempt for the gullibility of the human race, and a determination to take advantage of it.

Perhaps there is some self-loathing in there too, which only deepens their disdain, echoing the Randy Newman line in God's Song, in which God lists the terrible things he has done, and jeers - "you all must be crazy to put your faith in me, that's why I love mankind".

So this was the big idea of Leaving Neverland, this was the accusation that it laid, not at Michael Jackson or the parents of the boys, but at everybody looking at the programme - at this stage it's not him, and it's not them, it's us.

The private pain that no one else can see

One night towards the end of the last century, I was in a pub in Soho called the Dog and Duck. And I saw Ronnie Scott there, having a pint with a few friends, just down the road from his legendary jazz club.

I thought that Ronnie Scott must be the happiest man alive. I could hardly even imagine that kind of happiness, to be running the most famous jazz club in London, probably in the world, with your name on the door.

And I continued to believe this - until the day in 1996 when I read that Ronnie Scott had died, aged 69, "his departure probably hastened by depression and frustration that he would never become the musician he dreamt of becoming".

Keith Flint of The Prodigy, who took his own life, ran a more obscure establishment, a little pub called the Leather Bottle in Kent, specialising in real ale. There's an echo here of Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street, that blissful vision in which "he'll settle down, in a quiet little town, and forget about everything". That would be the Gerry Rafferty whose colossal success with that song did not free him from the alcoholism which afflicted him until his death in 2011.

Keith Flint seemed like a top man too. James Blunt recalled last week that, at the Q Awards, the likes of Noel Gallagher, Damon Albarn, and Paul Weller seemed to be competing with one another to find the perfect insult for Blunt, whereas Flint gave him a hug and said "how thrilled he was for my success," adding, "Keith, I only met you once, but I shed a tear at the news of your death - in our business there are no prizes for being kind, but if there was, the Grammy would be yours".

We know nothing of what others are going through.

Nothing.

A free trip to Cheltenham? I wouldn't bet on it

It seems to be a tradition now, the Paddy Power quiz on the Ryan Tubridy radio show, with the winners going to Cheltenham - and the losers too.

That's the funny bit, the call that Tubs takes from Paddy Power just after he has congratulated the winner, telling him that in fact they'll all be going to the festival, courtesy of "our friends" at the betting corporation.

Everyone's a winner - which, as we know, is exactly how it works out at the actual races.

Now I hear you wondering why they even bother with the quiz, when the competitive element is taken out. Well, it's not really about the competition as such, it's more about the very fact that Paddy Power has become the betting partner of one of the main shows on national radio, which is what we call "normalisation".

Seldom is heard a discouraging word from Tubs on this phenomenon, on the role of Cheltenham not just as a great event in itself but as the catalyst for a massive recruitment drive on the part of the bookies.

Yet it must be said that Ray D'Arcy is offering a different perspective - the opposite perspective, in fact. On his TV show last Saturday night, he did an excellent interview with my friend Tony O'Reilly, due to the arrival of a paperback edition of Tony 10 - and because for a long time, Ray has taken a serious interest in the area of gambling addiction and the unregulated nature of the business.

So RTE can say there is a kind of a cosmic balance here, and while in truth this would be wrong - it is not really a 50/50 proposition - it would also be wrong of me to dwell too long on the arrangements of the national broadcaster in this regard.

Because if I wanted to be entirely pure about this, and I went in search of an outlet which does not take sponsorship of any kind from the gambling industry, I would probably find myself somewhere in the vicinity of the Sacred Heart Messenger.

Though I haven't taken the Messenger of late, so I'm just hoping they're not sending punters on free trips to Cheltenham as well.

Hoping against hope.

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