Music

My Michael

As an adult, I haven’t the foggiest idea of what a “King of Pop” is or does, but as a six-year-old, I was pretty sure Michael Jackson invented music.

Michael Jackson was breakfast cereal. Michael Jackson was a bicycle, a summer day, a toy building block, a pack of trading cards. When I was growing up in the mid-‘80s, Michael Jackson was a given. Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Lionel Richie, Madonna, Bruce; before I was cognizant of genre demarcations, or even the barest scraps of pop music history, I understood that pantheon, and that Michael Jackson was its Zeus.

He ruled from a double-gatefold LP, reclined, white tiger by his side. As an adult, I haven’t the foggiest idea of what a “King of Pop” is or does, but as a six-year old, I was pretty sure Michael Jackson invented music. And I wasn’t even a fan.

Michael Jackson’s death is sure to become one of those “where were you?” moments, to rival John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Di. And due to the slow, sad, crumbling of his reputation -- all of the bizarre and sordid elements of his life that made him literally and figuratively unrecognizable from the man he was at his creative peak -- some will gnash their teeth, roll their eyes, won’t care at all, won’t understand the overwhelming tonnage of cable news and other media. Fair enough.

There is far more important news out there that should be heeded. There is far too much work to be done in this world. But, though contemporary culture has grown exceptionally good at overdoing it, there is a strong argument for taking just a quick moment to reflect on at least one aspect of how Michael Jackson’s half-century of life on this Earth impacted it. Because it did.

Over 100 million copies sold worldwide, and that’s just Thriller. Consider that, and what it means for the amount of individual listeners that figure implies to have heard and absorbed the same collection of songs, words, chords, ands notes, including its ubiquitous videos and images, over the course of almost 30 years. Impossible. It’s not grains of sand, it’s a beach. It’s not the stars, it’s the night sky. And whatever anyone’s opinion of Michael Jackson (mine included) as a man, man-child, tragic figure, hero, villain, his body of work exists in the world, in sheer physical copies alone, in numbers difficult to imagine.

Never mind whatever melodies are floating through untold brains across the globe at any given moment, and by their influence, via a million other musicians plying their respective trades. For fans of music of any style, any aesthetic, period or ethos, this has to impress, or at least boggle the mind. At the very least it cannot be denied. Michael Jackson is granite. Michael Jackson is an automobile, a rainstorm, breakfast cereal.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

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Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

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10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

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7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

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