Category Archives: music

Still No Justice For Smiley Culture

The Metropolitan Police Authority met Friday morning at City Hall, and the Justice for Smiley Culture campaign was there in force to hear just what they had say.

The meeting started, however, with an official letter of apology to the family of Daniel Morgan, admitting to 5 failed police investigations and 24 years of lies and inaction due to police corruption. All of it ended in the acquittal of his murderers. In the family’s words, they have been “lied to, fobbed off, bullied, degraded…” in a process that was “nothing short of torture”. They requested a judicial inquiry, and the MPA voted to recommend that they get one.

24 years. For an apology, and a promise of a recommendation for a full inquiry.

So we sat there, and you know anger was rising high as we were told that we could be given no information on an ongoing investigation. The Acting Met Police Commissioner Tim Goodwin acknowledged that he still had to look into whether or not those investigating Smiley Culture’s death were linking up properly with the community or the family. He denied knowledge of the earlier briefings about Smiley Culture stabbing himself through the heart while making a cup of tea.

And that couple of minutes, including some questions from other members of the authority, was all we got. Not even the respect of an official letter of condolence. The insensitivity was unbelievable.

You better believe we were all angry, and it showed. My heart broke to see the pain of his family and friends, trying to cope both with the earth-shattering immensity of grief in losing a loved one, and the impossibility of getting any answers, much less justice, out of the police. Tim Goodwin had already tried to move the agenda on to the next investigation when we broke it up, calling out no justice no peace and leaving the hall.

There have been far too many deaths following police contact, I’ve copied the official table with the numbers from the MPA below:

Year Black & Asian Other Total
1998-99 6 11 17
1999-00 4 12 16
2000-01 2 5 7
2001-02 4 5 9
2002-03 10 7 17
2003-04 6 9 15
2004-05 3 11 14
2005-06 7 10 17
2006-07 8 7 15
2007-08 7 9 16
2008-09 13 15 28
2009-10 13 11 24
to end of February 2011 10 15 25

What is most disgusting is the inordinately high percentage of Black and Asian deaths. This is clearly an issue that hits the Black community the hardest, which makes it even more important that others stand with them now. All of us bear the burden of making it right. Racism continues to be everywhere, it is institutional, and it is deadly; everyone who cannot know what it is to suffer it directly needs to remember that. It will take all of us to stop it, and it needs to stop.

For more information about what is happening, join the facebook group or follow the campaign on twitter:

Most importantly, there is a march on April 16th, assembling at Southbank Club (124 – 130 Wandsworth Road SW8 2DL) at 12:00, and support is needed leafletting to get the word out. Lambeth SOS (where this blog is also posted) will be working on this, but get in touch directly with the campaign by emailing justice4smiley@hotmail.co.uk or calling 07984 935 769.

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Neverland in Beverly Hills

Michael Jackson’s home has been transplanted into the old Robinsons-May building in Beverly Hills, they’ve even brought the gates. The garden furniture and planters. His awards, his socks, his personal drawings. It’s one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen, and one of the creepiest. And here is the splendour and the sadness.

The public information on the whole deal is pretty sketchy. Jackson was acquitted of the criminal pedophile charges of course, but owes a ton of money, I imagine for civil cases? So it seems that essentially all of his most personal things sitting in this vast space are the result of the repo man visiting his estate. Rather then just humiliating him in front of his neighbors, they have humiliated him in front of the world, stripped everything they thought they could possibly sell, and brought it on down to L.A. to sell to the highest bidder. The auction is now off, the money was raised and the stuff is going back to Michael, though it might remain in the public domain. You can read more on that here.

But essentially, you are looking at things most people were never meant to see. It is there by force. And it just adds an edge to the voyeuristic element, a frisson of violence and transgression. It only adds to the immense creepiness and unsettling nature of the things.

The creepiest thing by far, these figures that were so lifelike and who were everywhere. They were all white.

The woman in the background with the curlers is holding a copy of Women are From Venus, Men are From Mars. Butlers were everywhere, there were more than 5 of them, I didn’t think to count but now I am really curious. They were ubiquitous the way a good butler should be. Below you can get a sense of the scale of the exhibit, and the personal taste of the man himself.

There are also four or five life size wax figures of Michael Jackson himself. But somehow, that to me is a sign simply of colossal ego which I can understand, the rest of them I just cannot. An attempt to never be alone? Imagine sharing a huge mansion with them, it gives me chills. So to move smoothly from the mannequins to the paintings…

Creepy woman who looks like one of my older family members, with a Michael Jackson Triptych in the background. Michael Jackson’s poems are everywhere…written on the paintings that were commissioned, on Neverland’s kids menus, on slabs of marble out in front, on story book sculptures. This one reads:

I am the thinker, the thinking,
the thought.
I am the seeker, the seeking,
the sought.
I am the dewdrop, the sunshine,
the storm.
I am the phenomenon, the field,
the form.
I am the descent, the ocean,
the sky.
I am the Primeval Self
In you and I.
I am Michael Jackson

There are paintings of him everywhere as royalty, with crown and scepter. He has the crowns and sceptres as well, the ermined cloaks. And there are the paintings of him leading long lines of little children to the promised land and happiness

There are paintings of him surrounded by cartoon characters, the Marx Brothers, Peter Pan. And this, which essentially leaves me pretty speechless.

So there’s too much really, to convey. The kids. The kids are everywhere and are frankly terrifying. Dolls and furniture for children that…well, it’s hard to tell where the creepiness comes from, it doesn’t even lie in the pedophile charges though I’m sure that adds a dimension. It’s like Louise Bourgeois’ red rooms.

And the statues

There’s original art on the wall by Michael Jackson and Macaulay Culkin. There are drawings of children. An incredibly terrifying clown. Bikes and trikes and little cars. Collectible stautuettes in china and pewter and whatever else. And then the playroom stuff, filled with video games, pinball machines, his disney collection.

And some really cool stuff. The prop of Hans Solo after he’s been cryogenically frozen, an R2D2 and C3po, a lego Darth Vader and lots of Star Wars stuff. Arcade games you’ve been dying to play again like Super Mario and Digg Dugg and Pole Position. Edward Scissorhands’ actual hands.

He has a painting of Marlene Dietrich that she has signed and dedicated to him. His books are all there, almost all Hollywood with a smattering of Children’s classics and Black History. He has a letter from Ronald Reagen:

“I was pleased to learn that you were not seriously hurt in your recent accident…

All over America, millions of people look up to you as an example. Your deep faith in God and adherence to traditional values are an inspiration to all of us, especially young people searching for something real to believe in. I know from experience that these things can happen on the set…

You’ve gained quite a number of fans along the road since “I Want You Back,” and Nancy and I are among them.”

He has another Inter-Office memo to Tom Jones from Walt Disney…don’t ask me how. But it is HILARIOUS.

“Dear Tom –

This is just to let you know how much I appreciate your efforts in trying to keep all the English people happy … I know many of their requests were unreasonable, but your stepping in and handling these things were a help to me and the others concerned with the making of the picture.”

So perhaps in some kind of context this wouldn’t be so funny, but possibly even then. I have no idea what the context is, but the idea of Tom Jones trying to keep “all the English people” happy is pretty amusing, I wonder what film that was? It’s from 1963.

At any rate, there are also a huge number of awards, plaques, pictures, and his clothes, gloriously reflective and shiny clothes. Thriller was the first album I ever bought, my brothers and I pooled our Christmas money to get it. And I love Michael Jackson, as Celine said while we were watching youtube videos, he has the moves that Justin Timberlake and all the rest of today’s performers only dream of. And he invented them. And the clothes look a bit ridiculous on display now, but he carried them off, he was that good. So that part of the thing I could enjoy without remorse or nausea. Though the body suits were a little disturbing.

I don’t even know how to wrap up what going was like. It made me incredibly sad mostly, thinking of the little boy singing ABC with the Jackson Five, and wondering how he has grown into … what? There are no words for Michael Jackson really. Or a million of them. A lost childhood, the ability to buy himself anything, indulge himself anything. The desire to create … what? I don’t know what. You could possibly boil it all down to sex but I hate boiling everything down to that, refuse to really, life is complex. But there is a wrongness to it all that lingers in your mind. And, well, sadness.

Justin Townes Earle and Cory Younts

Came to LA again, played at Spaceland this time. And I see them every time they come, and I am always blown away.

Always. They’re just getting better and better in fact, though I’d have a hard time saying whether their latest album “Midnight at the Movies” or “Yuma” is my favourite. And I love “The Good Life” as well. The latest is less country I’d say, more folk, but we all know the distinction is a stupid one imposed by commercial interests, the tradition is the same one, and Woodie Guthrie, Hank Williams Senior, Steve Earle and Townes van Zandt and… the list goes on really, they all transcend definitions. I love them, and as young as he is, Justin can be added to the list on his own merit and not on the strength of a name given him at birth. He adds a new greatness to the decades of tradition, and I don’t think there is a higher compliment I could give anyone. His song lyrics are incredible, I love the deeply personal nature, the beauty of so many of them. And the good times, and the good food, his own flaws and the bad women. And the good ole working class traditions of  work and struggle. And you can sing them in the shower, which to me is one of the ultimate tests of a good song.

Well when John Henry died, he lay lookin’ at the sun
He said Lord take me now my work is done, Lord, Lord
Lord, take me now my work is done
Yeah, but when they laid him out in that box of pine, boy
They laid that hammer by his side, Lord, Lord
laid that hammer by his side

Yeah Joe Hill, he worked any job he could find, boy
He’d rake your leaves, and pick your vine, Lord, Lord
Rake your leaves, and pick your vine
Yeah and they killed Joe Hill, put a bullet to his name
But that bullet made a martyr of the same, Lord, Lord
that bullet made a martyr of the same

Yeah, and my grandaddy worked his whole damn life, well
He never saved a nickle though he tried, Lord, Lord
Never saved a nickle though he tried
And he died in Tennessee but he couldn’t find no rest,
With that long road to Texas lyin’ ahead, Lord Lord,
that long road to Texas lyin’ ahead

So I ain’t no brave man, And Lord I expect to lead
A long life a’workin’ and you’re dead, Lord Lord
A long life a’workin’ and you’re dead
They killed John Henry, they killed John Henry
They killed John Henry, but they won’t kill me, Lord
They killed John Henry, they killed John Henry
They killed John Henry, but they won’t kill me.

And his favourite Van Zandt songs? Mr. Gold and Mr. Mudd, and Rex’s Blues, mine too, though I’d throw Dollar Bill Blues in there. And there’s a cover of him playing his Daddy’s Tom Ame’s Prayer…another of my favourites. And they did a Replacement’s cover, Can’t Hardly Wait…I love this song. And the Woody Guthrie song they always play, I Don’t Care…funny, it’s just funny. And explains why I love everything he writes. All the man needs are liner notes, then some of the hipsters who attended last night’s concert would find out who Townes, Woody Guthrie, Joe Hill and John Henry actually were.

Cory Younts is fucking incredible as well, the mandolin, the banjo, the harmonica…the man is a quick picking master, lyrical and gorgeous one minute, and then the best train you’ve ever heard, he can make your heart stop its beating. I almost prefer just the two of them together to the more orchestrated tracks on the albums, but then a CD can never speak to what it means to see someone play live. Go see them play. And buy their music here, more of it will go to the band and less to evil Amazon or itunes…

Frank Fairfield opened for them, and he was great too, he made me happy…like stepping back in time really, way back. And I couldn’t believe I was in L.A. The old school fiddle playing, banjo, guitar, the quaver in the voice, the shabby grey suit, the old Carter Family songs and pure death and desolation. There’s just something about him…you can hear him here, but contact him, stay up on where he’s playing, anything else? I’m afraid not…