A Light Goes Out [The Times]

Long after the life has faded from memory, Michael Jackson’s talent will endure

The death of Michael Jackson brings to an end the tragic third act of a remarkable life. The final, reclusive years were a descent into an increasingly bizarre and dysfunctional world of his own devising. The strange, plastic contortions of his face, the tales of sleeping in an oxygen tank, the personal amusement park populated by chimpanzees and children and the allegations of child abuse — a whole life lived out in the glare of publicity had turned in on itself. He was reported to have a critical lung condition and to need a transplant and, on his rare appearances in public, he cut a pitiable figure.

There will be a great deal of raking over of the details, some of them sordid, of the life. But where life is short, art, of sufficient quality, will last much longer. And the music that Michael Jackson created in two phases of fabulous creativity will be the story long after the peculiarities of his life have been relegated to the footnotes.

The first creative flowering began when he was a child. Born in 1958, into a poor family in Gary, Indiana, Jackson was put on the stage, with his four brothers, at the age of 6. The seeds of problems were probably planted at this time. Many years later Michael Jackson accused his father of abuse and it is clear that he had no semblance of an ordinary childhood. For a grown man to call his ranch Neverland is surely the desperate plea of a boy who did not want to grow old, at least not before he had been allowed to be young.

No human being should ever be a repository for the ambitions of another, a father or anyone else. So nobody should say that the music justifies the treatment. But the music is still there, all the same, and the early Jackson Five records have stood the only test of art that matters — the test of time. In a string of magnificent cuts for Motown (ABC, I Want You Back, The Love You Save, I’ll Be There) Michael Jackson established himself, while still no more than a boy, as a vocalist of the first rank.

There are some great recording artists whose reputation rests, and deservedly, on this golden period for Motown records. The reason Michael Jackson ranks higher than his contemporaries is because of the extraordinary second act to his career. Between 1979, with the release of Off the Wall, and 1987, with Bad, Jackson and his brilliant producer Quincy Jones produced a trilogy of albums that both defined a new genre and marked its high point. In between the two, Jackson released the highest-selling album of all time, Thriller. In the process he upset all the usual musical categories, a black artist creating a new market, bigger than any before or since. Sales were helped enormously by the short films accompanying Billie Jean and Thriller that also made Michael Jackson the first great star of the video age.

The tortured circumstances of Michael Jackson’s life meant that his best work had, almost without question, already been done. You need to hear the music, that insistent beat, and suddenly the talent is obvious. The singer dances lithely through the streets. He slides effortlessly up to a lamppost. He touches it and a light goes on.

"Rest In Peace" for ever...

Michael & Janet (1972)

2009 NBA Champoins [Bill Simmons / ESPN]

Well it took me nearly a week to finally open my laptop and write about the NBA Finals and the 2009 Champions : The Los Angeles Lakers.
But, if you don't mind, I would like to say something about the man who was at the centre of this year Playoffs ; Kobe Bryant.

Since last year (20 months ago to be exact), Kobe has won the league MVP, an All-Star MVP and the 09 Finals MVP awards; he played in two straight Finals and won a title; he starred on an Olympic gold medal team, took over in the most important game against Spain to deliver the victory. Most amazingly, he played in the maximum 164 regular-season games and 44 playoffs games without getting a summer break because of the Olympics. And he did it despite turning 30 in August 2008.

The fact is that we just witnessed one of the great two-year stretches in the history of professional basketball if the determining factors were durability, consistency, individual success, team success, statistical excellence and degree of difficulty. Kobe's 2007-2009 stretch ranks alongside these post-shot-clock efforts (in no particular order): Bill Russell (1961-63), Jerry West (1964-66), Wilt Chamberlain (1966-68), Bill Russell (1967-69), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1970-72), Larry Bird (1985-87), Magic Johnson (1986-88), Michael Jordan (1990-92), Hakeem Olajuwon (1993-95), Michael Jordan (1996-98) and Tim Duncan (2001-03).

Let me tell you something, we will never see another Michael Jordan, just like we will never see another Marlon Brando or John Lennon. It's just not happening. They might compare statistically and stylistically, but Jordan could command a room of 10 people or 20,000 and get the exact same reaction: Every set of eyes trained on him for as long as he was there. His personality, his charisma, his aura, his passion ... indescribable. Like nothing I have ever seen. Jordan was always the coolest guy in the room, and when he would walk to an arena, everybody would freeze, and you would hear screams, and then it would be a sea of lightbulbs. And everyone was saying the same thing, "I get to say I watched Michael Jordan."

Kobe always wanted people to feel that way about him. He shaved his head, made music videos, jumped cars for viral videos, changed his number, stole Jordan's fist pump, created that creepy face where he stuck his bottom two teeth out ... none of it worked. He will never command a room like Jordan did. Sorry. But he does share one crucial trait with Jordan: He's a professional of the highest order. He shows up every single night. It's just ingrained in him. Since they acquired Pau Gasol 17 months ago, the Lakers have not lost three games in a row. Why? Because of Kobe Bryant. He will always try hard. Always. It's the best thing about him. And really, that's what made Kobe's performance special this spring: The degree of difficulty for someone maintaining that intensity for 20 months (without missing a single game or getting a summer break) is absolutely off the charts. It's remarkable.

At this specific point in his career, Kobe Bryant shouldn't have been able to play as consistently well as he did. He shouldn't have been able to survive overtime periods in Game 2 (his 205th straight game in 20 months) and Game 4 (No. 207) and thrived in Game 5. Basketball might be a team sport, but in this specific case, an individual's will stood out and made the accomplishment of the group seem ancillary.

Look, I don't know how much of Kobe's personality is contrived. I don't know if this is the same selfish guy we watched five years ago, only with a freshly polished veneer that hides every demon lurking inside. I don't know if he learned how to play the part of a leader, almost like a trained actor, to throw everyone off his selfish scent. I don't know if he's sitting there tonight thinking, "I won my fourth title!" instead of, "We won the title!" Odds are, we will never figure these things out.

But I do know this: What Kobe Bryant accomplished over the past 20 months ranks up there with anything that ever happened in the National Basketball Association. He walks among the NBA gods now. Like it or not.

GABON : Hope & Pray for my people...

Yesterday, Omar Bongo Ondimba passed away in a private clinic in Spain after a long battle against cancer. After more than 40 years as head of state of Gabon (my home country), we, people of Gabon, are for the first time orphan and afraid that the stability Omar Bongo Ondimba gave us during his time "au Palais du bord de mer" could vanished in the tense struggle to find a successor.

Today, reports from my own family, my friends and relatives, are that Ali Ben Bongo, Defence Minister, decided last night, to send the army in the streets to secure strategic position in Libreville and sensitive state building. Borders are close, vital communication like Internet or Fax network have been disable, which mean that most of us who live in Europe or America, are in a complete dark about what's going on over there.

Having met Ali Ben Bongo before, I trust his judgement and understand that right now his main priority is to secure his family and relatives and reassure the people that what we all want is to have a peaceful transition and keep maintain our politic and economic stability.

Today, we shouldn't think about payback, revenge or anything else which will bring up negative feeling about 40 years of fortune and wealth for a minority ethnic who had the privilege to be related by blood or by birth place to Omar Bongo Ondimba, no, not at all, today we should think about humility and forgiveness, we should think about standing side by side to each other to help our country to move forward and prepare ourselves for the challenge tomorrow will bring.

As I said, I trust Ali Ben Bongo to make the right choice about our country and his people, I trust him to make the right decision about tomorrow, I trust him to be as fair as anyone when the time will come to choose and install a new leader and a new government, and I trust him without any doubt to let the people make their own decision about where they want to go from now and who they want to see or elect as our next Head of State.

Save Our Planet : Climate Day 05.06.09

HOME  by Yann Arthurs-Bertrand
Worldwide release on June, 05 2009
Climate Day

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