Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Malcom Did It First

My earliest memory of the Super Bowl, or The First AFL-NFL World Championship Game as it was called back then, was 1967; it’s first year. 
I was 9 years old and living in Southern California.  My mom, who was a football shark and expert of the game, was in the kitchen, a lit Kent cigarette smoldering in the ashtray on the counter next to her. 
I can still see her stuffing celery with cream cheese and peanut butter, opening cans of Vienna Sausages and taking intermittent drags on her cigarette while my dad was outside on the patio dousing the charcoals with lighter fluid and yelling at my brother and I to “settle down.” 
(It never sunk in for either of us.)
I’m certain my mom’s team was the Green Packers. I’m sure of this because their coach 
at that time was the legendary Vince Lombardi who was one of my mom’s heroes. 
Their quarterback was the renowned and celebrated, Bart Starr, whom she also idolized
Football to our family was like Sunday mass to a Catholic family and the Super Bowl was the Resurrection itself.  During football season, we ate on TV trays in the living room where we could only speak during commercials. No joke. Mom was in several ‘pools’ with the men at her work and with the dudes that dad hung out with at the local bar.  For decades, football was king in our household and, like it is for millions of Americans today, the Super Bowl was what we lived for.

Fast forward to last Sunday.  For sure, all 34 units at the park were tuned in. Tommy and Kimmie most likely had a full-on BBQ with all the fixins: wieners, burgers, tater salad, jello mixed with fruit cocktail and ice chests filled with Keystone.  They probably invited the “triple wide”, their buddies in unit 2, and the animal breeder in unit 5.  19 without a doubt, wearing camouflage, pulled up in his jacked-up hydraulic pickup.  I’m certain they didn’t invite units 3 or 10, although 10 probably made an uninvited appearance, half-lit.
23, who painted his trailer red and gold the week he and his family moved in, didn’t give a shit about the ‘Big Game’ yesterday.  His San Francisco 49er flag, which waved proudly in the breeze from the flagpole in his front patch of dirt, was a clear sign of what he thought of Sunday’s  event.

I didn’t give a shit either.  Well, actually I didn’t give a shit until I heard Madonna would be performing at halftime. Madonna was a huge part of my dance groove "in the day" much like Michael Jackson and PrinceWe all thought she was cool, talented, artistic, strong and gorgeous.  And when she teased us; dangled her ‘Like a Virgin carrot’ in front of our noses with rumors that she might have slept with a girl or two, then I, like a drooling bunny, became her biggest fan regardless if it was true or not.   
Yea, Madonna is incredible, right?  Actually, perhaps only semi-incredible.
When I Googled her bio lots and lots of blogs came up; “Madonna-Free Zone” 
 "The Anti-Madonna Discussion Board” and “Madonna Blows Chunks” to name a few.  Then, after further investigation, I found case after case of lawsuits against the Material Girl for musical plagiarism.  Many have won their suits.
Perhaps I’m behind the times in my research due to living in a bubble these past years where the streets are lined in purty pre-fabs, pink flamingos and lots of denial cookies, but I really didn’t know the skinny, my darlings.
Madonna’s multi-million dollar hit, Vogue, which she originally released in 1990, and which probably had Tommie (and me) buckling at the knees, was actually first released a year earlier, in 1989, by Malcom McLeran.

McLaren provided an uncomplicated insight into underground culture as he created, maintained and expressed the raw identity of the Vogue.   Some say he actually taught Madonna how to vogue!  When Madonna came out with her hit Vogue Americans, including myself, went nutso.  But why was it so well received and why was Malcom forgotten?  
Well, for starters, she’s Madonna. Secondly, she took a very specifically queer (unpopular), transgender(off-the-charts unpopular), Latino and African-American(really, really unpopular) phenomenon and totally erased that context and replaced them with her own (safe) lyrics; “It makes no difference if you’re black or white, if you’re a boy or girl.”  Madonna was taking in tons of money, while the Queen, as Malcom was known, sat in clubs, strung out, depressed and broke.  
Check out his original work and judge for yourselves.

But Madonna’s not the only one plagued by plagiarism lawsuits in their career:
George Harrison and John Lennon were both sued separately by Chuck Berry.  Ray Parker sued Huey Lewis.  The Black Eyed Peas were successfully sued by an Ohio disc jockey. Led Zeppelin was sued numerous times by numerous individuals and companies.  The list goes on and on and on.  And so I’m left with these thoughts, “Isn’t anyone fucking original?”
This all may sound silly, I know, what comes to mind are the poems I have loved, the lyrics I have danced to, the paintings I have appreciated, the works of fiction I have read and have their honored places on my bookshelves… Have the writers, the artists, the creators, past and present, plagiarized?
And most frightening, have I?
The answer is the color of gray.
An individual, band, company, group of individuals sign their names to a finished piece, project, mission statement, novel, screenplay.  Yet, like murky gray fog, we, the recipient, cannot see the pieces or foundations that were gathered and used to finish the work. And how do we measure inspiration?  True, there are strands of clarity, patches of originality without question.   Indeed.  But there’s also a dismal overcast that leaves us blanketed in mystery.
The truth of its ingenuity lies somewhere in between.

The Super Bowl is over now.
Tommie and Kimmie’s friends have all gone home.  Unit 10 has returned to his position as Security Guard at the Food Maxx Shopping Center.
Malcom McLeran is dead.  And I sit here before you.  And like, no matter how hard I try…
no matter how much truth my sleuth-side uncovers…no matter how many folks say “She’s getting up there and just can’t move it anymore”…
I still can’t get “Like a Prayer” out of my head this morning.  I know you’re humming it too, Tommie.


  1. good art is hiding your inspiration

  2. There's nothing new under the sun, right? We all build on the works...the musings, the thoughts, the poems, novels, songs, even old football plays...whatever provides the inspiration. Perhaps give them a new twist, add an insight, change the basic premise with a spin of our own, add a few steps to this universal dance or the play-calling. It is a gray area, and the list is long of those who have been sued. But I DID enjoy the Super Bowl (the actual game, like your mom used to), though the commercials were somewhat tepid and the halftime extravaganza was a bit "over the top" and distracting. Would much rather have just heard Madonna belt out a couple of great songs...for, after all, that woman can sing and still has the moves to go with it! Guess I'm looking for the patches of originality, as you wrote, the truth lying somewhere in between. Naturally, you got me thinking again, a sure sign of a talented blogger who gathers up all the pieces of past experiences and uniquely rearranges them in her own voice. What more can a reader ask?

  3. i know i love you but the way you take such distant subjects and bring them together is brilliant.