SENSIBLE, CAUTIOUS PEOPLE are careful never to speak the truth in public about celebrities. I am not a sensible, cautious person.
When celebrities die, a bizarre phenomenon takes place in the media. Fat, unhealthy, immobile journalists spring out of their chairs, grab their principles, and do reverse somersaults.
You see, reporters normally work strictly to the eleventh commandment: Thou Shalt Focus On The Negative As It Selleth More Papers.
But when a celeb dies, press people do shameless 180 degree back-flips.
Your columnist learned this the hard way. As a kid working on my first articles, I noticed that the favourite targets of my elders were the easy ones: druggie celebrities.
For example, I was a huge Beatles fan, but I knew that my hero John Lennon had spent 12 years abusing his body, his wife, and his fans, creating the worst albums not just on earth, but in this sector of the universe.
It was said that no human being could listen to John and Yoko’s experimental music trilogy and live. I endured 32 seconds of disk one before running out of the room, crying, “Shoot me, please.”
When the news broke that someone had instead shot Lennon, I tearfully descended to the cuttings library to find the reviews of his solo albums (almost all scathing) as background material for commentary articles that would fill the next day’s papers.
But senior reporters sent the cuttings back untouched. The albums were re-reviewed from scratch. Drug-addled philanderer Lennon was hailed as not only the greatest musical genius who ever lived, but the best husband in history, an ideal father, and a possible incarnation of God. Lennon’s latest album was now discovered to be “quintessential genius” and given a Grammy.
When I pointed out to a reviewer that he had only two days earlier described it as “not worth melting down to make into an ashtray”, he replied: “He wasn’t dead then. Journalists never speak ill of the dead.”
I thought about pointing out that Hitler was dead, but decided against it.
Exactly the same thing happened in 1997 when Princess Diana died. Until August 31 that year, journalists knew her as a serial adulterer who had ignored the tearful entreaties of her own children to have a dirty weekend with another woman’s fiancé. Then she died.
From that moment, we wrote about her as a sinless angel who had temporarily descended from heaven to teach mere mortals about the truly essential things of life, such as love, goodness, landmine clearance, and the importance of wearing a different designer frock every day.
And so it has proved with Michael Jackson, another one-time hero of mine. Until last week, media commentators thought of him a sad pervert of questionable sanity and fast-deteriorating talent (Rolling Stone described Invincible, his last album, as “excruciatingly self-referential”). Now Jacko is hailed as the greatest musician of all time, forgetting that such a title would be better given to someone who actually plays a musical instrument.
Two weeks ago, the Mayor of Zagreb called for Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the band Queen, to make a comeback gig in the Croatian capital. What a great idea. Now all the media has to do is find a way for a gentleman who has been dead for 18 years to play a concert on earth.
Maybe John Lennon and Elvis Presley could be back-up singers and Michael Jackson could choreograph a dance troupe of journalists doing back-flips.