“Say What??” Or: A Trip Down Memory Lane With Saturday’s LA Times

If you’re too young to have listened to Jim Healy’s nightly sports news/comedy act during evening rush hour, too bad, and today’s column by former LA Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre (“Journalist Bill” on Healy’s show) won’t affect you like it affected me — laughing helplessly at the recollection of how Healy mashed up real sports scoops with sound clips of various sports figures at their worst. You can listen here to some of Healy’s bits — out of context, who knows if they’ll seem funny unless you heard them when they were fresh.

Dwyre got me to raise my eyebrows when I read this part:

Healy had news flooding in from everywhere. He had a million leakers, and it became a badge of honor to be one of his snoops. Sometimes, it almost seemed as if he were clairvoyant.

Once, a decision was made about a major firing in The Times’ sports department, and Journalist Bill, who was going to do this Friday, told his wife about it Wednesday night. He told no one else. Thursday afternoon, Healy had it on the radio. Mrs. Journalist Bill has not been trusted since.

Okay….

Speaking of the LA Times, today’s front page carries a long feature by former pop music editor Robert Hilburn. Now, if you were too young to miss his long journalistic career, no worries. The story is the encapsulation of almost everything he ever wrote — Hilburn distilled, for better and for worse. Only Bruce Springsteen is missing among the cast of characters he profiles.

Despite all the caveats about Hilburn’s clunkiness and repetitiveness, I recommend the piece. He tells many stories I found (to use a Hilburn word) “affecting.” Like this one about John Lennon:

I was a fan of the Beatles. But I also wanted to know more about the man behind the 1970 album “Plastic Ono Band,” a flat-out masterpiece. It was Lennon’s first solo album and a chilling attempt to move beyond the emotional scars of being abandoned by both parents.

In the opening lines, Lennon sang about loss so painful that his voice seemed tied to a nerve deep inside: “Mother, you had me / But I never had you/ I wanted you / But you didn’t want me.”

When I finally met Lennon in 1973, he was temporarily estranged from his wife, Yoko Ono, and living in Los Angeles. Depressed about the separation and the pressure of trying to live up to his fans’ high creative expectations of him, he spent much of his time partying with friends or drinking and taking drugs on his own; sometimes drinking a bottle of vodka or half a bottle or more of brandy a day. Years later, he told me that when he had an important business meeting the next day, he’d spend the evening with me because I didn’t drink.

“I think I was suicidal on some kind of subconscious level,” he said of what he called his “lost weekend.”

“The goal was to obliterate the mind. I didn’t want to see or feel anything.”

One evening at his hotel, Lennon turned on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and ordered up cornflakes and cream. I didn’t think much of it until the same thing happened another night.

“What’s up with the cornflakes?” I finally asked.

He smiled.

As a child in London during World War II, he explained, he could never get milk, so this was special. The lesson of the evening was that there are some childhood losses you can deal with through room service. For
Lennon, the harder ones could be exorcised only through his songs.

michael_jackson_scary.jpgAnd then this story, with a similar subtext, about Michael Jackson:

I got the rare chance to observe this new pop phenom at close range, before allegations of child molestation and the resulting legal actions began to rule his life. In 1984, during the “Victory” tour, I worked with him on his autobiography for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, then an editor at Doubleday.

She wanted a formal autobiography; he wanted a picture book. One evening, I began to see how difficult a book of any sort would be. Jackson had handed me a folder with dozens of family photos. I picked out a shot of an elderly man, who turned out to be his grandfather.

“I love him very much,” Jackson said.

“OK, shall we put that in the book?”

He looked shocked. “Oh, no,” he said, “that’s too personal.”

After nearly an hour of this, he decided it was enough work for the evening. Popcorn was ordered from his personal chef, then he pulled a video from one of the huge trunks he took on tour. Slipping it into the VCR, he settled on a couch and said, “Let’s watch cartoons.” Jackson was 26.

For all his brilliant showbiz instincts, Jackson was ill-equipped to deal with many of life’s most routine matters, as if the years of childhood stardom had left him socially stunted and more than a little frightened. His world was so guarded that admission to his room was strictly by invitation only.

Part of this, most certainly, was security, but Jackson also was not good at dealing with people, especially adults. Adults could be cruel, he said.

I understand Hilburn’s working on a book. I’m sure I’ll read it, gnashing my teeth all the way through, to find nuggets like these.

One thought on ““Say What??” Or: A Trip Down Memory Lane With Saturday’s LA Times

  1. Yes, I always thought Hilburn was a poor writer. But I looked forward to his stuff because his musical taste was almost identical to mine. The only major artists I can think of that he liked and I didn’t were Springsteen and Jackson. But I loved the way he promoted the L.A. punk scene in the late 70s and the way he was out in front of the rap scene that emerged in the mid-late 80s.

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