For some reason I found myself reading the cover story in the current issue of Rolling Stone, about Justin Bieber. I managed to avoid Bieber more or less entirely; he either fell just outside of Kate’s teen-idol sweet spot, or she never had one at all. (I suspect the latter; smart girl.)
Anyway, he’s really terra incognita, so I read nearly all of this stupid story (no link; firewall), pegged to his recent screwups. And it was sort of fascinating, with many rich details of what you might call Graceland Life, that zone that rich entertainers and sports stars can afford to live in, surrounded by yes-men and layers of lawyers, managers, fixers and others who make unpleasantness go away. I learned that Bieber carried $75,000 in small bills, packed in two duffel bags — carried by underlings — to distribute to strippers’ G-strings at a Miami club. A photo array in the article featured a devastating headline: “The Wolf of Sesame Street.”
And I learned that many trace this arrested infant’s current spiral to the re-entry of his once-estranged father into his life. Pa Bieber, a brawler, recovering addict and all-around swell guy, has taken his place in the charmed circle.
And that reminded me of something I read over the weekend, a book excerpt about Lance Armstrong. A chunk of it concerned J.T. Neal, Armstrong’s first real mentor, who served as guess-what to him in the early days of his career:
Neal’s first impression was that the kid’s ego exceeded his talent. Armstrong was brash and ill-mannered, in desperate need of refinement. But the more he learned of Armstrong’s home life, the sorrier Neal began to feel for him. He was a boy without a reliable father. Linda Armstrong wrote in her 2005 autobiography that she was pleased that her son had found a responsible male role model, and that Neal had lent a sympathetic ear to her while she dealt with the rocky transition between marriages.
Neal soon recognized that Armstrong’s insecurities and anger were products of his broken family: He felt abandoned by his biological father and mistreated by his adoptive one.
Neal, ironically, was diagnosed with cancer around the same time Armstrong was. But he didn’t survive. And that reminded me of Pete Dexter’s several stories about Cus D’Amato, the boxing trainer, who made Mike Tyson into a profoundly dangerous heavyweight fighter, and then died, leaving the 19-year-old bereft and at the top of a very fast ride straight down. A father figure who left before the job was done.
Fathers. They’re so important. I bet Jeff could write a few million words about that one.
Yesterday we were talking a bit about music, yes? Their albums — especially “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” — were part of the soundtrack of the ’70s, but I haven’t given Little Feat much thought, so I read this Slate piece on the band with some interest. I don’t know if I’m down with the first sentence; “the most underrated band of the ’70s,” really? But what the hell, it’s just pop music.
I wasn’t entirely convinced, but there were some good memories in those video links. “Willin’,” I told someone the other day, is the trucker song America was too stupid, and too busy making “Convoy” a smash hit, to appreciate.
And while it may seem the long way around, I followed a link in the piece to a Rolling Stone reader poll on the best live albums of all time. Just to see what the other nine were. And when I saw that “Frampton Comes Alive” was included by not the J. Geils Band’s “Full House,” well, that’s when I knew what a Rolling Stone reader poll is worth: NOTHING.
Some people I knew in Indiana would have an annual party in honor of
Lloyd Lowell George, Little Feat’s founder, who died young. While Peter Frampton yet lives. I ask you.
And now we come to the end of the week. I’m headed out tonight to see a friend and former student play in his new band at the Lager House, one of those Detroit institutions. The band is called Clevinger, named for the character in “Catch-22.” It’s been so long since I’ve read the book I can’t remember, so I asked Wikipedia to tell me about Clevinger:
“A highly principled, highly educated man who acts as Yossarian’s foil within the story. His optimistic view of the world causes Yossarian to consider him to be a ‘dope,’ and he and Yossarian each believe the other is crazy.”
One piece of bloggage: If the Detroit Tigers can replace an entire goddamn baseball field’s worth of grass in the depths of this winter, why can’t we send a manned mission to Mars? Surely it can’t be that hard.