Back in November of 2014, I was introduced to the author, scientist, and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Howard Bloom. I was captivated by his science persona and had little knowledge of the journey he took to get there. He shares some personal stories in the book I read (The God Problem), but I had no idea he had spent a few decades in the business of promoting mega stars of rock and roll. Since he had such kind words (in his ee cummings way) to say about my review, I stayed in touch. With his new release, Einstein, Michael Jackson & Me: A Search for Soul in the Power Pits of Rock and Roll, I was honored to be invited to write another review. Took me a bit to get here, with life constantly poking its nose in my business, but finally, here we are. I take great pleasure in sharing what I drew from this new book, whether such thoughts were Howard’s intention or not. [Insert smiley face]
I am guessing that if I did not already know Howard’s work, I probably would not have had much interest in the title. Having read it, I am glad that connection allowed me the opportunity to see into the boardrooms, hotel rooms, and backstage rooms of the mega stars in rock and roll. You see, I have never been a big fan of mega stars. There are a few whose music I appreciated, but the adrenaline rush of secular worship of these people was something I never quite understood. Then, well, I met Howard. His vision of what happens when a connection is created between artist and audience, what happens when an emerging social group finds a voice that expresses who they are and what they are experiencing—that moment is the magic Howard and his varied associates, employers, and clients worked to find and build. I guess I get it now, why I never saw the point—my heroes write books and my taste in music is all over the place. This book gave me the opportunity to learn from the relationships that Howard describes. Here are a few of the highlights.
One of the aspects Howard looked for in an artist and nurtured was the ability to identify with an emerging subculture or cultural shift. These included the screaming teens of the 50s and 60s, the latch-key kids when moms went off to work, the unique aspects of Texas culture, the growing voice of gays, and the unique artists whose personality and voice could grab a stadium full of strangers, pull them out of themselves and take them on a magic carpet ride. Howard represented such names as Prince, Billy Joel, Styx, the Jacksons, ZZ Top, Bette Midler, AC/DC, Simon & Garfunkel, John Mellencamp, Earth, Wind and Fire, and Kiss. He saw firsthand what that connection did to the artist; how the weight of channeling all that fan energy could invigorate or destroy the person behind the act. He hated the drug scene with a passion, but he believed that so many truly great artists were drawn down that rabbit hole because it was the only way to fill the void left when the party was over. It was the only way to find the high they felt on stage when the stage lights went down.
What I saw in this search for, as Howard puts it, the gods within, was the moment of human impact in common thought, emotion, and goal. This is the very thing that so many religions from the dawn of time have used to draw their people together in harmony of doctrine and practice—the ritual of the dance, the music, the moment of selflessness that sets the mind free to become one with something greater. I must admit I’m not fond of such situations, I am usually a bystander, watching, detached. By seeing this phenomenon through Howard’s eyes, I was able to better understand what I see as our innate sense of wonder. The unrelenting drive to discover, to feel, to be a part of something—bigger. Something that tells us we are not alone in the feelings we have, the dreams we dream, the desires that will not let us go.
Howard tells his tale as a search for secular shamanism. A way in which to find those icons that we can accept as a rhapsody of our deepest selves. As a public relations guru, he builds a successful method of determining two things. What was the event or events that imprinted an artist and their work, and what personal stories could he find that would get their name in front of prospective fans? What drove their art, and what made them human? Somehow, I find that useful advice for anyone. What event in your early childhood adds color, or shadow, to all you do? What drives your interests, your likes, and dislikes? What ghosts do you run from or fantasies do you embrace? Then, what stories do you remember of your life, funny, sad, passing memories, and things that won’t let go? What makes you human? If you can find yourself in these quests, then you can better support your future decisions. You can find the gods within even if you do not display them on a stage.
There is one last thing that Howard did for me with this book. He saved Michael Jackson. Now, I will admit that I was more of a fan of the Jackson Five than of Michael; he just wasn’t my style. But I also find myself drawn to the side of him that wrote hits like “Man in the Mirror.” Knowing that he was imprisoned by his profession from a very early age, I knew there were parts of Michael that just never had a chance to mature—perhaps that is part of what made him such an intensely sensual person. Raw innocence wrapped up in the battered vulgarity of life in the spotlight. There was one thing I never quite bought into—that Michael was a molester of children. I have excellent radar for such things—I earned it. I saw all the publicity and thought maybe I was just too distant to catch it, but I never wanted to believe that of him. He just seemed lost to me. Howard saved him with his inside look at the man and the circumstances of the publicity that took him down. For that, I am eternally grateful. Perhaps I will learn more of this unique soul that came to visit for such a short time.
Whether you wish to know more about the big names of music in the 70s and 80s, or you wish to know more about how the gods within find us and our soulmates, check out Howard’s book.