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Hi there, and welcome back to the Monthly Missive. You can save anything in here to read later in Pocket, and email me at sophie@sophiebenjamin.com or by replying to this email. You can also see what I'm listening to here, and see what books I am reading here

Michael Jackson


"Did everyone in the 1990s know that Michael Jackson was suss?" I asked my parents on a recent weekend catching up with my family. They replied along the lines of "uh, yeah! You were just too young to remember". Like everyone else I've watched Leaving Neverland and have been thinking about it a lot. What do we do? Do we just stop listening to his music? How did the adults around let this happen?

The best piece of media I've come across on this topic is this episode of the New York Times culture podcast Still Processing and I urge you to listen to it. They treat the subject matter with respect and really explain a lot of the contributing societal and cultural factors around what happened without letting MJ or anyone else responsible off the hook. They also break down why simply "cancelling" Michael Jackson by not listening to his music isn't really a realistic and good enough response to this - and what a better approach to this situation might be. Oprah's take on it is also worth listening to

Finally, this piece by Jessica Valenti is a good look at how the internet has changed everything for people coming out about having been abused - and just how toxic and dangerous it can be. 
 

Mavis Staples


Jackson's famous "shamone, shamone, get on it" exclamation in Bad was  a tribute to (or maybe a liiiittle bit of a rip off) of Mavis Staples, who first sung "c'mon, c'mon, play on it" as "shamone, shamone, play on it" in this live performance of The Staple Singers' I'll Take You There in the 70s. Mavis Staples is an ICON and if you've never heard of her before, don't worry - she's got a new album on the way written and co-produced with Ben Harper and is about to play Bluesfest here in Australia a few weeks before her 80th birthday. It's incredible to think about what history she's lived through as a black woman in America. She toured as the opening act for Martin Luther King's rallies as as part of The Staple Singers with her dad and siblings, sang at JFK's inauguration, performed for Obama and has outlived the rest of her family and is experiencing the horrors of our present day political climate. It's a true testament to her impact that she has been a professional performer since her teens and that whole time, some of the biggest names in music over the past 60 years (The Band, Bob Dylan, Prince, Talking Heads, Jeff Tweedy, Gorillaz, Pusha T, Hozier) have been falling over themselves to collaborate with her, and every single time she makes their songs the best they could possibly be. This interview with her is a good primer - especially how 1968 and 2018 weren't so different. 

I watched the documentary about her life, Mavis!, while recovering from surgery, and being the way that I am, I fell deep into a YouTube wormhole of her performances. She is so joyful -even when singing protest songs in the thick of the civil rights movement.  She and the rest of The Staple Singers stole the show in this performance of The Weight from The Band's The Last Waltz (listen out for her sighing "beautiful!" in the last couple of seconds).

I love this live video of her performing Nina Cried Power with Hozier last year. I generally find Hozier a bit naff, but having Mavis Staples in here gives this song the gravitas it would've lacked without her - and of course, he wrote it as a tribute to her, her friend Nina Simone, her ex-lover Bob Dylan and all other protest singers of the 20th century. She's there, five foot tall in her Nikes and comfy pants, clearly as delighted to be part of this performance as all the other musicians (who are young enough to be her grandchildren) are delighted to play alongside her. Look out for the backing vocalists beaming every time Mavis comes in with her parts, and her squealing with delight and applauding at the end. 

Elizabeth Holmes

Much like me wondering "did people seriously not think Michael Jackson's behaviour was suss", I've been wondering "did everyone seriously not pick up that Elizabeth Holmes was full of shit? Like, she deliberately dressed like Steve Jobs? And had that weird voice? And had no background in medical science?". In case you've never heard of her before, Elizabeth Holmes was the world's youngest self-made billionaire, a title she got as a result of the company she founded. That company, Theranos, promised to revolutionise blood tests by making it possible to analyze blood samples from a finger prick's worth of blood instead of a barrage of invasive needles. Sounds great, right? It sure does - except it was all bullshit because the science didn't stack up. Eventually a whistleblower outed her and she's probably going to spend a lot of time in prison ... but it's very likely people have died as a result of her dodgy blood testing shenanigans. The podcast series The Dropout explains this story beautifully and I listened to the whole thing in the space of a couple of days.

Much like Michael Jackson's weirdness being too much for people to take in (as spoken about in Still Processing), the full extent of Elizabeth Holmes' arrogance and evil is hard to reconcile. So, of course, the thing people are focusing on is how she faked her speaking voice to sound deeper. There's something so creepy about finding out someone's voice is fake - once again, MJ played this game with his own voice. Some say Holmes' voice change was a clever business move for a young woman to make. I know when I started in radio at the age of 19 I was taught to pitch my voice lower and stand closer to the mic for the proximity effect in order for my voice to sound more authoritative - and Maria Bamford has been able to make a career out of her incredible changing voice
 

More

Obligatory dog show content


I loved this voiceover of this big goofy rescue dog called Kratu completely failing this agility course but having the best time doing it. The hiding in the tunnel as a surprise kills me! This interview with Kratu's owner Tess is unexpectedly moving  and makes me wish for a Disney Pixar adaptation of their story. 
 
Copyright © 2019 Sophie Benjamin, All rights reserved.


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