Live TV, prime time, national stage. “Baby I’m a ….” He swats the mic stand over almost contemptuously, catches it with his foot and flips it back up so that it arches perfectly back into his waiting hand. “… Star.” Whoa.
Early on, there was a car song and the car was sex because in American pop music the car is always sex. But this time, the car wasn’t a V8 penis, the car was the woman. This guy was different.
The Gatsby-esque way that a regional Midwestern artist turned himself into a world-conquering superstar by writing and starring in a movie in which a regional Midwestern artist becomes a world-conquering superstar.
The ways in which it seems he wanted to become Orson Welles, and the unfortunate ways in which he sort of did.
The precision of the rhyme scheme, detail and storytelling of the first verse of “Raspberry Beret.”
Dig, if you will, the code-switching of the contrast between the kind of voice that can credibly say “dig” and the kind of voice that can credibly employ “if you will.” Dig, if you will, the audacity of refusing to choose between those voices, and to claim them all as his own.
Dig, if you will, the audacity of doing the same thing with others’ ideas or preconceptions or expectations of masculinity.
The fashion sense that came as a warning: “I can do this, but u should never try to do this because it would never work for any1 who was not me.” And the way that warning seemed to apply to everything he did, including that whole numbers as words/letters thing.
The sense that whatever it was that happened to Sheena Easton between “Morning Train” and “Sugar Walls” might happen to anyone else who got too close.
“‘Fair and foul are near of kin / and fair needs foul,’ I cried.” LoveSexy. Same thing. “Love has pitched his mansion / in the place of excrement.”
The kaleidoscopic detail of his lyrics. “I was kissing Valentino by a crystal blue Italian stream.”
The hilarious overkill of his response when record company lawyers told him that they owned his name, not him. The frustration with the way that experience put him at odds with the Internet ever after.
“I want you to know it’s raining, are you OK?” “Can you make it rain harder?”
The way you could never tell if he’d gone off the deep-end (again) or if he was just pulling our leg (again) because the dry, deadpan delivery — a pursing of the lips, a slight rise of the eyebrows — was the same either way. And the sense that whenever you were sure he was serious he was probably joking and whenever you were sure he was joking he was probably serious.
That time the Wilburys were giving us a lovely, warm tribute to George Harrison, and then, suddenly, this happened. And I believe that guitar is hovering somewhere in space, high above Cleveland, to this very day.
All of which is to say, I guess, thank you. And Godspeed.