book reviews, music

A review of On and Off: An autobiography by Stephen Bishop…

Some time ago, I started following singer-songwriter Stephen Bishop on Facebook. I think I did so because I am a child of the 70s and 80s, and he’s written and sung some songs that have endured very well over the years. I love his original song, “On and On”, and as someone who saw Tootsie when it was in the movie theaters, I love his version of “It Might Be You”. I also love “Separate Lives”, which was used in the 1985 film White Nights. The famous version of that song was done as a duet by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin, but Stephen Bishop wrote it as a solo.

No, Phil Collins didn’t write this song. It was composed by Stephen Bishop. I like both versions, but I think I prefer Stephen’s solo.

I remember a few years ago, I did a karaoke version of Stephen’s solo version of “Separate Lives”, and some mansplaining guy on SingSnap left me a congratulatory comment, then “informed” me that it was originally a Phil Collins song. I was annoyed by that comment and wrote, “No, it’s actually a composition by Stephen Bishop. It’s HIS song. Phil Collins just made it famous.” Yeah, maybe a little bitchy on my part, but if you’re gonna try to school me on something, especially when it’s about music, at least be RIGHT! Just a little pet peeve of mine… but I write about it to establish that I like Stephen Bishop’s music and have for a long time. I am, on the whole, a Bishop booster.

One of my favorite songs by Stephen Bishop.

So, when I learned that Stephen Bishop had written and self published his autobiography, I was interested. I like to read non-fiction, and especially enjoy autobiographies and biographies. However, having followed Stephen Bishop on Facebook and noticed some of his postings, I hesitated to pull the trigger. I’m going to be very honest. Stephen Bishop mostly comes across as very nice, and likely does his own social media, which I think is mostly a good thing. However, sometimes he also seems a little fawning and obsequious to me. I noticed that he was strongly urging people to read his book, which I guess is understandable. But there’s something to be said for letting a work stand for itself. If the subject is compelling, people will come to it. Some of his efforts to sell the book seemed a little too enthusiastic. On the other hand, having followed him on Facebook, I can believe that this book was authentically written by Stephen Bishop, in his own voice– for better or worse.

Anyway, I downloaded the book in late July and just finished reading it yesterday. I’m left with a mixed mind about On and Off. Overall, I’m not sorry I read the book. I learned a lot of things I didn’t know about Stephen Bishop. For instance, before I read his book, I didn’t realize that Bishop was raised in the Christian Science faith. His mother, who was from Key West, Florida, was a devoted adherent to the religion, and she dragged her son to church every week. However, in spite of his mother’s fervor for Christian Science, it’s quite clear to me that Bishop is no longer a follower. He includes a couple of anecdotes about the religion, which to many people will probably seem exotic.

Stephen Bishop didn’t grow up with his father, who was himself a musician, but made a living selling insurance. However, his father was in his life, even if Bishop’s “creepy” stepfather Kim was the more constant figure. Bishop makes it plain that he didn’t really like his stepfather, but he includes a number of stories about him, as well as a few photos. Although his mother was southern, Bishop was born and raised in San Diego, California. He makes it sound like there were some people in his community who were like surrogate parents to him. I can relate to that. I had a few of those “surrogate parents” myself, when I was growing up.

Some of Bishop’s stories are pretty funny. Some are just bizarre. A lot of his stories are genuinely entertaining and interesting, even if I was left scratching my head a few times. Bishop, to his credit, fully acknowledges that he’s been involved in a number of “weird” situations, which I can relate to, as someone who has also been in some truly odd predicaments myself. But I think some of the weird stories could have been replaced by more in depth writing about his life in the music business, as well as his upbringing.

Livingston Taylor does a nice job covering Stephen Bishop’s song, “On and On”. I notice that Stephen Bishop left him an appreciative comment. I’m a big Livingston Taylor fan, too. Especially when he’s in concert.

Prospective readers should know that a large portion of Bishop’s book consists of anecdotes, many of which are unrelated to each other. I guess it makes sense, as Bishop has made a name for himself writing songs, and most songs are short. Songwriting is not the same kind of writing as authoring a book is. I guess I was just a bit frustrated that the book was kind of mishmashed– with numbered anecdotes in some places, and portions that were more of a connected story in others. I also strongly believe that this book could have used an editor. There are some typos, and Bishop is frequently redundant, writing as if he’s speaking to his readers.

You know how sometimes, when you’re telling a story to someone, you might make a statement, go slightly off on a tangent, then come back to the original topic? That’s kind of what Stephen Bishop does. A little of that is okay, but it happens pretty frequently in this book. An editor would have streamlined the redundancies and perhaps connected Bishop’s life experiences in a more straightforward manner. I guess if I had to use musical terms, I would describe Bishop’s book as staccato, rather than legato. Maybe I just prefer legato writing to staccato, but that’s just me. I’m sure others like the short snippets that aren’t connected.

Stephen Bishop performs at the 1983 Academy Awards wearing a bespoke suit that he says he still owns. “It Might Be You” is one of the few Bishop hits that he didn’t write. I love this song.

One thing I did notice and appreciate about On and Off is that it’s a quick and easy read, and some of Bishop’s stories about other celebrities he’s met are interesting. However, I also noticed an implication that maybe he didn’t feel like he was a big enough star. He writes about how he was once good friends with the movie director John Landis, and Landis had both used his music and given him bit parts in his films. Bishop was famously cast in Animal House, and he includes the funny story about how he ended up singing “I Gave My Love a Cherry” in that film and two guitars were sacrificed for the sake of comedy.

Landis, who directed Michael Jackson’s video, “Thriller”, even used Bishop in that video. But Bishop writes that one day, he called Landis at home and found that his phone had been disconnected. Landis later told him to only call him at the office, but when Bishop did that, he would end up leaving messages for his old friend with a secretary, and Landis wouldn’t return his calls. Then he concludes that Landis had “cleaned house” and stopped talking to people who weren’t “big enough”.

I’m not a celebrity myself, so I don’t know what that world is like. Maybe there’s some truth to Bishop’s conclusions about Landis. However, having watched him post oily platitudes on other celebrities’ pages on social media, I kind of wonder if maybe Bishop doesn’t realize how he might come across to some people. Obviously, the man is a talented musician, singer-songwriter, and actor. He’s won Grammy and Oscar nominations for his work. I don’t think there’s a question that he’s got star quality. However, he does sometimes seem to be a bit socially awkward and unaware. Case in point, below is an excerpt about an interaction Bishop had with the late John Belushi:

[Belushi] knew that I was friends with Eric Clapton, and that really impressed him. John asked me when I was going to see Eric again. I happened to be going to England the next month and told Belushi that I would say hello to Eric for him. As luck would have it, I hung out with Eric a lot on that trip. I mentioned to Eric that there was this talented actor named John Belushi on a television show called Saturday Night Live in the United States. Eric immediately knew who I was talking about and shrugged a little bit and said, “He’s the guy who does the imitation of Joe Cocker right? I’m not so sure about that guy…” After I returned from England, I remember having a conversation on the phone with Belushi in a phone booth. John sounded so eager and like a little kid saying, “Did you mention me? Did you say that I’m his biggest fan?” I said, “Gee, John, I feel really bad, but Eric doesn’t like that Joe Cocker bit that you do.”

“Oh, really?” John said, very disappointed. “Oh, okay…”

Bishop, Stephen. On and Off: An autobiography by Stephen Bishop (pp. 193-194). Stephen Bishop Music/Windsong Entertainment . Kindle Edition.

Bishop continues that he found out that Belushi was on LSD at the time and had a “bad trip” after what he told him about Clapton’s negative response regarding Belushi being a fan of his. Then he writes, “I felt really bad about that.” First off, the idea that Belushi’s “bad trip” had anything to do with Bishop telling him that Eric Clapton wasn’t a fan of his is kind of egotistical in and of itself. And secondly, it seems to me that there was no reason to tell Belushi that Clapton “wasn’t so sure about him”. He could have simply told Belushi that Clapton had seen him on Saturday Night Live and left it at that. I didn’t think that what Clapton allegedly said sounded that bad, anyway. It’s not like he called Belushi an asshole or anything. He just said he wasn’t so sure about him. But it seems to me that telling Belushi that Clapton didn’t like him was kind of an unnecessary and tone deaf move in the first place.

Eric Clapton is another subject in and of itself. Bishop very frequently mentions his friendship with Eric Clapton, and writes more than once that Clapton is a fan of his. He also writes that Aretha Franklin once asked him for his autograph, following with a comment that seems kind of like “humble bragging”, when he writes that he “worshiped her”. There are a number of name dropping, “false humility”, “humble bragging” moments in this book. A good editor could have toned down this tendency so that it was less annoying and off-putting, and more entertaining and informative.

My guess is that Stephen Bishop sees himself as a great writer. And, you know what? He IS a great writer… of pop songs. Writing a book is different, and I think he should have had some help writing his story. That’s just my opinion as a “nobody” out here in blogger land. But, on the positive side, I mostly did enjoy Bishop’s book. He’s lived an interesting life. I will also continue to enjoy Stephen Bishop’s music, but with a new understanding that I didn’t have before I read his autobiography.

Bottom line– I do think On and Off is worth reading if you’re a fan of Stephen Bishop’s music. However, I’m also reminded of the old saying… “You should never meet your heroes.”

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true crime

Would you sell your child for $1 million?

Today’s post is going to be graphic. Proceed at your own risk.

Yesterday, I finally watched Leaving Neverland, a two part documentary about Michael Jackson that was directed by British filmmaker Dan Reed and distributed by Britain’s Channel 4, HBO, and Kew Media. I had to wait for the film to be made available on iTunes. Maybe it’s good that I waited. I remember reading the comments about it when it was fresh news. Of course it was going to be hot on the agenda. This was a film about the rumors that swirled around Michael Jackson and his alleged penchant for pedophilia and child molestation, which dogged him for many years. (There is a difference between pedophilia and child molestation. A person can be a pedophile and never molest a child. Likewise, a person can molest a child, and not be sexually attracted to them.)

Two men, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom are now married to women, and both of whom used to swear that Jackson had never sexually molested them, were interviewed for this film. The men, who were both children in 1993, when Jackson was first accused of molesting a child, had both enjoyed intimate friendships with Jackson back in the 80s and 90s. Both men now claim that for many years, Jackson sexually abused them. They include graphic accounts of things Jackson did to them. Their families were also interviewed extensively. Both of their mothers seem aggrieved that they were taken in by Jackson’s largesse.

I have a couple of friends who are diehard Michael Jackson fans and doubt the film’s veracity. I can understand why they’d prefer not to believe what these men are claiming. It’s hard to hear that someone as amazingly brilliant, charismatic, seemingly kind, and talented as Jackson was, could be so capable of hurting small children. In Robson’s case, he really was small. At one point in the film, he explicitly discusses how, as a seven year old, he found himself giving Jackson a blow job. I cringed when I heard that, especially as he reminded everyone what that would be like for such a young child. Frankly, I don’t even like thinking about doing that as a grown woman… I can’t even imagine the horror of it as a young child. Robson also describes receiving oral sex from Jackson as a very young child, right down to feeling his hair, which he said felt like steel wool.

The film ran for about four hours total. I can’t say I found it entertaining. I’m glad I watched it, though, just because I was curious about it. I grew up in the 70s and 80s and I enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music very much. I own several of his albums. I never went to any of his concerts and was too young to watch his variety show with his family, but I certainly was well aware of the Jackson entertainment empire of the day. When I was about eleven years old, he was at the top of his game. Everyone loved him… everyone had Thriller and songs from it were constantly being played on the radio. His videos were all over MTV, which everyone was watching at the time. He was everywhere, and it didn’t seem like he’d ever come down from his pedestal.

Wade Robson wows on the Bad Tour in 1987.

Wade Robson joined Jackson’s life during the Bad tour. Jackson had come to Brisbane, Australia, where Robson is originally from, to promote his follow up to Thriller. There was a dance contest. At five years old, Wade was too young to enter, but he was so gifted that the promoters decided to let him perform anyway. He caused such a sensation that the was declared the winner of the contest, even though he was too young to be a contestant. The prize was tickets to Jackson’s show. Wade and his mom went to the first show and afterwards, met Jackson, who was very impressed with the little boy’s moves. He and his mom had tickets for the second concert, so Wade was brought up on stage. From there, a “beautifully” toxic friendship developed.

Meeting Mr. Jackson…

James Safechuck, who used to go by Jimmy, came into Jackson’s world in 1987, when he was cast in a Pepsi commercial that featured Jackson. He was an adorable boy, and although he wasn’t necessarily one of Jackson’s biggest fans, they had a winning chemistry in the ad. The cameras captured Safechuck’s face the very first moment he saw Jackson in person. I have to admit, it really was special. We don’t see ads like that anymore. In 1987, it was an endearing ad that evoked fantasy. The boy was enchanted by all of Jackson’s stuff. Then Jackson shows up. The boy is delighted, even though Jackson sounds like they’re both in a nightclub and he’s about to hit on him.

Both men explain that they and their families were swept away by Jackson’s generosity. Jackson invited them to his famous home, Neverland, where there was a “theme park” and a zoo. They were given first class accommodations and transportation. Jackson would call them on the phone and talk for hours. During the daytime, it was like having another friend their age, who happened to be in an adult’s body. At night… it would turn into something else… something much more sinister. Or, at least that’s what these two men claim. A friendship formed and the boys became regular visitors to Jackson’s home. They’d play video games, watch movies, eat junk food, and then share Jackson’s bed.

All the while, I couldn’t help wondering what the hell their mothers were thinking. Robson’s mom spoke of how Michael conditioned her to accept his proposal of letting her son spend the night in the entertainer’s home, alone. When they took trips, her hotel room gradually got further and further away from Michael’s… and Wade’s. At one point, Jackson asked Ms. Robson if she would let Wade move in with him. He promised he’d help Wade with his career. Ms. Robson, to her credit, vetoed that idea. But she still let Jackson have almost unfettered access to her child. Later, in the film, she emphatically states that no amount of money was enough to sell her child’s innocence. And yet, that’s kind of what she did… unfortunately.

The same thing goes for Safechuck’s mom, who talks about how Jackson offered her and her husband a very low interest rate on a home loan. And then, once the scandal broke, he told her the house was a gift. Jackson bought the Safechucks a house. Essentially, he bought their silence and loyalty at a time when he was seriously in jeopardy of being sent to prison. Maybe he’d still be alive if he had gone to prison.

I guess there’s nothing new about this phenomenon of young, innocent, naive children being taken in by larger than life, powerful men. A few days ago, I wrote a post about a woman named Katie who did a video about how Donald Trump and Jeffrey Epstein victimized her when she was thirteen years old. The reason she was in their company in the first place was because she wanted to be a model. I’m assuming she had a family out there. Where were they? Why was she at a party, alone, with a bunch of men?

I can’t help but think that while these folks are definitely victims, they have also been caught up in the concept of reciprocity. As humans, we are conditioned not to get something for nothing. If someone does something “nice” for you, you feel compelled to return the favor. Or, conversely, if someone does something “bad” to you, you want to get them back. Reciprocity, as a social psychological construct, has led a lot of people to serious trouble, particularly when one of the parties is toxic. Reciprocity comes into play when a person feels indebted or beholden, even if the reason they feel that way is due to an uninvited favor.

Here’s a less salacious example of what I mean. My husband, Bill, went to an African country a few years ago with one of his former co-workers. The co-worker was someone Bill didn’t like that much. The guy was narcissistic and overbearing, and he was always trying to force others to do what he wanted, without any regard for their needs or desires. One night, while they were in country, Bill’s colleague suggested that they all go out on the town. Bill didn’t really want to, but the guy had already arranged transportation. At an earlier time in his life, Bill might have caved and gone along with his colleague. After all, the man had gone to the trouble of getting the car and everything, even though Bill hadn’t wanted to go anywhere. Fortunately, this time, Bill said “no”.

The co-worker was surprised and got upset. He said, “After I arranged this car and everything, you’re not going to go?”

Bill said, “I never asked you to arrange a car. That was your decision.” Even though it felt strange not to comply with his former co-worker’s wishes, Bill stood his ground and stayed in while his colleague went out by himself.

At an earlier time, Bill would usually cave in to pressure from others, even if it was against his own self-interest. He wanted to be nice, and avoid conflict with other people. So when they’d make a request of him, particularly if they’d “sweetened” it with a favor, even if it was an uninvited favor, he felt compelled to comply with their wishes.

I think Wade’s and James’ mothers, and to a lesser extent the rest of their families (Wade’s dad was pretty much pushed out of his family’s life, thanks to Jackson), felt beholden to Jackson for the showbiz “opportunities” he gave their, beautiful, gifted sons. There’s no doubt these guys did make it in showbiz. They probably would have made it anyway, since they are genuinely attractive and very talented. But Jackson “helped”… and he introduced them to the trappings of being super rich and famous. They felt obligated to “be his friend” and support him, even when there were signs that he wasn’t such a good person.

Robson’s mother even pressured Wade to testify at Jackson’s 2003 trial, even though by that point, he wanted no part of helping him. She told him Jackson was her “friend” and that prison would kill him. Now that she’s heard his story, I wonder– was it worth it? Was it worth it to these mothers that their very young sons were allegedly sucking Jackson’s dick before they even knew what sex is? She says she would have stopped at nothing to put anyone who abused her son in prison. But she apparently missed all of the clues for seven years, or simply turned a blind eye to them. Why? If Jackson had been a normal guy, would she have let him share a bed with her son? Would she have not seen how truly strange their relationship was? Good for her for at least not allowing Jackson to keep her son in his home for a year or more. That would have been a true disaster!

By the way… I think Robson’s and Safechuck’s accounts are very credible. I highly doubt these men are lying about what happened to them. Wade Robson, in particular, is very believable to me. When I listened to him describe the abuse, I could tell it affected him very deeply. He would have to be a stellar actor to be able to pull that off as convincingly as he did.

Besides the stories of graphic abuse these men suffered, particularly Robson, I think the saddest part of the tale came when they realized they’d been replaced by younger, more malleable boys. Robson explains how one day, the hotel wasn’t paid for… there was no hired car to take him to the studio; they had to drive themselves. And when he got to the studio, there was Macaulay Culkin, cozying up to Jackson the same way he once did. Culkin claims Jackson never harmed him. Robson had been usurped by new boys, but we knew it was coming. I don’t know why their mothers didn’t see it coming.

Of course, I write this as an armchair quarterback. I don’t know how I would feel if I had a child who was super talented and someone like Michael Jackson wanted to spend time with them. I’d like to think I would keep a level head, but it’s really hard to tell. We all have dreams… and people like Michael Jackson, with his larger than life presence and talent, make it easy to forget life here on Earth. Most people dream of touching that world of celebrity, forgetting that celebrities are people too. A lot of celebrities paid a big price to be where they are… they might have been abused themselves, or they may have substance abuse issues or mental health problems. Then, there’s the fact that a lot of people in power are extremely narcissistic and they have the ability to justify harming other people to meet their own needs and desires. Just look at the ever growing list of people who were “heroes” in the 1980s… people who were supposedly above reproach in every way, like Bill Cosby. Where is Bill Cosby, “America’s Dad”, now? He’s in prison. That’s probably where Jackson should have gone, too.

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