Saturday, 28 August 2010

R.I.P Phelps 'Catfish' Collins

R.I.P Phelps 'Catfish' Collins, 1944-2010
(Photo: Flickriver)

I learned today from my friend Tony Wilson that Phelps Collins, the legendary James Brown and P-Funk guitarist, passed away earlier this month.

Phelps, best known as Catfish, passed away on August 6th after a battle with cancer. His death came while I was on vacation in Cyprus with scant internet access and so passed me by. It was with great sadness that I learned today, several weeks later, of his death.

Catfish Collins is a legend in the world of funk music. His stint playing guitar for James Brown was short but prolific. Alongside his brother, bassist Bootsy Collins, Catfish worked with Brown for only 11 months between 1970-1971. However, during that time he played many of the most famous funk guitar riffs of all time, working on tracks such as Sex Machine, Super Bad, Soul Power and Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'.

L to R: Bootsy Collins, James Brown and Catfish Collins live in 1971.
(Photos: Getty)

In 1972 Catfish joined George Clinton's group Funkadelic where he recorded even more funk classics, including numerous credits on the album America Eats Its Young and, perhaps most famously, playing the infectious guitar riff on timeless party anthem Flashlight.

Stints in brother Bootsy's 'Rubber Band' aside, Catfish largely avoided the spotlight in later years.

I met Catfish briefly at London's Cumberland Hotel in 2008 while he was on a rare tour with his brother, paying tribute to the late, great Godfather of Soul. While waiting for an interview with Bootsy that never materialised - a long story for another time - I chatted to Catfish about life on the road. He complained that he'd never really enjoyed touring and was sick of living out of a suitcase. This would be his last tour, he said.

My friend Ron Roelofsen, a James Brown archivist, met Catfish at another stop on the same tour and had much the same conversation. "I had the honour to meet [Catfish] in person in 2008 during the JB tribute tour in Holland and Belgium," Ron wrote on his website after hearing the sad news. "A very nice and also funny guy. I never forgot his answer to my question, 'What have you been doing for the last 30 years?' Catfish: 'Fishing'. 'And is there a chance that you will be making some new music again after this tour?' 'No, I go back fishing.'"

In losing Catfish we have lost one of the architects of funk music. Despite the brevity of his time with James Brown and Funkadelic, he leaves behind a tremendous legacy. James Brown is famously the most sampled artist of all time, but little credit is given to the musicians playing in those samples. Catfish is one of the most (if not the most) sampled guitarists in the history of recorded music. Long may his music live on.

Bootsy Collins is hosting a tribute concert for his brother on September 4th at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky. For details and tickets, click here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

A Final Word on the Lunacy

I have spent the last two weeks in the mediterranean, scuba diving and the such like, but the vacation was marred somewhat by the knowledge that in my absence yet more tripe was being published about me all over the internet.

In the last two weeks an entire blog has been set up for the sole purpose of slagging me off. The blog - created by a fanatic called Yazmeen, who last month launched numerous racist tirades against her followers on twitter - claims that I am a 'hypocrite' and cites as its proof a bunch of old comments I made on a message board.

The comments, selectively lifted from thousands made on the website in question, include me bemoaning Michael Jackson's decision to appear in public with a young boy after announcing his London residency last year and stating repeatedly that the star was to blame for a lot of his own negative press.

And if you think that's evidence of 'hypocrisy' then I suggest you invest in a dictionary.

My work on Michael Jackson has centred almost exclusively on the allegations of child molestation made against him in 1993 and his trial on similar charges in 2005. Using the Michael Jackson case as a vehicle to explore wider social ills, my articles contend that the case against Jackson was flimsy at best and the media's coverage of his trial was utterly shambolic.

Nowhere among the comments on Yazmeen's blog do I say anything to the contrary.

Look over the comments and you will see me complaining about Jackson's insistence on miming the majority of his latter performances, lamenting his apparent laziness and blaming him for many of the PR disasters that defined his later career - all comments that I still stand by to this day, many of which I even reiterated in my fairly recent interview with Lorette Luzajic; an interview I plugged on this very blog without any shame or apprehension.

What you will not see anywhere among the comments which Yazmeen claims prove my 'hypocrisy' are any statements endorsing the media's right to call somebody a child molester when they have been acquitted by a jury. You will see no comments trumpeting the work of those who have profited by accusing Jackson of molesting children and no argument in favour of the media's trial coverage.

In fact, if you look closely enough you will actually find comments in which I berate former Jackson associates for making lurid claims about his personal life in exchange for column inches. You'll also see me complaining to official bodies about reporters who call Jackson a paedophile, and urging others to do the same.

So far from evidencing 'hypocrisy', the comments Yazmeen has unearthed actually serve only to prove my consistency.

Yazmeen has been attacking me publicly and emailing me privately for several weeks now. While I was on vacation she offered to stop harrassing me if I told her everything I knew about the O2 announcement and the This Is It concerts. What I knew was limited and uninteresting and I gladly told her, thinking it would finally give me some peace. I even offered her detailed advice about how to investigate Jackson's concert rehearsals for herself and wished her good luck in her research.

However, Yazmeen is convinced that I am lying to her and keeps accusing me of holding back information, particularly regarding Sony's involvement in the O2 gigs. No matter how often I tell her that I don't know anymore than I've already told her, she keeps emailing me back threatening that if I don't tell her what I know, she will keep slandering me on her blog.

While I know little at all about Sony's involvement in the O2 gigs, it is clear to see why they would be chipping in. The publicity surrounding the concerts was sure to result in an enormous boost in record sales, from which Sony would obviously profit hugely.

Additionally, Sony was responsible for the majority of Jackson's solo back catalogue meaning that any CDs or DVDs sold at the O2 during Jackson's residency would be earning them money. So the question is clearly not why Sony would be involved in This Is It, but why they wouldn't. Apparently, though, this common sense explanation isn't sinister enough for Yazmeen, so she keeps pressuring me for a less flattering one. When I can't produce one, she takes to her blog and slags me off again.

Furthermore, given that she keeps writing ridiculous and inaccurate articles about me, I occasionally feel the need to publicly defend myself as I am doing here. When I do, she acts completely outraged - as though it's perfectly acceptable for her to keep libelling me but not pefectly acceptable for me to defend myself - and sends more emails threatening even more slander.

This culminated in her latest assault on my character, in which she nastily outed me as a gay man, as though that in itself is a legitimate reason for her followers to turn on me. This was something she'd threatened to do last month while pressing me for info on Sony.

In an email on July 29th she wrote, "I screencapped your posts both on MJ and James Brown forums & a queer site.... I am NOT trying to expose you but your denials and attempts to discredit ME is leaving me no choice.... I want INFORMATION."

I gave her all the information I had - which was very little. She outed me anyway.

Yazmeen's latest article about me proves that those currently attacking me have absolutely no idea where to draw the line between what is and is not acceptable. They see themselves as crusaders fighting desperately to bring Jackson's 'murderers' to justice and, as far as they're concerned, nothing is sacred. They don't care who they hurt, who they slander, who they intimidate or who they baselessly accuse of murder.

A person's private life and their professional life are separate entities and it is unacceptable to raise the former in an argument about the latter. In my professional life, I am a journalist and I take that role seriously. I never publish an article for mass consumption unless it has been deeply researched and thoroughly fact-checked.

But I do not apply the same rigorous fact-checking procedures to comments written on my personal social networking accounts - and nor should I. It is absurd to claim that I am compromised in my professional life by comments made on message boards as a teenager.

More absurd is Yazmeen's decision to unnecessarily reveal my sexuality to her readers. My sexual orientation is completely and utterly irrelevant to my profession, so to publicly declare it in a below-the-belt attempt to discredit my work was beyond petty. It was downright spiteful.

The fact that Yazmeen genuinely thought her followers would see my sexuality as a character flaw of some kind - proof of my unreliability - serves only to diminish whatever faint glimmer of credibility she and her supporters may once have laid claim to. Those who take their orders from a homophobic internet bully with a propensity for racist diatribes are not worth worrying about. I shan't mourn their departure from the Charles Thomson fan club. Yazmeen is welcome to them.

What it boils down to is this: As far as these people are concerned, I am not a big enough fan - and for that, I must be punished. The smear campaign against me began several weeks ago when I made some comments during a conversation on my personal twitter page about Michael Jackson's struggles with drug and alcohol dependencies at various stages in his career.

I was bombarded with angry messages from fans insisting that Jackson had never been addicted to any substance in his life and scolding me because commenting on his alleged addictions was 'not helping Michael' and 'could prejudice Dr Murray's trial'.

Since when is it my job to ensure that everything written on my personal twitter page is 'helpful' to Michael Jackson? I'm not Jackson's spokesperson, I'm a journalist - and I wasn't even writing in a professional capacity when I made the comments. Furthermore, the idea that me writing to a paltry 250 followers on twitter is going to shift the foundations of Dr Murray's criminal trial is laughable.

Since Jackson's death his own relatives, including sister Janet, have given candid interviews in which they state that they knew Jackson had drug problems and tried repeatedly to stage interventions. That these bloggers are so self-righteous as to assume that they know more about Jackson's private life than his own family members highlights the shocking extent of their delusion.

When I cite these interviews, the bloggers say that the star's siblings have clearly been drawn into an evil conspiracy to wrongly paint their brother as an addict and destroy his reputation!

Bottom line: I don't purport to know more about Jackson's private life than his own family members, and for that reason I have become the victim of a prolonged campaign of abuse.

The 'discovery' of my controversial message board posts has riled these fans further. Many of Jackson's fans live in a bubble of denial and mandatory self-delusion. Lots of fansites censor all their news content on the basis that anything positive is true and anything negative is 'tabloid garbage'. Anything they don't want to hear is branded a lie.

A lot of Jackson's fans cannot handle any negativity whatsoever. Some fansites will even ban you for stating proven facts, such as discussing the star's stint in rehab in 1993, debating the morality of miming concerts for paying audiences, talking about his wigs or complaining that he let kids into his bedroom after the Jordy Chandler debacle.

These fans don't seem to realise that in refusing to ascribe Jackson any blame for any of the bad things that happened to him, they effectively paint him as an invalid, incapable of making any decisions for himself - everything is always somebody else's fault. Unless it's positive, at which point Jackson transforms into a shrewd businessman and all round genius. They want to have their cake and eat it and anybody who challenges their sanitised and unrealistic image of the star immediately becomes the subject of threats, abuse and character assassination.

While the majority of emails, tweets and other communication I receive from Michael Jackson's fans are friendly, supportive and complimentary, there are those - led by Yazmeen and other fanatical bloggers - who take the view that unless a person writes 100% positively about Michael Jackson at all times, they are a hater, a hypocrite or even a hired agent in Sony Music's apparent conspiracy to murder the popstar. For these people, it is all or nothing. You either believe he was 100% right all of the time, or you're an asshole.

Why must one be a raving fan in order to believe in Jackson's innocence? What does my opinion on Jackson's music have to do with my opinion on his trial? I don't have to agree with Jackson's decisions in order to recognise the ludicrousness of the case against him in 2005. I don't even have to like him. What I think of Jackson, his music, his performances or his decisions is totally irrelevant.

To call my negative comments evidence of 'hypocrisy' is patently ridiculous because I have remained entirely consistent in my attitude. I've never defended incidents like the baby dangling episode and I never will. It is entirely indefensible. So is Jackson's decision to let children into his bedroom after 1993 and, perhaps more importantly, his decision to broadcast it to the world using Martin Bashir's documentary as a mouthpiece. The list goes on and on.

Yazmeen's logic is flawed on every level. Her contention is that by writing about Jackson's innocence and at the same time not agreeing with a lot of his career decisions I am somehow contradicting myself, but there is no correlation between the two. It is perfectly legitimate to hold one opinion about one issue and a different one about another.

Yazmeen's argument is, effectively, that anybody who says they like apples but hate pears is a hypocrite.

Where is the hypocrisy? I was writing articles about Jackson's innocence all the way back in 2008 and I'm still doing it now. Whether or not I agree with Jackson's miming, find his extensive surgery aesthetically pleasing or enjoy his post-Thriller musical output has nothing to do with my thoughts on his trial, which have provably not changed.

I am growing tired of answering these delusional claims on a point by point basis. I think this will be my final blog on the subject. My detractors have already been roundly discredited, not least by their own cockamamie conspiracy theories about body doubles and Sony assassins, and anybody who continues to hang on their every word is not going to be swayed by logic or reason.

Those who choose to lend their support to paranoid fantasists with provable racist and homophobic attitudes are undesirables. I won't lose any sleep over their decision to stop supporting my work.

My final comment on the situation: That these fans are branding me a hypocrite is made all the more hilarious by their own blatant hypocrisy.

Yazmeen herself is about as changeable as they come. This article documents some of her racist outbursts on twitter. How Yazmeen can be such a vehement supporter of the biggest black popstar in history and at the same time write such horrendous racist abuse on the internet is mind-boggling.

Among other things, she calls one poster a 'smelly, cotton picking NIGGER' (her capitalisation). "Why do black people smell?" she asks in another post. "Don't you sell deodorant in the ghetto? Oh, they only know how to get to the liquor store!!!! How many babies u have?"

In another shocking comment she writes, "Answer this, DID I THROW YOU A BONE? NOO, SO WHY ARE YOU BARKING NIGGER BITCH?" Another comment says, 'Why burn coat [sic]... when you can burn niggers?"

Yazmeen squares her racist beliefs with her support of Michael Jackson as follows: "Well it's because I despise niggers...,,and before a stupid ass jumps...,Michael wasn't a nigger, he was black."

Bonnie Cox's response to Yazmeen's racist tirade: "She said some things in the heat of the attack that I would not have condoned... but she was right." Bonnie, by the way, recently claimed on her blog that Tom Sneddon was a Sony hitman, adding that my decision to hide my facebook profile after her supporters bombarded me with obscene mail is concrete proof that I am also on Sony's payroll.

The article containing Yazmeen's racist tweets also reveals how she went from claiming to be 'a billion percent sure' that Sony murdered Michael Jackson to claiming that she believed he'd actually faked his own death. It further details how she berated Jackson's fans for sending abuse to the star's family members, then began harrassing them herself.

But it's not just Yazmeen who is gunning for me. It's her barmy army of supporters; conspiracy theorists who believe that Sony murdered Michael Jackson and I am somehow involved. This group of hardcore zealots is equally hypocritical.

When Jackson was on trial his hardcore fans adopted 'innocent until proven guilty' as their mantra and repeated it until they were blue in the face. Now his doctor is on trial and they show up in their droves at each of his court hearings to scream 'murderer' at him as he walks into the courthouse. It's one rule for Michael Jackson and another rule for everybody else. Constitutional rights must be upheld when their idol is on trial, but are meaningless when somebody they don't like is put in the same situation. And the hypocrisy doesn't end there.

Jackson's hardcore fans complain ceaselessly about his unfair media treatment but at the same time have absolutely no hesitation about publishing inaccurate, libelous information all over the internet about anybody they take a dislike to, be it branding somebody a liar or a hater or outright accusing them of murder.

Jackson preached love, acceptance, understanding and charity - an ethos that his hardcore fans claim they wish to perpetuate - but they see nothing wrong with directing horrifying abuse at anybody who dares to disagree with them on any issue.

In one breath they preach 'L-O-V-E' and in the next they unleash racist tirades and death threats. Those who are now gunning for me were, a few weeks ago, spamming Jackson's shattered brother Randy - who recently suffered a mild heart attack - with shameful diatribes accusing him of looting his brother's bank accounts in order to fund an addiction to hard drugs. A message of support sent to me from a Jackson family member said they've even gone after Jackson's grieving, 80-year-old mother.

Where my attitudes towards Jackson are concerned, there is no hypocrisy to speak of. Where those attacking me in his name are concerned, there is plenty.