Even worse, the moon isn’t made of green cheese either

Weird Fact #29: Michael Jackson didn’t invent the moonwalk.

dance“Who invented the moonwalk?” seems so easy to answer it almost sounds like a trick question similar to “Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?”

Yet, the reality is that this ridiculously self-evident query has a surprising answer. It wasn’t Michael Jackson.

The late King of Pop may have made any number of musical innovations over the years but the Moonwalk wasn’t one of them. Known by some as the backslide, the move had been around for years and some versions of it date back decades. Cab Calloway claimed to have done something similar in the 1930s. Moreover, some early moonwalks and similar slide steps are on video. In his biography “Moonwalker” Jackson himself admitted his signature dance move wasn’t really his.

It was born as a breakdance step, a ‘popping’ type of thing that black kids had created dancing on the street corners in the ghetto…” he wrote regarding the step he premiered in during a performance of the “Billie Jean.” “So I said, ‘This is my chance to do it,’ and I did it. These three kids taught it to me. They gave me the basics–and I had been doing it a lot in private.”

After doing it in public, of course, he – and it – became a legend.



Fictional phone numbers aren’t fictional

Weird Fact #27: 555- phone numbers are real.

phoneWhether it’s a film noir detective flick, a Saturday Night Live parody advertisement or simply a girl who doesn’t want to see you again jotting down her number in a bar, the 555 phone prefix has long been a classic standby for writers of creative fiction.

But what most don’t know is that there really are genuine 555 numbers out there. Though few writers obey the rule, the only triple fives officially reserved for use in fiction are 555-0100 through 555-0199. The rest have actually been fair game for real people since 1994 when the North American Numbering Plan Administration decided to let the nation’s most well-known non-prefix out for general use. You are probably struck, as I was, by two questions.

1)      We have a North American Numbering Plan Administration?

2)      Why have I never heard of any 555 numbers in real life?

The answers are, yes, of course we do and because it didn’t really work that well. The 555 exchanges were supposed to be a nationwide area codeless number similar to 1-800. Businesses loved the idea but phone carriers didn’t and said it would cost too much so mostly the concept flopped.

No one really seems to know why 555 became the fiction writer’s best friend. Some think it was the catchiness of it while another author believes it has to do with the letters marking the 5 key which used to be important when people were still requesting exchanges by name. (After all, how many place names use the letters JKL?)

Not that some fake numbers haven’t become more popular than others. For some reason, 555-2368 seems to be a favorite, having been associated with everything from The Ghostbusters to TV detective Jim Rockford.

Of course, some fictional digits have become famous for having very non-fictional (and often very irate) owners on the other end. The number 867-5309 is still a working number in some area codes although, thanks to the early 80s hit song Jenny, many unfortunate folks wish it wasn’t. At the peak of the song’s popularity, people received literally thousands of prank phone calls, most from snickering adolescents asking for Jenny and congratulating themselves for being clever enough to devise a practical joke that only every human in the known universe could have come up with.

It all could have been avoided if only Tommy Tutone would have stuck with 555.











What’s the real story behind Pearl Jam’s disturbing ‘Jeremy’ video?

Weird Fact #23: Pearl Jam’s infamous music video “Jeremy” was not about a school massacre.

BulletWith the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School the public consciousness was yet again assaulted by the horrors of random violence when a deranged gunman took the lives of more than two dozen people, most of them children, as morning classes got underway.

But as with other mass shootings, especially those at a school, the awful scenes that may have popped unwillingly to mind probably came from popular culture rather than the real world. Particularly for those of the MTV generation, they may even have been associated with a name.


Released by Pearl Jam in 1991, the creepy and controversial music video of that name featured shots of a manically glaring, eerily wailing Eddie Vedder, belting out a song that appeared to narrate a troubled boy’s chilling descent into a nightmarish world of rage and insanity. Intercut with flashed words suggesting evil influence and dark scenes of the young man’s building anger and alienation, it ends with a ghastly shot of a shirtless Jeremy strolling into a classroom and casually tossing an apple to his teacher before leaving his classmates spattered with blood, their faces frozen in expressions of shock and horror. Vedder’s emotive and unnerving refrain of “Jeremy spoke in class today” still sends a cold shiver down the spine.

Artistically well-crafted, gut-wrenchingly offensive and viscerally disturbing, the video is still seen as controversial more than two decades after its creation. Released eight years before the killings at Columbine High School, it was thought in some ways to presage – perhaps even contribute to – a coming culture of random mass gun violence and its school setting made it particularly relevant to incidents like Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. In fact, the band’s hit was even cited in court as an influence in the defense of a Washington state high schooler who pleaded insanity after being accused of murdering a teacher and two classmates.

Yet, there is a surprising twist to the story of the song that became so emblematic of – and occasionally blamed for – mass killings in contemporary America.

The video had absolutely nothing to do with a massacre and it was never intended to convey a child murdering his classmates.

In reality, Jeremy was based on a real-life tragedy, a young man who did indeed come to school with a gun. But the actual Jeremy didn’t kill his fellow students. The Texas teen shot himself in front of them with a .357 Magnum. In the video version, the blood staining the students’ crisp white shirts isn’t meant to be their own but rather that of the titular character himself. The video is about a suicide, not a mass murder.

The reason for the mistaken impression?

It was a combination of censorship and poor editing. The original cut of the video showed Jeremy walking in, drawing a weapon and putting it into his mouth. That, understandably, was a bit too hot for MTV which nixed the idea. The gun scene was cut leaving simply the shot of Jeremy entering and the closing tableau of blood-soaked students. The implication of the video changed entirely.

The director of the piece, which won several awards, called the resulting misinterpretation his “greatest frustration” and said he still received calls about it years later, particularly after Columbine occurred.








Rock songs – the bizarre genius of creative unintelligibility

Weird Fact #8: Rock songs don’t always use real words.

musicChildren of classic television remember well the closing theme to the old sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati”, a relentless, driving hard rock number with shouted lines from an overenthused singer. Doubtless, many also attempted to tease out what the strange, slurred lyrics were. They shouldn’t have bothered.

There were none.

The WKRP closing lyrics were complete gibberish sung by a fellow named Tom Ellis who was only doing them as a dummy lyric track to go along with the music so producers could hear how it sounded. But the powers that be loved the song as is. They thought it was a hilarious commentary on rock music’s often unintelligibly screamed words. It turned out to be the only time Ellis, a television music writer, was ever also a lead singer.

It is not however, the only time rockers have made up words. There is for instance Steve Miller’s famous song “The Joker” in which he claims to be called everything from a space cowboy to Maurice. Yet in one line, he notes that he speaks of the “pompatus of love.”

What on earth is “pompatus”? Absolutely nothing. It’s a meaningless word that Miller made up though there are indications he may have picked it up from one Vernon Green, an earlier artist who sang a number of made up words. Pompatus probably came from “puppetutes” or the equally marvelous “pizmotality” in Green’s songs.

Ironically, “Louie, Louie,” which was long rumored to not have real lyrics (or to have dirty ones), does in fact have real non-obscene words, the intelligibility of which were probably influenced by various issues during the recording session, including that the Kingsmen didn’t know that would be their only take of the song. They thought it was merely a rehearsal.

Yet this is rock and roll. Lyrics don’t have to form coherent ideas. Take Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light,” made famous by Manfred Mann, and containing such meaningful lines as:

“Some brimstone baritone anti-cyclone rolling stone preacher from the east”
“He says ‘Dethrone the dictaphone, hit it in its funnybone, that’s where they expect it least.”

or even better:

“Madmen drummers bummers and Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat
“In the dumps with the mumps as the adolescent pumps his way into his hat”

Which proves that even when rockers use real words, they don’t necessarily make much sense.