Friday, June 26, 2009
Pop Icon to Freak Show ... A Jacksonian Death Self-Destined ...
Who was Michael Jackson? Talented boy singer lucky to connect with the right songs at the right time?
Pop music icon who turned himself into post-stardom side show to sustain the public’s attention?
Even I am amazed at the adulation given his death, a death that hardly surprised me, for I could see it coming for years. But when you look at people the world over mourning Jackson's passing at the age of 50, you have to admire his powerhouse talents as singer and dancer to craft a music that would encircle the globe and give it a shared beat. Perhaps this is his greatest legacy.
I recall, silly as it seems in recall, the L.A. disco scene in the 1980s, dancing to some of Jackson's best tunes. And the best ones electrified us all. Billy Jean. I still have my only and favorite Jackson album, Off the Wall, which lifted disco to art. Maybe better than Thriller – an album more rock than disco, that I never purchased. Jackson was then wisely changing with the times, but he could not keep up forever. Few artists can. Moreover, every new album is more about the strength of the new songs than the established singer. Had Jackson lived, perhaps, like the unlikely Rod Stewart, he might have prolonged his recording magic by touring the Great American songbook.
In years too soon, the Gary, Indiana native would begin a bizarre Barnumesque decent into a willfully destructive transformation from young cute kid to androgynous cross-cultural charmer –- to creepy cosmetic transsexual.
And finally -- the side show never ended -- to what struck me as a creature from outer space trying to look like an earth-version of a female. We gawked at the face. Some said the nose was detachable. In a sense, the soul somewhere underneath it all was detachable too. What a gruesome spectacle of Twilight Zone plastic surgery. I had to turn my eyes away. Did anybody ever have the guts to tell him the truth?
Was he a child molester? I am not at all convinced. Under those bed sheets, affection may never have crossed the line, but the untoward imagery he fostered, sleeping with young boys, was incredibly stupid. I don’t think he cared. He was lost in his own celebrity.
Most of the Jackson defenders forget about the great songwriters, without whom Jackson would never have reached epic performance levels. Singers do not hit the heights without the songs. Jackson landed his fair share, and they sent him into orbit. So did his phenomenally creative choreography.
On a radio program here in the Bay Area, a local pop music critic surprised me by asserting that Jackson had not really enjoyed commercial star power for over 20 years. And yet, his name had never died. He managed to keep it on the tabloids by all of his weird pranks -- the child he dangled out a window; his marriage to Elvis Presley’s daughter; his flaky no-shows and his increasingly freaky face. And, finally, his headline-grabbing appearances in courtrooms pitting litigious American greed against depraved American celebrity.
The kinky allegations thrown against Jackson over his intimate relationships with young boys turned out to seem as flaky as the defendant himself. On trial, Jackson the showman mined America's insatiable appetite for the perverse. Illicit touching of his male teenage buddies? It was just about sharing a "warm glass of milk," he maintained. And maybe it was. Whatever happened in Never Never Land, be prepared for a barrage of tell-all books, fiction or fact. The post mortem circus of rumors and innuendos has just begun. What surprises me the most is how shocked shocked shocked the American public acts over his death.
Michael Jackson alone was responsible for his self-indulgent life style. Oh, what fame can do to the delicate. Elvis Presley, a bloated Vegas curiosity propped up by pharmaceutical pimps, finally fell apart and checked out at 42.
And now, Jackson’s inevitable death brings to the streets millions of tearful fans. Perhaps they all lived in the hope of a triumphal return in London. Somehow, I can't quite feel their sadness, maybe because I can't imagine the artistic redemption I suppose they dreamed of for one of the most eccentrically flamboyant pop artists who ever lived. His sudden passing allows him at least to exit the world minus the tainted legacy of a failed -- or aborted -- comeback.
Time has long since passed over Michael Jackson. But our memories have not let him go. Or, I should say theirs. Oh, Michael, so many years ago, when you looked like a real human being still, you were a thriller.