Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

I was 4 years old the first time I heard about Michael Jackson.
I remember it very clearly, I was standing in the kitchen, barely able to climb on a chair and my babysitter was discussing with someone, maybe my mother, who was the better musician and more handsome, Michael or Prince. I asked who he was, and they tried to explain to me that he was a famous American Singer and that he had a great song called "Thriller". I tried to repeat the word, but I couldn't and that frustrated me. That was the first time I heard that there was such a thing as Fame and famous people. I couldn't get my head around it and maybe the concept of Fame scared me a little as well, why, I don't know. The next day I went to pre-school and tried to show off my new knowledge. My little friend Friederich Kröner knew more than me, he knew even about details about Prince, which he liked better I believe.
If my mom liked Michael, I decided to like him too.
As I got older I attempted the Moondance in woolly socks in front of the television.
I was mesmerized and obsessed.
I got close once and impressed my siblings.
Then I became a teenager and he came to my hometown on his "BAD" Tour.
I wasn't allowed to go and quite annoyed with my parents.
But that didn't last for too long as got into Guns 'n Roses and Michael faded from my Horizon. Suddenly he was uncool.
Then Michael became troubled and sometimes I was embarrassed for him.
Then I just forgot about him unless I went to club and P.Y.T, Off the Wall, Don't stop 'till you get enough or any song for that matter came on and everybody, I mean everybody, would jump up with a smile and cheer and start dancing. The music spoke for itself and we'd be amazed at the sheer talent and power and everything was forgiven for those few minutes.
Until yesterday when I realized that suddenly a part of my childhood, memories had died and suddenly I felt just that little bit older and tired.
It must have been horrible to be Michael Jackson, with his amazing talent as a blessed singer, dancer and performer at the highest level (all 3 combined in one person is so very rare) and to have this dark side and being so unhappy and messed up and most likely very very lonely.
Maybe he was just tired of it all.
You inspired me to reach for the stars and watching you I learned that one must keep one's feet on the ground.
Thank you for a lot of happy moments.
Weird thing is, two days ago I probably would have written something different about him.

My friend Nelson, a film maker, wrote this and it is a great obituary in my opinion.


Orson Wells' rich, brilliant & ultimately doomed character Charles Foster Kane died, alone and unloved, in his California mansion. At the time of his passing he was a deformed, corrupt and far removed from the genius displayed in creating his mass media empire. In the aftermath of Michael Jackson's I couldn't help but think of 'Kane..' Michael's Xanadu had been stripped from him a few years back, leaving him wandering from rental to rental home, such as the one he died in in Los Angeles yesterday.

Michael was prepping to try to recapture his once elevated status with 50 sold out shows at London's massive O2 arena. But that was not to be. In fact I believe that the stress of preparing for that show, after his long performing layoff, played a role in his demise. With the music, videos and event tour that supported 'Thriller' Michael re-invented the art of the blockbuster album, creating an international stardom that endures. And, sadly, for the last twenty five years of his life Michael was in a losing battle with himself, trying to match that magical year even as the culture changed, the record industry imploded, and his personal demons ruined his reputation.

At several points in his life Michael revolutionized pop culture. He lead the first black teen group to cross racial lines. With Quincy Jones, he produced a trio of albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad) that reinvented the rules for black artists musically and in terms of international appeal. The videos, grandiose, elaborate and full of wonderful dancing are still the gold standard for the merging of music & image. Along with Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and so many other media legends, Michael made the '80s a golden age for black pop culture.

I, like so many of you, grew up with Michael Jackson. With my mother, sister and family friends I attended the Jackson Five's first Madison Square Garden show. Over the years I attended eight Jacksons/Michael Jackson shows and spend countless hours over the last forty years thinking about and, often writing about that man. In fact a book I did about him, The Michael Jackson Story, in 1984 jump started my career. It was first book and first exposure to the media machine that both celebrated, reported about and, ultimately, ripped him apart.

It’s hilarious how one sided much of the immediate commentary about the man has been. Sinner or saint? More apt is artist and sinner. People want to simplify a truly complex life. We have to be sophisticated enough to acknowledge that greatness and a touch of evil dwelled in the man. I've always believed that transcendent art emanates from the purest, most evolved parts of our soul. But that highly spiritual achievement doesn't absolve us of our daily misdeeds. To simply brand him a smooth criminal, as some have, or to overlook his tragic nature, as have others, is to deny his humanity. The meaning of Michael Jackson's life -- as a black man, a sexual being, a abused and abusing adult -- will be interpreted to fit the prejudices of the speaker. His music -- it speaks volumes.

1 comment:

eleanor.h said...

Michael Jackson was an innocent and happy man. He was a brilliant man. His legacy- not just musically, but personally- will be remembered, literally, as long as there is time. For as long as we remember Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. I've observed him a lot, over my childhood and til now (though I'm only 20) as one of my idols, and what strikes me, beyond his music, was how kind he was. I'd bet my life on his innocence. Ultimately, it's so important for people to know the truth. To research before they speak about him being what he was accused of. I don't care for those people, anyway. It's just a shame they talk so much.