Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Remembered



I have the Thriller album on cassette. It is song for song one of the greatest albums ever recorded. I never rebought it on CD because I refused to contribute to his pedophile defense fund. Somehow I found putting money in his pocket more reprehensible than contributing to the bank accounts of the other drug addicts and criminals and similar denizens of the music industry.

He had no childhood but grew up to be a man without responsibilities or knowledge of the consequences of his actions. He traded his youth for a world without accountability. His money bought him license not available to others.

I don't know where his demons came from but they were real and he left a wake of ruin in his path. Whether the happiness he brought millions is worth the pain he inflicted on himself and those he preyed on can never be quite calculated.

We as a society create and then sacrifice our pop culture heroes. As a college student in the 80s, my roommates and I would sit around and argue one of the most complicated issues of the past thirty years: Just What Is The Story On Michael Jackson?

At the time the rumor was that he beat the Billie Jean paternity case by copping to being gay. If only his life were that mundanely kinky. Always be careful what you wish for. We ended up knowing way too much about Michael and at the same time not nearly enough.

Pop often icons come in pairs. The darker side of the Beatles were the Rolling Stones. At one time Michael Jackson and Prince vied for the top of the charts with Jackson being the 'good' one. Prince was a dark purple libido unleashed while Michael Jackson could sing-song "The Girl Is Mine" with Paul McCartney. He was safe and cute and cuddly and non-threatening. And then things changed. Who knew Prince was the relatively normal one?

The rumors about his personal life got darker and more twisted. There were lawsuits and settlements and testimony too creepy to dismiss. Jackson's arrested adolescence turned into a fixation with adolescents that got him arrested. He played with his image, perhaps to distract us from his real life with magician-like redirection. The difference between reality and persona became too hard to separate. In the Rashomon cult of celebrity we will never know the truth. Not all of it.

There is just too much Michael Jackson to soak it all in at once. His celebrity eclipsed those of even his 80s rivals like Madonna. He is too woven into the threads of our culture. We have iconic moments that can never be forgotten:
  • Moonwalking on the Motown 25 special.
  • Multi-channel event debuts of his videos.
  • Red jackets and single gloves.
  • The Thriller zombie dance rivaling YMCA as the least likely kids party gimmick.
  • The MTV kiss with Lisa Marie Presley.
  • The ever more outlandish publicity stunts as record sales plummeted.
  • A sad reclusive life where he became an object of ridicule and bewilderment.
Years ago in trying to honor another tragic life, the country had to decide to between Young Elvis and Fat Elvis. Now we have a plethora of Michael Jacksons to remember. To name just a few, we have:
  • Jackson 5 Michael
  • Thriller Michael
  • Tabloid Michael
  • Neverland Michael
  • Wacko Jacko
A brutal childhood in pursuit of fame, a creative rebirth into superstardom, and a descent into secrecy and depravity. A life too short and yet too full. So it goes.

7 comments:

Mooselet said...

I was never a big MJ fan - sure I had 'Thriller' back in the 80s (on vinyl), but I'm pretty sure it was a requirement if you were a teenager then. Like leg-warmers and big hair (from the female end of things... you guys had feathered hair and Member's Only jackets). Miss Thing was a bigger fan, so it shows you how he transcended generations. And I'm saddened by such promise wasted.

Nice post, yello.

DemetriosX said...

I never really was a MJ fan either. I was already in college when Thriller came out, so there was no real pressure for me to listen and I was a hard-core rocker anyway. But his stuff from that era isn't bad and I've always sort of liked the Jackson 5. It may be better that he's gone. Now people can rediscover his music without all the baggage.

You also forgot one iconic moment: his hair catching on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.

The Mistress of the Dark said...

Try to remember Jackson 5 Michael...anything after Thriller is too weird.

Jeff said...

I had a 45 of Ben and I must have played it a million times. It wasn't until he started redesigning his face that I was convinced he had lost it.

A Free Man said...

"We as a society create and then sacrifice our pop culture heroes."

Your absolutely right and that's why when these things happen, I just feel apathetic. I can't join in the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments nor the obsession with his foibles.

Cedar said...

I was born in 1981, so MJ has pretty much always been a total weirdo to me. I was just a babe when Thriller came out, and my first real memory of MJ is when Bad was released, and he was already pretty freaky by then; he was weird and pale and had a pet monkey. I remember as a young child even being a little scared of him, even before the child molestation allegations.

Despite this, I think that his songs (well, his best songs, at least) are able to exist by themselves and free of context. Their creator may be totally freaky, but the songs are somehow separate from the artist. How many times in my life has a party been totally livened up by somehow putting on Thriller? I don't think his death will tarnish the songs either.

VE said...

I liked his first solo album he did (right before Thriller). I liked Thriller too. After that...I never bought another MJ piece of music. I wasn't a big Jackson Five fan. I had Ben and I had I'll Be There. That was it.