I’m three years older than Michael Jackson. I grew up listening to him. I bought his albums. Both of us grew older but only one of us seemed to ever grow up.
When I heard Jackson had died I wasn’t shocked or even that surprised. He had seemed to be fading away for a long time.
MJ was the man-child who had spent the majority of his life growing up in public. First as the most talented member of the Jackson 5 and then as the young man who broke away from Motown, his family and everyone’s expectations of him by becoming the biggest and best known entertainer (and eccentric) in the world.
It is not only entirely possible to admire and enjoy the music of Michael Jackson the Artist while still being disturbed or disgusted by the life of Michael Jackson the Man, it’s the only honest way.
If there was ever a more suitable candidate for intense psychological therapy than Michael Jackson, I don’t know who it would be. If he seemed trapped in perpetual adolescence even at age 50, it was because he was so terribly abused as a young boy.
You can’t grow up in public the way MJ did and not carry some deep scars into adulthood.
His skin grew paler, his nose thinner and his body thinner and frailer. Jackson morphed into some bizarre reverse caterpillar. He went from a precocious and cuddly-cute child to a fit and handsome young man and ended up a pale, sickly, wig-wearing androgynous freak.
He made great music and did some terrible things. He brought joy and happiness to thousands of children but was accused of destroying the childhood of others.
Was he The King of Pop or Wacko Jacko? Like most men, he was a little more complex than simplistic labels. He was smarter and more sophisticated than his carefully conceived image revealed. The perpetual Peter Pan persona aside, Jackson was known as a savvy businessman who worked hard to get and stay on top.
The thing is nobody stays on top forever. While Thriller made him the biggest star in entertainment, it also forced him to chase its success. Bad wasn’t as big as Thriller. Dangerous wasn’t as big as Bad. Invincible wasn’t as big as Dangerous.
MJ caught lightning in a bottle once in 1983 and spent the next 26 years trying to repeat the feat.
It’s quite easy to both love the music Michael the Artist and loathe Michael the Man. After reading the transcript of his 2003 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley it’s damn hard to come away from it without feeling at least a little sick. The indelicate truth is despite being acquitted in 2005 on 10 counts of lewd conduct with children, procuring alchohol for children and conspiracy, there are reports the singer paid millions to settle other lawsuits of improper sexual relations with young boys.
Off-stage and behind closed doors there was a unsavory side to Jackson that tarnished his stardom. To be certain, Jackson was hounded mercilessly by the media, but having lived his entire life in the spotlight, he seemed determined to cater to the weirdness by way of his appearance and the oblivious response to the many controversies.
But there’s a time for those who hated the bad decisions made by Michael the Man to air their grievances and it’s not while he’s lying on a cold metal table in the Los Angeles Coroner’s office.
I always thought that “King of Pop” tag was really jerky. It was also inaccurate. At his peak, Michael Jackson was the King of Music. Nobody was bigger than he was after Thriller. A lot of other artists have made hit albums and better albums than Thriller. But at sales between 100 and 109 million copies sold, nobody made a bigger album.
Was Thriller’s success the final straw in Michael Jackson’s downward spiral? Somebody that knew the man can answer that question. I was never more than a fan so I’d only be making a wild guess.
The man is gone. The deconstruction of his carefully crafted image will be relentless. The music is immortal.
Sha-mone. Hee-heee. Woo!
~ Captain Willard/Apocalypse Now