Saturday, June 27, 2009


Michael Jackson
1958 - 2009

That Michael Jackson's fame penetrated the most remote corners of the planet is testament to an astounding, precocious talent.

Like all great performers he made the impossible seem effortless. His success was due to a preternatural gift for song and dance but also because he surrounded himself with visionary collaborators - producer Quincy Jones and British songwriter Rod Temperton among them.

It's true that Jackson brought soul into the mainstream and later masterminded a business-savvy amalgamation of black music and rock. But artists like Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Sly Stone, Ike and Tina Turner, Earth, Wind & Fire and Funkadelic had paved the way before the explosion of Off the Wall's jazz-soul-rock fusion.

Jackson's late 70s/early 80s peak probably represents the last time black pop was truly exciting, and the artistry of I Want You BackThe Love You SaveI'll Be ThereShake Your BodyRock With YouDon't Stop Till You Get EnoughI Just Can't Stop Loving You was nothing short of dazzling. He was the first African-American artist to appear on MTV and took the pop video into new areas, though the triumph ultimately became one of marketing over culture.

Jackson's supposed popularization of soul ironically came about at the expense of his own blackness. His bizarre quest for physical transformation represented a blurring of his racial identity and pointed to troubling dysfunction in his family background.

His age and gender also seemed open to interpretation. Even as he grabbed his crotch and breathed "Don't stop till you get enough," he seemed curiously asexual.

As Jackson's stardom ran away from his control, his performances descended into megalomania and hollow self-mythology. They showed a personality shut off from reality, surrounded by sycophants and 'enablers.'

That these issues ever assumed a philosophical importance to Jackson's adoring fanbase seems unlikely when one observes the self-indulgent, Diana-like dimension of their grief. It leaves one wondering exactly what message - if any - Jackson communicated to his fans.

Beyond the platitudes of We Are the World and Black or White, to them Jackson was above all an entertainer and a desexualized superhero who never grew up. His neuroses reflected the identity crises of American society and the mutually predatory love/hate relationship we share with our stars.

In the mid-eighties stories abounded of Jackson's kindness toward underprivileged children. But his obsession with Disney, Peter Pan and his own lost childhood seemed plain weird and hinted there might be a shadow side to his philanthropy. The cynically cultivated image of innocent messiah was creepy and distasteful.

When the curtain finally came down on the freak show, the story sounded depressingly familiar: a major talent in free fall, drugs, hangers-on, litigation, seclusion, a Greek tragedy hurtling unstoppably toward a predictable, bathetic finale.

But the universe is never-ending, and our vampiric lust for heroes and tarnished angels knows no bounds. Hiding behind our fears, we'll continue to live through them - the Jacksons, the Presleys, the Cobains - and have them feel for us as we pretend to know them. We'll love them, hate them, envy and pity them, demand they be stars today, tomorrow, all the way.

Even to the final, bitter end.


Cushion Meg said...

A sad news again! but welcome timely-written blog! Good remembrance of him!

Shiffi Le Soy said...

A great artist, a tragic figure to be remembered alongside Monroe, Dean and Presley. This is how the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

spaewaif said...

Counterpoint by that great great Jarvis ...

Jarvis and Jackson

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Jarvis was right!!

spaewaif said...

*Jarvis* was God!

ヒミツ said...

oh dear...both michael and god being written about in the past tense. what a week! what a week!

Shiffi Le Soy said...

So god IS dead, then?!! Nietzsche was right!

Tom said...

Fantastic summation.