Thursday, June 25, 2009

michael jackson, 1958-2009

My first musical memory was the "Black or White" video. I asked my dad, "why is that woman named Michael?" It premiered after The Simpsons and I was interested in everything about it: the face morphing, the crotch-grabbing, trying to decipher the rhythmic grunts because I (to this day still don't) trust my ability to hear lyrics, mesmerized by the guitar riff - which I didn't yet know was Slash, thought it was the coolest thing ever that he got Macaulay Culkin - a star I recognized at that age - to rap in the video. Much of grade school joking was spent about Michael Jackson molesting children, even before I really understood what that was, alongside such classics as Q: "How do you know Ellen's a lesbian?" A: "L...N." so he was over long before I cared about music for real, which was brought on by Dookie. But returning to the car-ride special Dangerous - whose album cover blew my mind at the time - and you have everything. Just...everything. Forgive me if Thriller's always sounded quaint to my ears (eerily, I stopped in the Continental last night in Manhattan, which was playing "The Girl is Mine" while I was on the john).

But Dangerous...that's the real Chinese Democracy. Michael Jackson invented the blockbuster album the way Jaws invented the summer movie. It's no wonder he was obsessed with stardom, his records weren't records but stuffed boxes. Madonna floated from cultural meme to cultural meme but compared to Jackson's time-capsule monoliths, her persona's lukewarm. The way people joke about Brian Wilson's grandeur is the way he put his life together. Not drums go here, guitar goes there--McCartney goes here, new jack swing under that, Eddie not available? Get Slash, get those Biggie tapes, get Elvis' daughter in the bedroom. By right, he should have died five years ago.

This is a man who, whatever his personal misgivings, stretched himself beyond the limits of already unreasonable celebrity living. Forget everything-to-everyone; he didn't have time for rock vs. pop, disco vs. rap, funk vs. metal...if he couldn't be the nexus of all of it, it wasn't worth it. Dangerous has a dark, paranoid edge because that's where pop was going, but also because he was imploding by 1989. For funk he wanted factories of industrial clanks, for ballads he demanded no less than a choir and pews. No emotion went un-dubbed over 100 times moreover, and what a mess of emotions. Imprison "his love" in the closet? Because he "can't let her get away"? Because she may be fucking his brother? That is dangerous. And then it shifts into the Free Willy theme. Most tragically, by abusing children he was abusing his celebrity, the most dependent drug for someone with no real friends, only signifiers of fellow fame (and for the record: I blame the parents. Who leaves their child alone with an adult celebrity? This isn't a daycare worker or babysitter, it's a pop star of significant eccentricity and alienation. I call it starstruck neglect, and don't think the ones who came forward were the end of the story when you have that much available to pay off the starstruck.) Sick or not, as a culture we brutalized and cannibalized and consumed him far ahead of Princess Di or Britney Spears, and he did not know how to get better (or if he ever was to begin with). He simply became rich enough to afford to not think about consequence. He was lonely, obsessed with fame, obsessed with childhood, it's a wonder he was able to spin music from this emotional purgatory at all, much less strong, iconic, funny and danceable music. It's difficult to fathom, but I hope he is finally at peace.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

very nice post about Michael Jackson. Although he is not without responsibility for the kids, I think if you investigate more you may suspect that he is even less guilty than at first appears. I mean, the first kid said nothing happened until his dad, when his attempt to make a movie deal with jackson failed, **drugged** his own son with sodium amytal and got him to say that he had been molested. That was after months of the child's sister & Mom touring the world with Jackson. The second kid's family had no credibility whatsoever. Anyway, about the music -- nicely done.

2:44 PM, June 30, 2009  

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