Michael Jackson is dead at 50.

25 Jun

I tweeted about this earlier.  This is what I said this afternoon, when I heard what happened:

Michael Jackson. Dead. Like so much about MJ, it’s a mix of sad and weird.

Maybe it’s glib, but for the last – say – 15 years or so, it’s also been accurate.  Michael Jackson was an astonishing performer – the most talented member of a very talented family, and the most fucked up member of a very fucked up family.  He never knew what it was like to be normal.  He was under the wing of a strict and abusive father, and a greedy and controlling Barry Gordy, since age seven.  He never had a childhood, never had to deal with life as we knew it.  He just performed.

The thing about him never having a childhood… that’s why I never bought the allegations of molestation.  Not real molestation, at least.  Were there “tickle parties?”  Probably.  Did he give the kids alcohol?  It’s pretty much been proven.   Did he sleep in the same bed with the kids on his ranch?   Yes.  But did he do all these things because he was a lecherous old pervert who desired them sexually, or because he was a messed up man who didn’t realize he wasn’t still a child?  I’m sticking with the latter.

But that’s his legacy now.  That’s what people of my generation, and the one after me, will probably think of when they think of Michael Jackson.  Not “Off The Wall”.  Not “I’ll Be There.”  Not necessarily Thriller.   Not “Smooth Criminal”, unless they’re thinking about the Alien Ant Farm cover.  It’s like the joke about the old Irishman who won’t be remembered as a teacher, or as a leader, or as a hero, which he did for many years, because “ya sleep with one goat….

So, look:  I’m watching his videos on YouTube now.  I just watched “Billie Jean“, and I’ve got “Jam” on now.  There’s a certain messianic thread that runs through all of his videos.  In “Billie Jean”, the sidewalk lights up as he walks past, and he vanishes as someone tries to take his picture.  In “Jam”, he sinks a basket through the window of a completely different building, against Michael Jordan.   “Remember The Time” has him surviving execution in ancient Egypt by morphing and melting into a pillar of sand for the pleasure of Pharaoh Eddie Murphy and Queen Iman.  Even in “Beat It”, he pretty much puts an end to gang violence everywhere just by showing up.    And the thing is this: Michael may have been the only artist in the history of the world who could get away with this shit.

At the moment, I’m watching “Leave Me Alone“, which, apart from being the most Quantel PaintBox-y thing you’ve ever seen, is like being inside Michael’s brain at the exact moment it all started going horribly awry.  It’s full of paranoia, like a lot of his songs of that period, and the video’s full of tabloids and rumors about Michael marrying a space alien and such.  Then Michael drives off into a strange Yellow Submarine-esque world of oddness.   This should tell you everything right here.

He supposedly hacked off his nose because it reminded him too much of his Dad.   He developed vitiligo, which causes your skin to slowly lose its pigment in blotches, and covered it up with too much pancake makeup.  He became anorexic.  He had other, weirder, surgery done.   In the end, Michael looked like a completely different person than the kid who sang “ABC”.

Again, I’m being really glib.  The fact of the matter is, here was a guy who was one of the most important, influential, and fascinating entertainers of the 20th century.   If anybody represents the 1980s, it’s him (he’s at least third, behind Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.)   He has millions of fans throughout the world, he got black artists played on MTV, he wrote “Beat It”, for chrissakes, and “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Scream” and “Blood on the Dance Floor” and “Man In The Mirror.”  And, honestly, whenever I hear “Man In The Mirror”, I’m suddenly eight years old, in my mother’s blue Volkswagen, and it’s snowing outside.  Oh, and he wrote “Do The Bartman,” for which we are eternally grateful.


Posted by on June 25, 2009 in music, nostalgia


4 responses to “Michael Jackson is dead at 50.

  1. E. Christopher Clark

    June 26, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Good post. I had no idea that he wrote “Do the Bartman.”

  2. butthorn

    June 29, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    Me neither! I kind of don’t believe you!

  3. fever2tell

    July 1, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    “Not real molestation, at least.”
    ~I’m sorry Andy but I really have to take exception to your statement. If that was your child sharing a bed with a grown man who was ticking them and giving them alcohol (and that’s all they could prove he was doing, we’ll never know for sure what else went on. why else would you want to get a minor drunk other than to take advantage of them?) I should hope that you would be outraged. I should hope that you would not appreciate other people telling you it was no big deal just because your child wasn’t raped and might not have actually had their genitals groped. They were still being taken advantage of and being touched in otherwise inappropriate manner.

    The fact of the matter remains that children were harmed because of their association with Michael Jackson. Whether or not it was his fault that he became such a sick individual or if he knew it was wrong is besides the point. Having a messed up life doesn’t give you an excuse to act out your problems on other people. If the guy who lived next door to you was hosting tickle parties you wouldn’t tell others that it was no big deal, you’d be disgusted and you wouldn’t want any kid you cared about within a mile of him. Just because he’s the king of pop we should look the other way?

    Jackson was an adult with free will and all the resources in the world open to him, had he known or cared that what he was doing was wrong or damaging to children he could have sought professional help. Instead he chose to isolate himself in a fantasy world (quite literally, ahem, Neverland Ranch) and create an alternate reality for himself where being inappropriate with kids was OK. This to me shows he was guilty of wrongdoing and makes him undeserving of my sympathy on this matter.

    Jackson the entertainer and Jackson the person were two different people. Just because he was one of the greatest pop stars who ever lived doesn’t mean he couldn’t have harmed others or that we should forgive him for doing so.

    • geekusa

      July 2, 2009 at 10:01 am

      I’m sorry you felt the need to take exception, and I should have chosen my words with better care. I didn’t mean to imply that it was no big deal, nor was that what I said. Any unhealthy environment – i.e. a place where children are given alcohol and allowed to sleep in the same bed with a strange man – should be avoided by children and their parents, and sternly questioned by everyone else. And Michael Jackson’s house was, to put it bluntly, not a healthy environment. So, yes, of course I’d keep my kids away from him.

      That’s not the point. The fact that kids were traumatized, hurt, scared, and willfully put into a bad situation by someone who, age-wise, should have known better – and they were – is not the point. The point I was trying to make is that his reasons for doing so were not because of sexual compulsion, or power, or because he could get away with it, or because he was full of repressed rage, or any of the other reasons actual rapists or molesters do what they do. With the “tickle parties” and the “Jesus juice” and the like, Jackson was simply trying to recreate a childhood he never had – psychologists have said that he wasn’t a pedophile, but was instead someone with a severe case of arrested development. The real tragedy is that MJ was surrounded by people, until the day he died, who – for one reason or another – never sat him down and told him how icky it all looked. Maybe it’s because he came across as such an innocent himself, or maybe because, in order to stay in the King of Pop’s circle, you had to learn to look the other way and not say anything. And that’s why I feel bad for him.

      Regardless, I’m not saying that he was innocent or that his actions weren’t detrimental to the mental and emotional health of the children he invited into his fantasy world. And I’m certainly not saying it’s all okay because he was a swell dancer. But I never thought it was likely that he was actually screwing or fondling little boys, mostly because I never thought it was likely that he was screwing or fondling *anyone*. And that’s what I meant to say. The man was obviously sick, and I wouldn’t leave my kids alone with him, but I don’t think he was actually a child molester.


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