Monday, June 29, 2009

When I wrote my last post about Michael Jackson, I went back and forth on exactly what to say because I hadn't yet come to the conclusion of what to think. I ultimately settled on the few things I knew with certainty - he was one of the greatest entertainers of all time and he was unusual.

Now, time has passed and I've had time not only to think about it myself, but plenty of chances to talk to others and read their thoughts. It's left me with quite a few thoughts of my own; so many that I feel compelled to return to this subject; so many that I haven't quite sorted them all out, so my apologies if this gets a little messy and disjointed.

The most interesting viewpoints I've heard so far are not those that try to capture what Michael Jackson meant to the world, but to the individual. My own experience with Michael was probably not uncommon for people my age until recently. By the time I was born, he was already heading for his denouement, and by the time I was old enough to care, he was a surreal fantasy and easy punchline. Save for a few "Weird Al" parodies, the music had been lost in my concept of the man.

Make no mistake, Michael Jackson was bizarre, and an easy target, and I was content to leave him at that. I heard the hits, of course, but I paid them little mind. In fact, for much of my life, I was so swept up in the scandal that I would get uncomfortable at the very sound of any of his songs. You guys know me, though. You know I'm pretty big on thinking for myself. At some point, I thought I'd put aside all I knew and just listen to the music. I was blown away.

Over the past year or so, I've rapidly grown as a fan of the music, and beyond that, I've begun to reevaluate my relationship with Michael Jackson, the person. I'll state it once more, in no uncertain terms: Michael Jackson was a loon. He was crazy, but it's unfair to dismiss him as being only one thing. He was complex, to say the least. Certainly we can all agree that the man had more than one side.

Going back to my pre-fan days, I got really into ABC's "Living with Michael Jackson" special. Regardless of how things may or may not have been skewed to tell a dishonest story, that was some fine entertainment. To this day, it may be the most amusing television event of my lifetime. How long was that thing on? Like, a week? I was so excited every night, just dying to see what sort of madness Michael would have in store for me. That's the great thing about Michael Jackson - love him or hate him, he could find some way to entertain anyone, even if it was unintentional.

Maybe that comes across as a little mean. People say you're supposed to respect the dead, but I disagree. I'll get back to this a bit later.

Anyway, whilst undergoing my transformation into Michael fan, I looked the special up on YouTube, along with other interviews from across the years. I watched it again, and what I found was a very troubled person; someone who didn't seem quite like he was on the right world. Listening to him speak about diregarding age as a basis for friendship, or about how he had no greater pleasure in life than climbing a tree, and observing the interviewer's disbelief, discomfort, and disgust, mixed with a sort of restrained awe and jealousy made me think that maybe Michale Jackson was someone less bound by convention; someone who could see further, dismissed as an idiot and a freak in his time, only to one day be revered as forward-thinking and ahead of his time.

Still, he came across as a very troubled individual, and deeply damaged. As I said, in my introduction, though, I'm not terribly interested in pontificating on a distant figure, and I'd like to bring this back to Michael as he relates to my own life, though that, of course, warrants some mention of a holistic view. (If you want my take on Michael Jackson, the person, see the South Park episode, "The Jeffersons" - it's hilarious and spot-on. He wasn't a bad person, and people treated him too harshly, but he may have let his own personal problems get out of hand, probably at the expense of the people who were important to him.)

When news of Michael's death began to spread around the office, it was met with immediate jokes, and I have no problem with this. Once you enter the public eye, you are going to be subject to ridicule, and even if you're not, I think it's the idea that everyone has to be totally serious and respectful just because you're dead is... stupid. Death itself doesn't bother me. I'm not ready to die, myself. I don't believe in killing because I don't think I have the right to determine whether someone's life should end. Death itself, though? It happens. I'm not going to get too upset about Michael's death. He hasn't done anything in life that's affected me in years, so the act of his dying means nothing to me.

Obviously, though, I have a lot to say, and I've been doing a lot of thinking.

The picture at the top of this post is of Michael's iconic glove and jacket, worn during the live Billie Jean performance/Moonwalk debut atMotown 25.

The glove and jacket are on display at the Experience Music Project museum, and I didn't really know what Michael's death meant to me until seeing them. Outside the EMP, the ground was covered in sidewalk chalk messages and flowers, and inside were tables covered in paper and notes of sorrow. In the middle of it all stood a jacket and one white glove. Behind that, on an enrmous screen, played the above video. All around me was a crowd.

The death itself didn't get to me, but this did, watching all of those happy, screaming fans on the screen, and being surrounded by a captivated audience in a more bittersweet setting. I know from talking to them that my roommates aren't Michael Jackson fans, but they stood there, too, and I got the feeling that the moment meant something even to them. The connection, the solidarity - it was... moving.

There have been a lot of celebrity deaths over the past week, but I overheard someone at work talking about how this was different that events that have come before. This news seemed to travel faster than anything else ever before. Everyone knew within minutes. More amazing than that, though, was there was no question of "Who's Michael Jackson?" Farrah Fawcett died the same day, and though the name was certainly known, there were people who weren't quite sure why they should care. Not so with Michael.

This is an interesting point in history. With all of the blogs and Twitter and text messaging, news spread as quickly as it ever has before; not just pop-culture/celebrity news, but news of any kind. I take it as an indicator that we, as a society and species, have now crossed a line, and there's no going back. We know everything exactly when it happens. That's weird.

It's this same culture and technology that unifies us and grants us limitless knowledge which may have a very different effect. It's the end of mass media. We all know Michael Jackson because he dominated TV and radio. He was the King of Pop, and the last big star. This idea of a person completely dominating music is relatively recent, I believe. We've had Elvis and the Beatles and Michael Jackson. Has anyone else, ever, been the cause of such hysteria? With the fragmentation of the market and the democratic approach to finding fans over the Internet, trillions of cable stations, satellite radio, and MP3 players, will we have another? It's tough to say.

All of these things have, however briefly, turned back to Michael for now. A week ago, calling yourself a Michael Jackson fan was dangerous. His albums have continued to sell, and his upcoming tour had sold out, so obviously there were plenty of fans, but it seemed many were afraid to admit it. How often did you hear a Michael Jackson song on the radio in the past decade, even on '80s stations? How drastically things have changed in the last few days.

What I'm writing is not about Michael Jackson' death. It is not, despite what I said, about my personal connection to his music and life. This is about stories.

Life is not like most stories because it has no ending. Regardless of what happens, something will continue. The universe moves on. The closest we come to an ending is death.

I have to go to work in the morning and this is getting lengthy and unguided. I'm going to have to wrap it up tomorrow.


Anonymous said...


I read and/or heard more opinions on MJ, than I could have imagined posible. Your insight and opinion is by far the most interesting I've taken in. Same goes for your thoughts on death, life, endings, etc.

I eagerly await the next chapter.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

too bad the guy in the video can't sing
-sister jack