Wednesday, 1 July 2009

The King Is Dead, Long Live the King!

So, Michael Jackson is dead. 50 years old, well a few months short of 51 really. And my reaction... is mixed to say the least. But most of all, I cannot seem to shake off the inherent irony involved in the passing of this particular pop icon.

Don't get me wrong, Michael Jackson has really had an impact on my life. I think my entrance point was really in 1987, when Bad hit the market. I'd probably heard "Thriller" and possibly some other song before that point, but Bad was the tape I bought (as a kid I had a tape copy of Thriller, though I think I actually got that after having bought Bad). Still, those two albums, and later Dangerous, did have an impact on me. The music was good. The performance aspect, which sadly I only ever got to see in videos, was absolutely amazing – what a dancer!

I went through most of secondary high school with a hat which I was given by a friend's mother after having borrowed it for a silly Jackson impersonation while preparing for a party. And that hat meant a lot to me over the years (the tattered remains still lie on a shelf), so... obviously an impact in many ways. But I digress.

Jackson's music is really good pop music. As an adult I've bought the three above mentioned albums on CD, as well as Off the Wall, which I clearly missed out on in my younger years. For anyone genuinely interested in the pop music genre, Jackson is a must. He's carved out a space for himself and in his lifetime reached the status of icon. To be sure a status that was helped along by his weird behaviour in many aspects of his life; his best friend being a chimp, his sleeping in a plastic oxygen tent, the never-ending surgeries, the move from being black towards being whiter and whiter (which quite frankly provided quite an irony by the time he wrote and released "Black or White"). Yet he was an icon and the title King of Pop was truly his, even though his star was clearly and undeniably descending in later years.

Then, of course, there are the many, many, many accusations of his being a paedophile. Now, I'm no fan of paedophiles to put it mildly, but I do think his case is problematic. First of all because, if it's true, it strikes me that too many people have been bought off too easily over the years. I mean anyone who is prepared to take a huge lump of money from a sexual predator who has molested their child and then let said predator go free and move on to new prey... well simply put, such parents aren't much worth a damn in terms of parents or human beings in my opinion. They would in fact be a crude part of the problem.

And if they aren't that, then that would mean they're just rumour mongers and crude blackmailers not even necessarily dealing in uncomfortable truths so much as tossing a lot of crap around.

I honestly don't know which version is the truth, but I will say this much: While it wouldn't surprise me if Jackson was at least guilty to some of the cases he was accused of, I don't think he'd be easily classified as a simple sexual predator. In all honesty, he always came across as something of a big child himself. In some sense, he was a perpetual, real life Peter Pan, trapped in his own lost childhood which he never really ever got to have.

Let's remember that he started out as a very young performer and his life seemed to be a constant and continuous attempt at reclaiming that lost childhood. As such, I'd venture as far as an hypothesis that he may well have committed some of the actions he's been accused of, without necessarily falling into the "type A" category paedophile, but rather something perhaps more harshly akin to somebody who due to mental deficiencies never truly reach adulthood or adult reasoning. Don't get me wrong, I'm neither suggesting that Jackson was "slow" in any mentally handicapped manner nor that any such deeds committed by him would be excused by what I'm suggesting. It's rather a notion of perhaps considering the potentially cautionary tale at hand.

At any rate, I doubt we'll ever fully know the truth of what he did or didn't do anyway. What we're left with is the passing of an icon, the King of Pop, and that in itself is worthy of consideration. Because he didn't gain that status for nothing. He did something to earn it. He made music that has lasted to this day. He performed in manners that have influenced many performers after him. And he most certainly had an impact on the burgeoning medium of the music video back in the 80s. Jackson's videos pushed at the boundaries of that art form, just like others of his peers of that time (e.g. Bowie and Gabriel), with tremendous results.

Yet at the end of this eulogy (because it is a eulogy of sorts), I find myself nevertheless back at the inherent irony in the passing of this icon and everlasting child. Jackson spent an enormous amount of time and money, not to mention engaged in some weird and bizarre practices, trying to chase down, if not immortality then at least longevity. This was the reasoning behind his sleeping in an oxygen tent and constantly wearing gloves and a face mask. The irony I'm referring to is, of course, then that Jackson died at such a tender age. Not merely the everlastingly childlike Peter Pan, but a man not quite 51 years old. That is not longevity by any means, and that is ironic.

All this being said, however... There is another sense of longevity; a sense of which the bards have sung down the centuries. This sense may be best summarised in the Latin saying "Ars longa, vita brevis" (which roughly translates as "Art is lasting, life is short"). And in this sense, I believe, Michael Jackson has earned his longevity.


  1. M&MS wrote:

    "For anyone genuinely interested in the pop music genre, Jackson is a must."

    You're right! But I've never been interested in the pop music genre. Music that is popular, yes, but "pop music", no. So although your article is well written and highlights a fascinating irony; any discussion of Jackson, is for me, moot.

  2. Though I've never been a huge fan as such, Jackson no doubt was a star phenomenon, who deserves recognition for what he accomplished as an artist. He was unique in many ways.

    He was, as you point out, a kind of Peter Pan, but also a Willy Wonka - i.e. always trying to please a demanding father. And when he feels he can't, he creates his own world, where he set the rules. In this world he believes children and animals to be his only true confidants.

    This is the behaviour of someone who has been betrayed and disappointed in so many ways. This is the behaviour of someone who has experienced the hardship of lonliness, and that breaks my heart. Therefore, I really hope that there is a beautiful and happy place where people go after they die. And I hope he is at peace there.