Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Michael Jackson, thou art avenged!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, sums up our times like Michael Jackson. Everything about this man's life was so pluperfectly odd that future generations, looking back, will have their doubts that it all really happened.
But it did.
The Jackson Five bio-pic flick they're showing ad nauseum on TV this week seems improbable even now: a man with too many children, living in the hood of Detroit, decides he's going to force his kids to become a Four Tops-like dancing-and-singing group, whether they want to be or not. When they don't dance just right or miss a note on their instruments they've just been handed, he severely punishes them, whips them, beats them, ridicules them. Sort of like The Partridge Family or The Brady Bunch gone horribly wrong, on the skids.
But despite the forced-family-band's ineptitude, they actually start to gain success against all odds, primarily because of the young Michael's obvious skills. Michael, whose best friend is a rat whom he talks to and confides in (until it's tragically killed in a mousetrap) foreshadows his song "Ben" for the film of the same name, whose child protagonist befriends killer rodents.
Huge worldwide fame follows, and the guy just keeps getting weirder and weirder in the process. His facial features keep morphing, his dances become more and more bizarre, and yet the public loves him all the more. He racks up the biggest album in show business history, which is improbable not only for his weirdness, but because this came at a time when MTV and most radio stations had an unspoken segregation policy and kept "white music" and "black music" in separate little boxes. MJ single-handedly smashed those boxes.
He could have stopped after Thriller and done nothing else, and still been a legend. But like Colonel Kurtz, he kept on going and he did it his way. Rather than play it safe, he just kept on cultivating an ever-weirder public image. It was later revealed that most of the stories circulated to the tabloids were actually leaked to them by Jackson himself, who took perverse delight in taking his pop star reputation to new zeniths of strangeness. The kooky "hyperbaric chamber" he slept in was a popular one of his self-perpetuated rumors, and also the accusation that his rival Prince was using remote telekinetic powers to attack his chimp. (MJ would later go on to name not one, but two of his children Prince.)
Then came the series of accusations about the children. While I won't belabor the point, suffice it to say that I don't believe any of those accusations. To quote Marlon Brando's wise maxim, "I have heard so many lies told about myself, that I no longer believe anything anyone tells me about anyone else."
Things kept getting even weirder past that, like showing up at a shopping mall in Bahrain, dressed in middle-Eastern drag. The televised interview with that condescending scumbag Martin Bashir was MJ's big chance to put on a good public face and do some PR damage control - and instead, what did he do? He took the football and ran the other way on the field, making wacky, controversial statements and further cementing public perception that he was way out of touch with reality and completely nuts. And he did it deliberately, with a smirk and a wink and a nudge and a nod.
This, then, is MJ's greatest power - extremely sensitive soul though he was, he was supremely capable of mustering up the cojones to not give a fuck what anyone else on the planet thought about him, and to say what he felt regardless of repercussions.
For this alone, I proudly bestow MJ a posthumous honorary membership in the Old Older of Transylvania Gentlemen, even though he wasn't a Kentuckian.
- - JSH