ROCK MUSIC — MICHAEL JACKSON: It’s not as if Elvis just died!

In generational/fashion, morality, music, psychology/psychiatry on June 28, 2009 at 7:47 am

From all the fuss of the past few days anyone would think Elvis has just died. Instead it’s just the ever-encroaching end, the gradual unravelling, of an American Idol of yesteryear. To me, Jackson embodied in one increasingly strange person all the show business imperatives necessary to get to and sustain yourself at the top of celebrity today. Looking at all the Madonnas and Britney Spears of the past half-century, who have followed Jackson’s lead, it’s amazing how much success can be engendered by essentially stupid people with a single idiotic but unquestioned idea pursued single-mindedly, without thought entering to disturb the ‘creative’ process.

He was the dream of every American Idol show and its multifarious spinoffs around the world that perpetuate such realities as: the generic ‘rock’ voice shorn of all distinction or real emotion, pared of all identifying idiosyncracies or sign of humanity, so as not to offend anyone by unsightly originality or unseemly singularity — the equivalent of the ubiquitous fuzzed guitar notes and chords backing rock tracks for the past thirty years.

The toast of Motown and little soul-groovers around the world in 1970 (‘I Want You Back’, ‘A-B-C’, ‘The Love You Save’), the Jackson Five lowered themselves fast to Osmonds Pop and on to disco mid-decade. michael jackson 1By late decade Michael as a solo had rid himself of genuine soul and found something distinctive: white skin and a perky little nose, which alarmingly shrank year by year into an almost microscopic compass point. More than music, most charitably described as amorphous sound designed to dance to, the multitude of stage moves he devised, all executed jerkily at lightning speed but still with immaculate timing, were right up there in the best traditions of circus performers seen on America’s Got Talent — and, it must, be remembered, years before them.

Most successfully of all in the superstar firmament, he developed an unparalleled ability to generate fan sympathy in the face of evermore outrageous self-indulgence, previously the domain of friends and mentors such as Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross. Was that his underlying essence, and predestined downfall, that he possessed the psyche of an androgynous being in which the rules that everyone else had to live by didn’t count? Like your ordinary garden-variety diva (and many are said to have the mentality of cultivated, nurtured pot plants) but encumbered by male expectations?

Generating so much money for so many people, he was pampered so that every whim no matter how bizarre was catered for. Every momentary desire was met with a resounding “Yes” by the Yes Men surrounding him day and night, and female celebrities spread their legs to be implanted with his divine seed in hopes of producing cloned products in a dynasty of inevitable success. Not only were the needs of others of no account but he was so far removed from reality that he brought others into actual physical danger — as when he used his baby as a public performance prop — to satisfy his own need for public acclaim, at least notoriety when he was capable of nothing more.

Above all he is responsible for the superstar mantra “Make your own rules” — not in stretching the boundaries of intellect in creating imaginative new music.

And tonight on the news there is a mass spontaneous tribute to his “Moon Walk” — with fans crowded in the street, linking hands and all shuffling backwards together, at least with better coordination and timing than you would expect from, say, a gathering of demented winos. What greater legacy can a performer leave?

His other trademark innovation on stage was simulating masturbating on stage, in time, into a white clinical glove — presumably all the better to inspire those better endowed with semen to donate. It undoubtedly inspired Justin Timberlake to develop his own innovative great leap forward in performance art: simulating humping women dog-like from behind, on stage, to the delight of his millions of fans around the world who pay hundreds of dollars each to see this and the other wonders of his talent.

That all said, I once caught a sustained glimpse of Michael Jackson in a two-hour interview, probably recorded around the turn of the millennium, undertaken to ameliorate the worst backlash after the pedophile accusations. (For the record, I believe them to be false, but how stupid can you be to take unrelated children into your bed and explain it “as the most loving thing in the world”?) I remember my mother, who had just watched it with me and was genuinely intrigued, asking what I thought of him as a genuine creative personality. I told her that I didn’t know if he was a genius but he came across to me as a genuine artist in pursuit of what artists should be — thoughtful, considered work.

Given the nature of the sensationalizing media and the chameleon-like image of Jackson’s public persona as portrayed, who can say what was in his mind from one minute to the next? So I bow to the authority of Quincy Jones, a hugely influential figure in music production for half a century, for the final word — confirming Michael Jackson didn’t like being a black man but dubbing him all the same a “performance genius”. Who might guess what Leonardo da Vinci would have turned out looking like had a mass media existed to shine the brightest spotlight in the world on him 24-7?

And so the debate goes on …

  1. Well struck sir! A thoughtful and sober refection on the untimely demise of THE KING OF POP (copyright all newspapers here in the UK). Dig it brother.


  2. Michael was born the same year I was and I remember being enamored with his performances as a child. Sadly, that is where I left him.

    Fans do a great disservice to celebrities by deifying them or raising their pedestal so high that even their so-called-god cannot reach that high. Zealous admirers send them into a spiral of confusion; hence, the idol becomes increasingly more weird in an effort to prove that they are normal, when in fact they misplaced themselves long ago.

    It has been said that when we choose our friends, we choose our destiny. Diana Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli… All of them have, to some degree, slipped into an abnormal place. Michael, their pampered friend, just went a little deeper into darkness.

    I believe that God is the giver of gifts; therefore, He is unimpressed with our abilities because, ultimately, they belong to Him. We are stewards of those gifts and God is more interested in how we use each gifting for the good and benefit of mankind. God is far more concerned with our soul, spirit, heart, and overall wholeness.

    I don’t know whether fans— with the incredible need for demigods— will ever be able to admire genius, station, beauty, or talent without glorifying the human vessel. I just know that unless gifts are possessed with a Biblical balance, those same gifts will possess us.


    • KJ — I agree with what you say. I’m not a great believer in the God the Father, more God the Deliverer of Morals and God the Force of Nature — but yes, I do believe talent and gifts are accidents of birth and should be developed earnestly and used humbly. In our world the simple fact of celebrity seems to overshadow sheer quality, originality, imagination…


  3. Michael was a genius and his music and dance moves are legendary. That’s all that matters to me.


  4. His music was genius, his dance moves were incredible. He seemed like a child lost in an adults world, and i believe the state that he was in at the time of his death was due to his overbearing, controlling father and the insane amount of media attention that he recieved all his life – where had he learned to be normal? From the age of 10 he was recieving incredible amounts of public attention and was never allowed a childhood. I believe that he was an amazing person, but that such a life could not mean that he would be ‘normal’. This is what celebrity culture has done.


    • Hey Kaz — That’s a very sympathetic summation of him. No doubt he’s an artist of some creativity. But as a rule performance artists CRAVE every bit of media attention they get, and I don’t think he was any different. For years, coached by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Diana Ross, he learnt how to exploit media sympathy at the same time as indulging themselves in superstar privileges. No doubt he knew what he was doing and that it could result in disaster, like Elvis, like Anna Nicole Smith, and on and on… Many of us of the human race have suffered from our fathers in one way or another. No doubt he was grown up, very shrewd in many ways, and should have worked his way through it. To prolong the victim theory is just one more indulgence he’s receiving.


  5. Although I have read the entire article I would just like to comment on the banner headline…. He may not have been your Elvis but he was ours.
    As a side note your comment on ‘simulating masturbating on stage’, in my opinion your interpretation on that particular ‘innovation’ says more about you than it doe’s about Michael Jackson.
    Apart from that … a well constructed take on what could have been a generic piece.


  6. Hi Jakked… Thanks for your remarks. In that specific context I wasn’t talking about Elvis or Wacko Jacko as fan fodder, but trying to weigh up their artistic accomplishments compared with the other. Elvis was supreme IN HIS FIELD, at least DURING HIS TIME. In my opinion and many others’, Jackson was outdone in his field, and during the time he was supposedly at his creative peak, by Prince — to name just one among a field of contemporaries. This has nothing to do with the magnitude of popular success, which tends to multiply with the media attention given a performer and fast takes on a life of its own regardless of the performer’s actual qualities: the image.

    In the second matter, I could never claim fame as an innovator but at least have the good taste not to do it in public.


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