Let’s celebrate the black Michael.
However, his passing/suicide (?) has made for some good articles, and here are my favorites.
First, the Ian Halperin piece in the Daily Mail that details his final days: closeted, balding, up to his surgeried eyeballs in debt, anorexic, and with a degenerative lung disease that meant he could no longer sing. If he hadn’t died before the tour, the tour would have killed him. Surely this is the tragic end that our culture secretly wanted. And we got it!
‘I’m better off dead. I’m done’: Michael Jackson’s fateful prediction just a week before his death
Many in his entourage spoke frankly to me – and that made it possible for me to write authoritatively last December that Michael had six months to live, a claim that, at the time, his official spokesman, Dr Tohme Tohme, called a ‘complete fabrication’. The singer, he told the world, was in ‘fine health’. Six months and one day later, Jackson was dead.
So take that!
Onwards to the recollections. Robert Hilburn’s was one of the most poignant which wasn’t just ass-kissing.
Michael Jackson: the wounds, the broken heart
During weekends I spent with him on the road during the Jacksons’ “Victory” tour in 1984, I learned that he was so traumatized by events during his late teens — notably the rejection by fans who missed the “little” Michael of the Jackson 5 days — that he relied desperately on fame to protect him from further pain. In the end, that overriding need for celebrity was at the root of his tragedy.
And then the analysis:
K-Punk quoting Greil Marcus at length here:
The pop explosions of Elvis, the Beatles and the Sex Pistols had assaulted or subverted social values; Thriller crossed over them like kudzu. The Jackson-ist pop explosion … was brought forth as a version of the official social reality, generated from Washington D.C. as ideology, and from Madison Avenue as language … a glamorization of the new American fact that if you weren’t on top, you didn’t exist.
Going back to the music, K-Punk lauds “Off the Wall” as the last time the music contained any real joy. I agree. I love all the Jackson 5 records I have, and the disco jams on “Off the Wall” are great. And beyond the unstoppable groin pulse of Billie Jean, there’s little on Thriller I like. (Well, Pretty Young Thing is pretty good). But Thriller sets the stage for the rest of the career: paranoid aggression (“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” and the endless commercial drone of “Beat It”…which then leads to all the angry stuff like “Bad,” “Leave Me Alone,” etc.), soppy love songs, and a thread that will lead to even soppier “Heal the World” drivel. I feel all the songs are a gaze into Jackson’s crumbling psyche, but because he lived in a country-sized state of denial, there’s none of the awareness that makes such psychological journeys from other artists so palatable.
K-Punk:’…and when the groove is dead and gone.’
…what’s haunting me is the difference between Jackson in the Off The Wall videos and how he looks in the Thriller clips. I’m not talking about the surgery, or rather I’m not only talking about that. The surgery – by then, ‘only’ a Disney eye-widening, a Diana Ross nose-narrowing, and a little skin-bleaching, as nothing compared to the collapsing Cronenbergian butchery of later years – is but a symptom of the change that you can see in Jackson’s face and body. Something had already disappeared that early, never to return.
Read somewhere that daddy Jackson, surely a monster if there ever was one, used to don a monster mask and climb into young Michael’s open window at night to scare the bejeesus out of him. All to teach him a lesson about keeping the window closed, lest somebody kidnap him. And I’ve been thinking about that anecdote and how it relates to the end of the “Thriller” video…zombie Michael staggering towards his hysterical date, changing back to “regular” Michael, and then giving us that one last glance to let us know that the monster is still inside him. And how the monster in the window reminds me of the Bob/Dad molester scene in “Fire Walk With Me,” stealing in the bedroom of Laura Palmer to rape her nightly.
Sins of the fathers…and as consumers we get to share in them being played out.
“They’re out to get you, there’s demons closing in on every side…”