Jun 30, 2009

Uneasy Lies the Head That Wear a Crown

I have been biting my tongue on this whole Michael Jackson postmortem for so long now that I am starting to taste blood. It was my intention to give Michael's numerous followers the chance to grieve a bit before stepping into the arena. My good friend and co-editor Ken Shropshire asked me to be cool and so I have been trying to follow his wishes. But enough is enough, I can't take it anymore. I've gotta represent.

Michael Jackson was at one point an incredibly talented transitional phenomena. He was the King of Pop, in no uncertain terms. Though some have objected to the fact that Michael bestowed this title on himself, it was a most appropriate title however he came about acquiring it. It should be pointed out however, "uneasy lies the head that wears a crown" as Shakespeare once noted.

Michael's time on top was eons ago now. He has not made a significant album since George Bush 41 was the President. In all, Michael did his damage over four solo albums that spanned the years 1979-1991, not counting his early career as a incredible child performer with his brothers in the Jackson Five. Off the Wall, his best work, was the jump off in his unmatched solo career, Thriller transformed the whole culture, Bad got over off the fumes of Thriller, but by Dangerous, homie was clearly starting to run out of gas. By this point he was in the news as much for his outrageous lifestyle as he was for his music. Dangerous is also the album that featured the dreaded single Black or White. How could a black man in his right mind ever utter the line "it don't matter if you're black or white"? I mean, seriously? If it "don't matter" why did he go about changing his own skin color then? Whatever!

Anyway, the insanity started years earlier though. Here's a cat who once took Brooke Shields to the Grammy Awards, but who was more interested in playing with monkeys and Emanuel Lewis. At that point I had seen enough. Between the nose jobs, skin peels, elephant man's bones, hyperbaric chamber, and all the other nonsense, it was clear to me that Dude was the living embodiment of one flew over the cuckoo's nest.

If someone not as famous and wealthy as Michael had done all the outlandish things that he did, this person would have been committed to an insane asylum or sent to the penitentiary long ago. But with Michael, he was so famous that his fans began to apologize and make justifications for this behavior. These same apologies and justifications have typified the conversation since his death.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating his music and his legacy, but to ignore that Michael was a deeply sick person is to engage in the worst, most destructive kind of denial that could ever be imagined. If you looked at Michael Jackson's ever evolving skin color and accepted that vitiligo story, then you are perhaps as crazy as he was. If you think that a grown man's home should double as an amusement park and zoo, then you should be sentenced to hard labor and forced to clean up after those animals he kept in that zoo. If you thought that he actually sired those children, I've got news for you, spit don't make no babies!

I noticed that a number of people have turned this into anti-media crusade, suggesting that the media is somehow being disrespectful to Michael's legacy in their coverage. What is all this media bashing about? Why are some people so mad at the media for reporting all the things that Michael himself did? There is no media bias here. Michael's triumphs are as much fair game as his tragedies.

And let me set this straight before I go any further. All this crying and gnashing of teeth over Michael "not having a childhood" begs for a clarification. It is obvious that Joe Jackson was much less than an ideal father. I do believe that he abused his children, while, in essence, putting them on the hoe stroll as well. This notwithstanding, it must also be pointed out that Michael did get paid. Not that this justifies the abuse and exploitation, not at all, but Michael did make a ton of money off of his talent.

There are a lot of kids in this country who "don't have a childhood," children who get abused, molested, and treated as though they are less than human. Most of these people don't get the chance to make millions and millions of dollars singing and dancing, most of these people don't get to travel the world or be greeted by adoring fans. Most of these kids don't go on to become global icons. Most of them simply have to live with the physical and emotional scars that they have accumulated. Many of them are in the pen, or homeless, or suffering some other unspeakable fate. Many of them cannot afford psychiatrists whose skills might help them at least cope somewhat with the unfortunate hand that life has dealt them. Most of them don't have dope dealers with doctor's credentials, who can write whatever prescription they want so as to keep them high on their own supply. I can go on, but you get the point.

Michael lived a life of luxury. Like many who become rich and famous, Michael had leagues of people surrounding him who were there to cater to his every need. He was indulged and pampered and coddled beyond belief, all because he was rich and famous. None of us control the hand life deals us in the beginning, but Michael made it out of Gary Indiana, he made it beyond his abusive father, he had the chance to change his life, but instead he choose to get intoxicated off the drug of fame to the point that he became a pathetic dope fiend.

Michael represented the best and worst of this nation. He rose to the top of the heap, shocked the world and changed the game, yet not long after his rise, he quickly fell into a bottomless pit of dysfunction, all aided and abetted by his fame and fortune. Though he died on June 25, he had been walking dead for a long time.

Let me say again, Michael's fans have every right to celebrate his music. I understand that he served as the soundtrack to your childhood. I recognize that his music made you happy and made you want to dance, shout, and shake your body down to the ground. I recognize that you appreciate his eccentricities. Yes, though I don't share your admiration, I do feel you on all of this. We should all have the right to pick our heroes. Most of the figures that I have love for were deeply flawed people too. But to act like Michael Jackson was a fully functioning member of sane society whose many demented flaws shouldn't be mentioned is just ridiculous.

When will people accept that their heroes are human beings too? Michael was no one's saint. He was a very disturbed individual who may finally have found peace in the land from which no traveler returns. I was not a fan, but I can respect his accomplishments and more importantly what he meant to others. What I can't respect is this attitude of denial about who he really was though.

Michael Jackson is a figure who we won't soon stop talking about. But I just hope that as time passes, people stop acting like he was a deity. Wake up from the denial, move away from the lies, and start recognizing the real. Michael Jackson was a great artist and a especially troubled and tragic man, all at the same time.


Karen Goldfeder said...


It's easy to conflate fascination with admiration. While I admire Michael's abilities, even that is tempered by my sense of his role in our culture. Like Elvis Presley, he had excellent taste in who to imitate combined with a naivete which quantized those influences into something palatable to a very broad audience. A lot of flavor (perhaps color is a better choice of words) was lost in the process; both are tragic stories of assimilation, individually and culturally. And yet their talent was enough to allow them to stand alongside those whose music they absorbed without being completely dwarfed; not an inconsiderable accomplishment. Still, my fascination with Michael is rooted in the very uneasiness you describe. Like Schubert and Gesualdo before him, he was an utter madman whose tenancy on the edge was his ticket to a certain transcendent truth-telling that couldn't be denied. As it is for most of us, his rise and his fall were indistinguishable. His life and work may have been entirely disassociated from the malestrom of everyday life as we know it, his actions incomprehensible. But his inability to reconcile his world speaks to me; I think that's part of the culture's obsessive fascination and public mourning. Or maybe you're right, and we're all just remembering a time when all it took to be hip was learning the choreography.

Kesha said...

I agree that Michael Jackson was a tortured soul who managed to let his musical gifts shine despite a difficult childhood and the misfortunes of fame. However, I think what the main stream media does to expose and devour people often goes overboard. Many, many people feel the loss of MJ as a cultural icon for all the reasons you stated, and with any loss, the initial mourning period is not the time to highlight a person's shortcomings. It stings a little too much to bring up all of the negatives. Our psyches need to focus on the positive for now and honor this man for his accomplishments. Later we will be ready to reconcile the good and the bad. I think it goes against human nature and common decency to do otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you so much for speaking honestly about MJ. I, too, am fed up with the people admiring a man who was greatly troubled, and for the media's abundant media coverage. His death, trials, tribualtions and accomplishemnts are jsut a major disattraction from real news.
Although I was a fan of his music and dancing, I too overtime lost interest in him becasue MJ was no longer making great music and dancing brillantly like he once was. The magic and electricity he once had onstage had been long gone.
I thoroughly appreciate your comments and am glad to know that I'm not the only black person who feels this way.

Knemon said...

"How could a black man in his right mind ever utter the line "it don't matter if you're black or white"?"

At least one of the times he says it, it's "if you're thinkin' bout bein' my baby, it don't matter ..." So that's a nice sentiment, right?

Darlene Jeter said...

Hmmmm, interesting perspective. Genius is strange, borderline crazy or whatever. All the things you think of that would have him committed, was what made him, him. Oddity and brillant at once. Stop hatin on the greatest!

OuttaBoundz said...

...I think that we can also learn that everyone is going to miss you when you're gone...
...he was a "joke" when he was alive, and because his death was so sudden, everyone was really caught off-guard.
...and, yes, Mike definitely had some issues.
...I still think it's quite interesting that he has garnered as much TV time as he has. I have never in my life witness so much news time devoted to the passing of anyone. I'm serious about that. (For the record, I've been around here for 31 years.) I've never witnessed this much attention on the passing of an individual. (Presidents, Heads of State, etc.) So, what are the implications of this?
Good Piece, man...

Terry said...

Many people both dead and alive are lauded for their impact upon our lives no matter the launch of they're latest hit. The reality of Michael Jackson's greatness in many respects is reflected in your presentation because his presence soars right above it.

Your tone is vicious which ironically exhibits who you are. The harshness of your rhetoric depicts a man whose attitude is "peeling" - a "living embodiment" of your own suffering.

So we all do battle with this White supremacist environment in different ways - Michael through the defacement of his body, you in your mean-spiritedness.

Your "biting your tongue" - longing to lash out at people in mourning is a perfect testament to your own being "cuckoo" for coa coa puffs.

Here's my presentation on the matter of Michael Jackson including "They'll Turn Your Name to Dirt."

I hope you find something there that leaves you whole.

Terry Howcott


Anonymous said...

"How could a black man in his right mind ever utter the line "it don't matter if you're black or white"?"

How can you attack such an idealistic sentiment of racial unity expressed in those words?? In an ideal world, color shouldn't matter. It "doesn't matter" (or shouldn't) to your self-concept of your value as a human being. Of course this world is not ideal, but we can dream. Would a black man in his right mind utter the words "I have a dream that someday..."? Your bitterness and divisiveness are showing.

Libby said...

It's refreshing to read a commentary that looks to sum up MJ's life as a whole rather that speculate on who was providing drugs.

Even though I'm part of the "Thriller Generation," I felt like Michael quickly lost touch with the real world. And I believe it hurt him in many ways. He never seemed to have anything "real" in his life. Everything with MJ represented scenes from a soap opera. I think in the end, the caricature that Michael became won out over his talent and musical contributions. It seems now, we remember him more as a celebrity, not a person.

For me I'm incredibly conflicted. On one hand, a musical personality that spoke to my generation has died. On the other had, his lapses in appropriate behavior and run-ins with the law make me feel that he doesn't quite deserve the admiration he's receiving in death. For goodness' sake they're selling tickets to the funeral. Again, the fascination with celebrity sucks the attention away from who he might have been as a human being.

PPpicks said...


T.J. Reeves said...

OWNED! Dang, I miss my weekly dose of Dr. Boyd lectures...