Sunday, June 28, 2009

Who Killed Michael Jackson?


"The pure products of America go crazy." William Carlos Williams, 1923

Only days ago, we were discussing the crackdown on dissent in Iran, a world mired in an economic slump, a pending Congressional showdown on health care, and the Argentinian adventures of Governor Mark Sanford, and then suddenly all that talk stopped. Michael Jackson had died. In another of those "where were you" moments, my wife rushed in with the news, and we settled in to watch the sad pageant of grief and shock. It takes a person of enormous influence to halt the 24 hour news cycle in its' tracks, and the filmed reports of people pausing worldwide, for even a moment, to acknowledge the loss, proves Jackson was such an individual. Love him or hate him, this single artist's contributions to popular culture are immeasurable.

Michael had become a touchstone in people's lives. Multitudes grew up with him, and though it's hard to imagine, there's another generation who missed his heyday in the spotlight. Can it really be 25 years since the release of Thriller? I always place myself between the bookends of Elvis, who was 12 years older, and Michael, who was 10 years younger than me. It's curious that shortly before Elvis' death, just before a major tour, he was bloated almost beyond recognition with the effects of narcotic painkillers, while Michael's most recent appearances showed him looking confident, if frail. So, even though Elvis died at 42 and Jackson at 50, Elvis appears forever older in my mind, while Michael remains eternally young. Coloring these images is the memory of Michael emerging as the leader of the Jackson 5 at age ten; so commanding as a singer and polished as a dancer, and so gifted a musical prodigy, that he made a good singular argument for the existence of God.

I confess to being an unabashed Michael Jackson fan, the only other artist of the age who belongs in the same category with Elvis and the Beatles, since I saw him on the Ed Sullivan Show in December, 1969. When the Beatles appeared on the same program in 1964, it was barely three months since the assassination of JFK, and they brought joy to a grieving nation. The Jackson 5 appeared on our TV screens just eight months after the murders of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy, and gave particular solace to young, black Americans who gained a new source of pride and inspiration. The corporate, white-dominated, music industry sprang into action and offered the Osmond Brothers as a squeaky-clean alternative. The Jackson 5 got a TV variety show; the Osmonds followed on their heels. A Saturday morning cartoon series was created around the Jacksons; the Osmonds had one within weeks. The Jacksons put Michael forward as their child leader; The Osmonds focused on Donny. It was the old practice of mediocre white artists ripping off black performers that dated back to before Pat Boone recorded "Tutti Frutti." But it was never a contest.

Michael's talent drew so much attention at such a young age, you just knew he would be a major adult artist if he could only survive the pitfalls that befell so many other child stars before him. Frankie Lymon, the MJ of the fifties, was devoured and abused by a music industry that drove him to addiction and early death. But Michael's 1979 Off the Wall solo LP, produced by Quincy Jones, was all the evidence anyone needed to know that the cute little boy had grown up. The Jacksons stopped at the Mid-South Coliseum for their Triumph tour in July, 1981, after Off the Wall had been released. Portions of the Memphis show were recorded for the follow-up Jacksons' effort, the double-album, Live, and though the show was critically hailed, it was clear that it was time for Michael to step out on his own.

No one could have predicted the massive response to Thriller, but something happened to Michael afterwards. Both Off the Wall and Thriller were essentially Rhythm & Blues records, but the international hysteria over Michael grew so far and so fast, that it was no longer sufficient to "cross-over" to a pop audience; he needed to dominate the scene, and he did. Jackson brought in Eddie Van Halen to play solos on guitar-based rock songs with a harder edge, and soon became the "King of Pop," but by the time Bad was released, Michael had begun his sad transformation from a vibrant, young, black man, into an old, white woman. I believe it was to make himself more race-neutral to his expanding international fan base, and the stories of him being teased by his father for his classic Negroid features are now legendary. But all his transitory cosmetic surgeries and eccentricities never compared to his lasting creative contributions to music and dance.

It was the personal oddities that fueled the tabloid fodder, and Michael became a target for opportunists. I truly believe that Jackson was an emotional man-child attempting to surround himself with the only group of people he felt he could completely trust; children. Only Michael could have been naive enough to admit in a documentary that he shared his bed with young boys in a non-sexual and innocent manner, like a childhood sleep-over, and expect people to understand him. Even his trust in children was betrayed when the boy he tried to help with medical expenses and emotional support filed criminal molestation charges against him. After the young man and his mother were proven to be grifters and Jackson was acquitted of all charges, Michael was forever burdened with suspicions of pedophilia, and became an object of ridicule. This trying ordeal led the former Jehovah's Witness into the world of prescription meds, painkillers, and "boutique" doctors. All the questions swirling around Jackson's sudden death have yet to be answered, but there is an object lesson in the latest saga of Scottish singer Susan Boyle. The only thing we English speaking followers of pop culture enjoy more than placing a hero on a pedestal to be worshipped, is to rip them apart when we realize they are not gods after all. In the aftermath of this tragedy, songwriter Don McClean's lyrics about Vincent Van Gogh seem most appropriate to Michael Jackson; "This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you."

22 comments:

tonytunes said...

I have always believed that MJ was indeed the naive lover, non-exploiter of kids that this piece portrays. He never really had a "childhood" in the traditional sense. I recently heard Berry Gordy, Jr., founder of Motown, remark in an interview on NPR that he was most impressed by the Jacksons' tremendous discipline when he first started working with the group; such discipline comes from dedication to single goals and a lot of time spent in achieving them - this is not conducive to the necessarily fanciful nature of traditional childhood. It is really a tragedy that our sex-crazed culture would seize so readily on the molestation angle as a way of viewing this very gifted performer.

Bobby said...

I really liked your remarks about Michael. I remember dancing to the songs of Thriller and Off the Wall back in my disco dancing days. Pat Boone singing Tootie Frootie. UGGGHHH! ECCHHHH!! No white man could ever do what Michael Jackson could do. There was one singer who was just as smooth on his feet and I think you remember him: Jackie Wilson. He died much too soon and his talent was great.
You are so right when people who are so graced with ability do prove the existence of God. Now, people like George W. seem to show that God can have his bad days, still we have been blessed with an awful lot of talented people including Farah Fawcett.
As we get older, Randy (we are both 62), it seems we keep losing all of the greats, and you know, there is one left: Kirk Douglas. He had a severe stroke a few years back but having a daughter-in-law like Catherine Zeta Jones can keep any old man you.
By the way, Randy, I love another Welsh performer, her name is Duffy. She has a great voice and power in her performance. I get these crushes from time to time but her I really like. Forgive an old man his weaknesses.
Your classmate
Bobby Weymouth
CBHS '65

davethedog said...

May the "Billy Mays" killer stalk you for mentioning Michael Jackson in the same sentence as Elvis and the Beatles. As Larry Holmes said, he could not carry their jock straps.

Jackson was an excellent singer, who sold a ton of records and was very popular. Garth Brooks was compared to the Beatles when he had more hit singles. Don't make me laugh.

Jackson was an excellent singer, but he broke no real new ground of artistry like James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Van Morrison, etc.

He was just a pop personality who could sing at the highest level of excellence. But Elvis and the Beatles, they were a revolution, each in their own time. Thank you verrrry much.

kwk said...

Someone remarked that Michael Jackson must be a Republican because he got the sex scandals of both Nevada senator John Ensign and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford off the front pages.

Someone else asked, "Why did Michael Jackson like hanging out with twenty-seven year olds?"

"Because there was twenty of them."

Anonymous said...

Excellent, Randy. MJ does look younger at death than Elvis, and the Graceland legend will now give way to the Neverland one. The hucksters have a much younger demographic to play with with the King of Pop instead of the now-75 King. The King is dead; long live the King!

Sputnik57 said...

Ahh, but D the D...
Elvis never wrote a song and the Beatles didn't dance.

rockskipper said...

"Before Elvis there was nothing"

Don't everybody get "carried away" (hysterical) and start comparing Jackson to Elvis - or the Beatles -- for real!

He was a fantastique' entertainer -- one of the best ever! And forevermore, when anyone thinks of Michael Jackson -- they think, "fantastic entertainer, but weird beyond belief." That's just the way it is. It's like Bill Clinton's legacy -- two sides (duality) -- "good President, but couldn't keep his weenie in his pants."

There will always be a stigma attached.
Appropriately so, I might add

JimBob said...

What'd you expect. That's Elvis's boy. The apple don't fall far from the tree.

Steve said...

Randy you know being a musician myself I regard Jackson as an icon. Off the Wall and Thriller were truly Michael at his height. Though I believe it could not have without Jones producing. He lost me in the later albums. That said I always wondered why he paid that family 24 million if he was innocent. Anyway it will be sad to see his legacy torn apart by people fighting over what's left.

SIREEN the MEMPHTS QUEEN said...

Some of y'all make me sick....acting like Michael was a freak or something! Hell! If your Daddy called you BIG NOSE all your life you would be chipping away at your schnoz every two seconds yourself. Wonder what Daddy Jackson felt when Michael's nose fell off during an interview on national television? Look Dad! No nose! How you like me now? And I wonder what Vernon called Elvis for the King E to refer to his winky as LITTLE ELVIS? I can only imagine! Daddy's can be so cruel. And what's the big deal about dangling that fat baby out the window! Everybody knows that men don't know a damn thing about changing diapers! First thing they do is head for the window cause the stank is so strong...all that ammonia & poopie....they wanting to be airing that baby out! Now Dave duh Dog & RockSkipper got me going! I think Michael & Elvis have a lot in common! For instance! Elvis had a pet Chimp named Scatter that chased the ladies all around the movie sets playing grab ass or something...Michael had a chimp named Bubble that chased little boys at all the nice little sleep-overs playing grab ass or something.
MUCH TO HIS CHAGREN ELVIS ONCE SANG TO A DOG ON THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW....MICHAEL ONCE SANG A LOVE SONG TO AN "F"n RAT IN A MOVIE CALLED BEN!
Elvis' face is on the Statue of Liberty...Michael's face is on the Great Egyptian Sphinx.
SOMETIMES MICHAEL SLEPT IN AN OXYGEN BED....SOMETIMES ELVIS OVER SLEPT TAKEN UP ALL THE OXYGEN!Jackson wore anti-gravity boots...Elvis always carried a pistol in his boots
Elvis was the 1st white guy to really sing the blues...Michael was the first black guy to do a MTV video...or at least I think he was still black then! May Little Michael Jackson rest in peace!There I said it! Thank you Jesus! YOURS TRULY! SIREEN

Father Farken said...

Sir Randy! What a Blog! You are amazing! EVEN IN THE MIDST OF DEATH MUSIC SPEAKS life TO US. Sounds of music can do things a paint brush could never think about doing! Brother Weymouth get the reunion going...I know we have another boogie left in us. You are a living saint! My comments about Michael were left on the dance floor of the previous Blog...right at the tail end! So I won't repeat myself. I don't know beans about politics! Piss a lot of people off when I Preach the values & attitudes & unconditional love of Christ Jesus! But I will have to say Dave The Dog is my kindred spirit when it comes to music! I love all the harmonious discussion. Never forget Carl Perkens! Though Sam Phillips said Jerry Lee Lewis was the world's greatest entertainer bar none! But Lewis laughed! "Sam Phillips Sure owes me a lot of money!" Randy! We need you back on radio...2nd only to early Dewey! Hearing about all the great singers...I thought of George Jones! Who Gunna Fill Dem Shoes! On that Album No Show sings A Randolf J. Haspel original...a song about getting his broken heart towed! Has that been released on CD yet? A masterpiece!Sputnik! Tell us about the George Jones song & how we can get it! Peace to the Jacksons! The peace of the Lord to all! Fada Farken

Sputnik57 said...

Thank you my friend, the good Padre. After I saw Al Sharpton and Joe Jackson's press conference, where he used the occasion to plug his new record company, I guess I'd change my appearance too if I were his son. Completely shameless exploitation from birth to death, for all the world to see. And the circus is only beginning to roll into town. Poor kid. Spielberg should have given him the Peter Pan role instead of Robin Williams. Be well. RH

Anonymous said...

Great blog Sputz, My heart is broken again. Goodbye Michael Jackson, King of Pop. Look for Jesse, I know he'll be lookin' for you. Peace Ya'll.

kwk said...

re: "I guess I'd change my appearance too if I were his son."

It is quite possible that the Jackson family patriarch, upon realizing that their meal ticket was little Michael-who-was-approaching-puberty, didn't want to lose that ticket. After all, Shirley Temple had a tough time singing "Animal Crackers In My Soup" in her teen years.

So what to do? Maybe hand a lot of cash to some doctor who, while performing a simple operation that required young Michael to be anaesthetized, also performed a little snip around the vas deferens so that Michael's voice would always remain young.

Such scenario would go a long ways to explaining much of his subsequent behavior.

Scott said...

Very nicely said Randy. I wish I could have said it myself, but I honestly couldn't find the words. I just happened to be online when the very first reports of Michael being rushed to the hospital broke and literally saw that report turn into a report about his death with one click of my refresh button. I was shocked. Since then I have been drawn to the continuous coverage almost constantly. The day after his death, I decided to do a quick tribute show on The Soul Shack's Live 365 station. I quickly assembled a song list off the top of my head (I'm not a die-hard with every MJ album, but I know what I like), just the tracks that meant something to me... various sign-posts in my own life, and set up a microphone. I was speechless. I couldn't express myself. This has never happened to me before doing a tribute show. Finally, I decided all the talk was out there anyway and I just did 90 minutes of uninterrupted music. The mix has been airing on the station every 6 hours or so since Friday afternoon. I'll probably keep it in heavy rotation until after his funeral on Sunday. Like I did when James Brown died, I'll be providing a link to your beautiful words about Michael on the Soul Shack site later this week. The Don McLean line from "Vincent" perfectly sums it up... this is how I feel about it too, so thank you for saying it because the absolute shock of Michael's death just wouldn't allow the words to come out from me. He was an icon and I doubt we'll ever see the likes of someone like that ever again.

Peace

Scott Relf
The Soul Shack

Freud said...

I think you may be on to something with the Donny Osmond angle. Throw Marie into the mix and you have white bread competition for Michael and Janet. Maybe he wanted to look more like Donny Osmond.

JJones said...

The negative influence of the teachings of the Jehovah's Witnesses on Michael and his family have been either downplayed or totally ignored for as long as the Jackson Family has received public attention. For those readers who really want to know what life is like to be reared in the WatchTower Cult, nothing beats real world scenarios, and of real world scenarios, nothing beats actual civil and criminal court cases.

The following website summarizes 900 court cases and lawsuits involving children of Jehovah's Witness Parents. The summaries demonstrate how JW Families rear their children and live life day-to-day. Also included are nearly 400 CRIMINAL cases -- most involving MURDERS:

DIVORCE, BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS, AND OTHER LEGAL ISSUES AFFECTING CHILDREN OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES

http://jwdivorces.bravehost.com


Excerpts from LaToya Jackson's own 1991 biography, LATOTA: GROWING UP IN THE JACKSON FAMILY:

" ... neither I nor my siblings ever led a normal existence, not even as small children, years before celebrity transformed our lives. We were a not-so-typical but classic dysfunctional family. Yes, there was love and happiness, but it was poisoned by emotional and physical abuse, duplicity, and denial. ... The proscriptions of my Jehovah's Witness faith, my mother's seeming love and devotion, and my father's inability to express any emotion but anger kept us all entangled in a web of guilt disguised as love, brutality that was called 'discipline,' and blind obedience that felt like loyalty. ... We couldn't identify it, but we all sensed something was wrong in our house. Most of my siblings 'rebelled' by essentially running away from home to teenage marriages. ... I was Mother's best friend, and the quietest, shyest, most obedient child of all. I surprised everyone. I also broke the cardinal rule of a dysfunctional family. I stopped living the lie and playing the destructive game. -- pages 1-2.


"Thinking back over all those years, I realized that Mother was the guiding force behind the cruelty and abuse. This lady who pretended to be so gentle on the surface had in fact caused all the turmoil in our lives. We'd always thought that it was Joseph, but it was her, telling him what to do and how to do it. Like I'd said to her before, she was always throwing the rock and hiding her hand, convincing everyone -- outsiders and my own
siblings -- that she was sweet, kindhearted, and compassionate. Little did they know that the minute they were out of earshot she talked about them very, very viciously. After seeing it so many times, I finally had to face the fact that this was her true personality. -- page 257.


"Michael and I were very active in the Jehovah's Witness faith. ... Five days a week the two of us and Mother studied the Bible at home and attended the Kingdom Hall. ... Every morning Michael and I witnessed, knocking on doors around Los Angeles, spreading the word of Jehovah. ... As my brother's fame grew, he had to don convincing disguises, like a rubber fat suit he bought years later, -- pages 53-4.

"Mother ... frowned on our socializing with white kids, an attitude I found hypocritical coming from a Christian. -- page 34.

"... both my parents harbor racist attitudes, particularly against Jews, ... 'Wherever you go, whatever you do in this business, you find a Jew,' Mother used to complain bitterly all the time, 'I can't stand it.' ... She'd go on and on. 'They're always on top. Jews are so nosy. They like controlling you. I hate 'em all.' To their faces, however, my mother was as sweet as could be. ... Hearing talk like this turned my stomach, especially when it came from my mother's mouth. How could a religious woman be so hateful? ... The depth of Mother's loathing was expressed in one of her oft-repeated opinions: 'There's one mistake Hitler made in his life -- he didn't kill all those Jews. He left too many dxxx Jews on this earth, and they multiplied,' --pages 132-4.

VIDEO PROFESSOR said...

In the spirit of Col. Parker (who consoled the family & friends of Elvis Presley after his untimely death with these comforting words..."NOTHING CHANGES!") I have just been hired as the chairperson of the Joseph Jackson Neverland Marketing Team bringing with me... Liza Menelli, Liz Taylor, Macaulay Culkin, Emanuel"Webster"Lewis, Chris Tucker, Brook Shields, Joe Pesci, Lou Ferrigno, Chris Brown, Quency Jones, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, a couple of Nation of Islam body guards, The Unknown Rabi and the remains of Joseph Merrick. TRY MY PRODUCT!

Paul Gauguin said...

I knew Vincent Van Gogh! Believe me! Michael is no Van Gogh! On second thought! Vincent trimmed off some of his ear! The true story is that he believed the older you got ...the bigger the ears! The bigger the ears...the less one hears! He thought he was loosing his hearing! SNIP! SNIP! The one thing people do not know about my friend V V G is that he had a pet Chimp named STARRY NIGHT that taught Cheetah how to paint before he died! (His remains were left to the Elephant Man!) So perhaps you are on to something!
Michael would trim his nose to spite his face! The wierd thing is the smaller the nose the more he would smell! Sorry! This is getting way too stupid! The Great Paul Gauguin

don't miss a minute said...

Michael TV

Continous wall to wall coverage of Michael Jackson will pause for a commercial break.
When we come back, a man that used to live next door to someone who knew a man that also had a glove.

Lloyd Bentsen said...

To the person masquerading as "Paul Gauguin"...

Monsieur, I painted with Paul Gauguin: I knew Paul Gauguin; Paul Gauguin was a friend of mine. Monsieur, you're no Paul Gauguin.

Masquerading as Paul Gauguin said...

I am sure that when Don McLean wrote that song about Vincent that he never roomed with him! I lived with Wacko VackGogh (our nick name for him} some 2 years ...believe me he was no beauty! He was a Dane for G*d's sake! Quite homely! We fought all the time over such things as a painters primary source of inspiration! Vincent would say NATURE! I would say Imagination! Vincent would surrender to the source...the subject was the teacher...the painter was only the student...even it's slave! I must admit he saw things I never did. I accused him of using his imagination but he swore he was painting only what was there. When I paint I am slave to no one. I am creator! Wouldn't waste my time painting an empty pair of shoes.Not so with Vincent!
Once deep in our cups Vincent said that he could see the glorious redemptive eschaton of the new creation bursting through a sunflower. a lowly peasant..a prostitute. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!