There is a good reason why, beyond the initial shock of the first breaking news or the existential frisson of a great spirit passing into the great beyond, the death of Michael Jackson was not shocking . People who had been in touch with the particulars of Michael Jackson’s life, had seen this coming for quite some time; from Michael himself, through Lisa Marie Presley and the nurse who had despaired of the Jackson’s desperate pleas for an anesthetic drug so potent that it is only used in controlled hospital settings. And yes, like Elvis of old, the Michael Jackson the world had come to know and love, had “died” long before his heart gave out on June 25, 2009. Nothing in life happens without telegraphing itself in some way, shape or form. The imagery of the pop star’s last days had never portended anything but sickness and frailty. Beyond that garish imagery lay a private hell so dark & deep (like a black hole) that nothing could escape it.
If you are an inverterate skeptic, consider this for a quick minute: Secondary references to “Michael’s body” after initial news of his death broke, came with almost zero shock value. This was quite astounding and a telling giveaway of the idiosyncrasy or anomaly at the heart of Michael Jackson’s life in its post Thriller incarnation. Normally there is shock when a person’s living memory is first redacted to a body by reference. This was not the case in Michael Jackson’s case. It’s almost as if in his post Thriller period, Michael had bifurcated and split from his physical body; the same body that had, through the years, been subjected to mind-warping mutations & transformations even as the world watched. So in the public mind, the body had been shed and redacted to a prop on a stage or a mimetic character out of the imagination of a Marcel Marceau.
The corporeal had unceremoniously been split from the incorporeal.
Confronting Michael’s memories in unmoderated extremis: Michael Jackson was headed for uncontested sainthood until the child molestation charges that landed him in a Los Angeles courtroom. The acquittal did nothing to clear his name in the courts of public opinion, nor did the interviews that painted him either as a conniving mofo or someone who was criminally naive about how adults should behave around children. Sharing a bed with children that were not his own was never O.K. And his appropriation of phrases that could be interpreted as euphemisms of pedophilia, never helped Michael’s case. (Check out transcripts of his interview with Martin Bashir. Caveat: Martin Bashir is a certifiable maggot, but what Michael Jackson disclosed in those interviews did more to damage his public case and persona than Bashir’s oily sleaze.)
The Burden of Genius: The death of Michael Jackson has catapulted the world straight back into the mercurial world he created; a world that had been sidelined by more current forms and styles of entertainment that had subsumed or appropriated his seminal genius. Without hype this was a world of pure genius from the pristine warbling of a precocious teen in “I’ll be there” to the disco stylings “Rock With You” or pop-rock aspirations of “Black or White“, Michael Jackson had distinguished himself as a “savant-garde” interpreter whose instincts rarely failed him.
He was an entertainer with a capital “E”. But that all came at an enormous cost. Historically, this syndrome has gone by many names, from Faustian bargain to divine madness. Michael Jackson’s creativity knew no bounds, extending as it did from his music through his image making factory (the white glove, the white glove!) and down to his own body. By the time it got to the latter, it was displaying darker shades of dysmorphia laced with race-inflected disaffection. To be fair, this is nothing new on the Americo-Caribbean landscape with the only exception in Michael Jackson’s case being that it played itself out on a stage larger than the entire hemisphere combined. The bottom-line reality was that while Michael was crooning “If you’d be my babe it don’t matter if you black or white” while slowly transforming his actual physical appearance from a bulb-nosed black dude to a white woman of his latter day incarnation. Michael’s reluctance to come clean on this and the apparent bleaching of his skin will stand as one of the ways he refused to address an issue of immense public relevance.
Newsweek’s David Gates has an interesting take on this:
No wonder, either, that the artifice eventually turned scary, and the face of the icon came to look more and more corpselike. Readers of Toni Morrison’s latest novel, A Mercy, might recall the passage in which an African woman tells about her first sight of white slavers: “There we see men we believe are ill or dead. We soon learn they are neither. Their skin is confusing.” That’s the middle-aged Michael Jackson to a T. Jackson arguably looked his “blackest” on the original cover of 1979’s Off the Wall; by Thriller, the transformation had begun. Off the Wall was his declaration of manhood: it came out the year he turned 21, and it was his greatest purely musical moment. Why did he feel so deeply uncomfortable with himself? The hopeless task of sculpting and bleaching yourself into a simulacrum of a white man suggests a profound loathing of blackness. If Michael Jackson couldn’t be denounced as a race traitor, who could? Somehow, though, black America overlooked it, and continued to buy his records, perhaps because some African-Americans, with their hair relaxers and skin-lightening creams, understood why Jackson was remaking him-self, even if they couldn’t condone it. (Michael Jackson: The Man in the Mirror – David Gates with Raina Kelley – July 13, 2009)
To be continued …..
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As I sit here overwhelmed with sadness, reflection and confusion at what was my biggest failure to date, watching on the news almost play by play The exact Scenario I saw happen on August 16th, 1977 happening again right now with Michael (A sight I never wanted to see again) just as he predicted, I am truly, truly gutted.
Any ill experience or words I have felt towards him in the past has just died inside of me along with him.
He was an amazing person and I am lucky to have gotten as close to him as I did and to have had the many experiences and years that we had together.
I desperately hope that he can be relieved from his pain, pressure and turmoil now.
He deserves to be free from all of that and I hope he is in a better place or will be.
I also hope that anyone else who feels they have failed to help him can be set free because he hopefully finally is.
The World is in shock but somehow he knew exactly how his fate would be played out some day more than anyone else knew, and he was right. (Lisa Marie Presley – Myspace)