Illustration by Todd Purse.
Michael Jackson was the vessel for a one of a kind story, pure Americana, Horatio Alger in Glitter Boots. Never before had something like him happened. The product of a very poor, crazy father, who, unlike so many other poor, crazy fathers, had the luck of having the most talented son the world had ever seen, and enough in the stock to make a great back-up band. The main thing about Michael wasn't that he was Baby James Brown but a better dancer and could sing like an angel, it was always his hyper-sensitivity. Too sensitive for the public eye but needed the stage to live, a real paradox.
The Michael Jackson story begins with Joe Jackson, who wanted more than anything to get his family out of the lower-class life he could provide for them, and would do nearly anything with the ample tools he was afforded to get there. Joe was a good manager, if you measure only in success, but it is widely believed that his physical, emotional, and psychological abuse employed to literally whip his band into shape warped the young, sensitive, uber-talented Michael's psyche into one only peripherally human. Bowie tried, with make-up and effects, to come off as an alien rocker, but it was Michael who, as an adult would be indistinguishable from an alien life form, or even super human, because no human could be that good.
Controversy always followed Michael, stemming directly from his eccentricity. In 1986 the tabloids first started to mine Golden Mike for sales with the false claim that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber. Michael let it go to enhance his sci-fi image to promote the upcoming Captain EO Movie, which I saw in 3-D at Epcot Center in 1988 and 1992. He bought his beloved pet chimp Bubbles and allegedly attempted to buy the Elephant Man's bones, which led to the tabloid moniker "Wacko Jacko" which MJ discussed and confessed that it really hurt his feelings, and he couldn't understand why he would be harmfully made fun of and lied about when he just wanted to entertain and help. Because money could be made by lying about Michael Jackson.
Musically he never really faltered, because to MJ, his fans were god, and everything was done in deference to them, to us. Of course, personally, I can't take a slow jam, even if it is by Michael, but it's not all about me. Michael's downfall was a result of three things: Physical appearance, prescription drug addiction, and accusations on his character. MJ started the plastic surgery after breaking his nose practicing a difficult dance move in 1979, giving him the still black, but thinner nose look known in "Thriller". Suffering from vitilogo and lupus, sensitive to sunlight, MJ's treatments caused his skin to lighten and he underwent more facial plastic surgery, with the noted commencement of thorough alterations coming after the Pepsi Incident. While filming a commercial for my favorite drink, Pepsi, MJ's hair caught ablaze and he was rushed to the hospital. He took this opportunity to begin a radical reconstruction of his face with more rhinoplasty, cheek bone surgery, a cleft put in his chin, and lip thinning. Unfortunately, it is believed that during this time Michael also began his dependency on prescription pain killers, no doubt to numb the emotional pain as well. It is also believed by many that Michael suffered from body dismorphic disorder, a condition in which you cannot comprehend how you are perceived, physically, by others. Michael thought he was ugly and wanted to be beautiful for his fans.
Remember what I said about the money you could get for lying about Michael Jackson? In 1993 the worst blow Michael's career could suffer occurred when he was accused by the father of a thirteen year old male friend of Michael's of molestation. The boy, while on sedatives, claimed that Michael had touched his penis. Michael adamantly denied it, cooperated with police, and under the advisement of soon to be wife Lisa Marie Presley, he settled out of court in an attempt to make it go away. After this ordeal, Michael would get on more prescription pain-killers and anti-depressants which plummeted his health and sent him to rehab. But, the world seemed to believe it. It was easy for them to see a weird looking, eccentric superstar and think, "Of course he did it, look at him!" But we in America have something called "innocent until proven guilty," and Mike was never, ever proven guilty. He died innocent, no matter what so many phony Americans and other fascists thought or think. For me, personally, that is enough. I am a liberal, and I'm not just saying that. I don't care. The worst thing Michael ever definitely did was snooging the Beatles catalog out from under Paul McCartney and making them Nike commercials, and who cares about that either?
Is there a good reason to think that Michael may have been sexually attracted to boys? Maybe... see, Michael is the ultimate Peter Pan, not just a man playing at it like me, but the real deal. His adolescence didn't make sense, forever trying to be the 9 year old singer of the J5, and girls or women just try and trample you and marry your brothers and take away your band, all the time screaming, screaming. So Michael could have been a perpetual pubescent, never able to mature emotionally or sexually, but with all the money in the world. He just wanted to be loved, but couldn't figure out by whom. What I'm getting at is that IF Michael ever did any of the alleged sex acts with alleged children, it should not be viewed as any more of a crime than his prescription drug addiction, his bizarre plastic surgeries, or his countless pop hits, all products of Joe Jackson's parenting/managing and the entire world wanting a piece of him and acting like spoiled brats when they can't have it. It is an acting out, a cry for help, but instead of the help he needs, he just gets the switch again.
In twenty five years, kids will have the best time learning about and listening to Michael Jackson. When I was a little kid, I had heard a wee bit of "Never Mind the Bullocks" and "Ziggy Stardust" and those two things stuck with me for years, trying to figure out what it meant and all about the colorful characters who perpetrated glam and punk rock. I think Michael will be even more fun to unearth. He's like five different, distinct beings throughout time. A child prodigy with exponential potential and number one hit singles, played with his brothers. The best disco star their could ever be, the prodigy grown up and bringing his gold standard to then modern pop music. The innovator superstar, inventor and perfecter of hyper-modern rock and roll dancing and savior/reconfigurer of pop after punk rock self-destructed. The King of Pop, so dubbed by Elizabeth Taylor, with the world in his hand and he just wants to make it better. And finally the disgraced popster with child molestation included in every thought about him, a pile of debt, and a muffed up grill.
But, for right now, and finally, all the Michael Jacksons have amalgamated into one entity, one that's being appreciated for the most complex pop star the world will ever know. The comparisons are easy to make, specifically to Elvis Presley. The King of Rock and Roll and the King of Pop, both died young while struggling with prescription drug addiction, both a little past relevant, both cemented as the best their field could ever know, both drowned in controversy over their personal life decisions, both died in their trademark mansions. It'll be interesting to see if their are Michael Jackson sightings at small town diners and the mall and the like, the Kings never die, of course, but people are too dense to see why.
It's impossible to say which my fave MJ is, the obvious answer being the J5 incarnation, playing Black Bubblegum that makes the ears happy and the feet boogie, or the coolest guy in the world Michael of "BAD", or the utterly insane Michael in Black or White, that night after the Simpsons but before In Living Color, smashing that car and grabbing that crotch and gyrating, perfectly, like a deranged maiden coming out of the cuckoo clock for a couple seconds every hour and trying to make the most of it. Michael that can jump into Billie Jean's bed, make it glow, and then disappear into it, Michael that hangs out in the wet back streets crooning to Dirty Diana's and telling broads the way they make him feel, the Michael that torments over upcoming fights in the garage and just has to stop it, the Michael that can change into a panther, the Michael that's a gangster, the Michael that can transport through dancin' dust to ancient Egypt and sex-eye the queen... all great Michaels, but mine is an in-betweener. The Jacksons' 1977 Variety Show. Michael was pre-surgery but adult. He looked like a grown up J5'er, but sung like "Thriller", and most importantly, he had broken the glass ceiling of dance, doing moves that noone had seen before and few could properly do since, except for Zac Ephron. But, from what I understand, this is when Michael hated his looks the most, and he was beautiful.
With everybody talking I almost wanted to keep quiet, but I see myself as knowing a bit more about music than they do. I used to see Mike and say, "if he had just stopped with the surgery then..." after "Bad" or "Dangerous" or even later, but now I just see him like his mother does, beautiful from the day he was born til the day he died. Lester Bangs should be alive to write about this, but he's not so you get me, and I have no point, just appreciation of an icon. Thanks Michael.
Ari Wallach (TEAM HUMAN)
7 months ago