Monday, July 06, 2009

michael (yang)...

Paying tribute to Michael Jackson as the King of Pop is rather like paying tribute to the Pope or some other highly exalted figure. For, where his musical genius was concerned, Michael was not only entertaining, but also revered and respected to the point of seeming, well, Invincible.

Of course his musical legacy is beyond question as evidenced by platinum: i.e., in terms of record sales (Thriller sold over 100 million copies worldwide), music videos (he pioneered black R&B videos on MTV) and memorable performances such as his breakout performance as a solo artist on Motown’s 25th anniversary show where he introduced the world to the Moonwalk. Then there’s all he did as a member of the Jackson 5.

But, unlike so many of his fans, I cannot reconcile his musical genius with his personal life, which seemed beset by childhood traumas that led to a lifetime of irresponsible (if not illegal) and freakish behavior. Frankly, the pathological self-loathing, predatory entitlement and attention-grabbing antics that characterized his personal life towards the end were beginning to fatally undermine the appeal of his professional life.

This is why, in an admittedly perverse sense, his death was timely. Not to mention how it plays into the legend of “only the good die young” (a la Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, et al), with which Michael was reportedly so fascinated.

We should be mindful, however, about conflating Michael the entertainer who should be celebrated, with Michael the man -- who should be pitied to a certain extent. While watching non-stop coverage of his death half a world away in Paris, I could not help but feel that the celebratory images of people dancing in the streets of Hollywood, CA and Harlem, NYC honoring the legendary entertainer that Michael was, were largely uncritical of his personal life.

Specifically, I’m sure that his entry into show business at such a formative age contributed greatly to his surreal, self-indulgent and self-destructive behavior later in life. But I question the effect he claims being beaten and teased about his looks as a child caused in this respect.

As Quincy Jones, mentor, father figure and producer of Michael’s best-selling albums reflecting on his death stated in an interview with Details magazine earlier this week...

“It's ridiculous, man! Chemical peels and all of it. And I don't understand it. But he obviously didn't want to be black... You see his kids? The statute of limitations has expired on all childhood traumas. Get your stuff together and get on with your life, man. Stop whinin' about what's wrong, because everybody's had a rough time, in one way or another.”

Life isn’t fair but death can be far worse in this regard. M.J’s dead and so is the possibility of correcting the mistakes he made. No one is perfect and so wasn’t Jackson. Now that he’s dead few of us would like to remember he was the self proclaimed ‘king of pop’. I would like to forget all the bad, evil and ugly things that surrounded his life. He was par excellence in what he did and he deserves respect...

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