Sunday, July 5, 2009

Of Music and Michael Jackson

I was out traveling when I heard of Michael Jackson's passing.
One text message I received said, 'dude, can you believe this stuff? Michael Jackson's dead.'
So, I turn to the NY Times and the headline said that, according to TMZ, the pop star was dead. When it comes to news of this sort, TMZ tends to be right.
'Bummer,' I thought.

Then the news coverage galore started.
It seemed, (I reckon, it still does) that the world was revolving around the once formidable artist. A crash course on the artist's bizarre lifestyle, his spending habits, his various closet skeletons and whatnot were discussed ad nauseam. And the many TV stations employed yet again a litany of psychology experts, medical folk, et al., to comment on MJ's life choices.

And the rest of us who wanted to learn more of Nicholas Sarkozy's latest policies, the different elections happening around the world, or even Steve Jobs getting back to work at Apple were left news-less. This is just as good a time as any to go to the beach, I guessed, freezing lake and all. And that we did. And we swam too but I digress.

I get the sensationalizing of MJ's passing. I most certainly expected to see much media coverage as well.
I mean, didn't CNN and MSNC and co., consume themselves with 'news' Paris covering the heiress' stay at a no star hotel also known as the big house? I still have flashbacks of Mika Brzezinski's burning of so-called Paris news on the air on Morning Joe.

This is Michael Jackson and he should get a lot of coverage. His influence on music is unquestionably great. In a way, MJ expedited a cultural shift when it came to issues of music and what its text stood for, race, and even gender and sexuality.

The main reason why I'm not surprised that MJ is getting so much attention post-mortem is because it goes hand in hand with his own modus videndi. Didn't the pop star after all privilege his phantasy world over reality? It seems rather fitting than his coverage also be congruent with his viewpoints on life: Neverland over reality. I'm just not so sure that Michael was the only one to privilege phantasy over reality. If he were, he as a person and performer would be a rather tough sell. His peculiar predelictions are, to some degree, shared by many. Well, not the practices per se but the need/desire for peculiar predelictions. How else can we explain the mass appeal? Musically, he has not produced in two decades. Granted, that which he did produce is pure genius and incomparable but it was also a couple of generations ago.

As I was having these thoughts I read Bob Herbert's column on the NY Times this morning and a paragraph in there made uncanny sense to me. Herbert notes rather beautifully:

"Jackson was the perfect star for the era, the embodiment of fantasy gone wild. He tried to carve himself up into another person, but, of course, there was the same Michael Jackson underneath — talented but psychologically disabled to the point where he was a danger to himself and others.

Reality is unforgiving. There is no escape. Behind the Jackson facade was the horror of child abuse. Court records and reams of well-documented media accounts contain a stream of serious allegations of child sex abuse and other inappropriate behavior with very young boys. Jackson, a multimillionaire megastar, was excused as an eccentric."

Read it all here. Definitely worth a look.

In the meantime, I, as many music lovers around the world, felt badly for MJ's premature departure. He was more than an artist, he was out-of-this-world talented and who knows what else he would have managed to create musically. Thriller did thrill me thoroughly and for that album alone I'm most grateful to him.


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Unknown said...

Was wondering how you were going to interpret this.
I also laugh at people's surprise that he's getting so much coverage. I mean, what part of 'celebrity culture' don't they get?

Anonymous said...

"His peculiar predelictions are, to some degree, shared by many. Well, not the practices per se but the need/desire for peculiar predelictions. How else can we explain the mass appeal? "

What's perturbing is not the news itself but rather the obsession with it.

Anonymous said...

Here's also a great article, although translated, that you may like to see:


Dan said...


Sra said...

People like a spectacle, and MJ was that. He was like a roadside accident -- so dreadful, and yet you can't look away. But amidst all his demons, he was a musical genius, and I think that has a lot to do with the obsession over his death too. This is a real loss in the music world.

dawn said...

HE gets attention because he reflects a whole society. Michael was more than music. He was a way of life.

Will said...

He dies too young and he will definitely be missed. I was looking forward to his new album and I bet whatever he's recorded will sell through the roof.
Rip, MJ!

Shaun said...

He was a great musician and an eccentric person which qualities qualify him for much media interest, no?