Friday, 26 June 2009
The Curious Case of Michael Jackson
Everyone has something to say about Jacko. Whether you thought he was a bit past it, or chose to cling to his 70s and 80s talent explosion, no one is staying silent after hearing of his death. It is sad, in the way that only a Hollywood death can be. He has been compared to Judy Garland, Anna Nicole Smith and Heath Ledger. Judy I'll accept, there are those 'too much too young' stars who seem to both love and loathe their fame, they can't live with or without it. Heath Ledger's death was shocking because of the surprise element; he seemed together, artistic, just embarking on a successful roll of brilliant, dark movies. I am less shocked by Michael Jackson's death, because it seems a miracle he's held on to life this long - certainly the last ten years or so he appeared to be almost in a parallel universe: socially inept, fragile, erratic. Whatever jokes have been made about the surgery, the chimps, the oxygen tent and the sleepovers, Jackson is a very serious case study about the effects of childhood - or a lack thereof - on the adult mind.
I chose this heading because Michael Jackson does seem to me a sort of Benjamin Button figure; In several biographies and obituaries those who met him as a child have remarked on his mature behaviour and adult energy and discipline - Smokey Robinson described young Michael as "a strange and lovely child, an old soul in the body of a boy", while his own mother had remarked that his singing and dancing talents were "like an older person". Funny, then, that this man would eventually become best known for his childlike voice, his apparent naivety, and the Peter Pan comparisons were unavoidable when he created a dream playground of a home and called it Neverland.
"I never had the chance to do the fun things kids do," Jackson once explained. "There was no Christmas, no holiday celebrating. So now you try to compensate for some of that loss."
Usually a decline into madness or depression is mapped by the face of a star; Judy Garland looked haunted, overly made-up and drug-addled in her last months, and Heath Ledger's sudden ageing and insomnia before his death is well documented. But Michael Jackson had carefully turned his face into a macabre mask of pale impishness, and his expressions lived behind layers of cosmetic surgery, sunglasses and long hair. He had smiles for all his fans at the right times, when making foreign visits and with his children, but no one could have seen him physically circling the drain from his TV and magazine appearances.
His death isn't really what saddens me - I don't really mourn people I never knew - it is that he has become a joke and a piece of public property, when he probably should have died a happy old man with a legendary career behind him. The Jackson family lawyer (who made an odd appearance on GMTV, a bizarre display of awkward emotion that just continues the circus of Jacko's image) has hinted that the case is darker than people know, with the people around him heavily implicated in his demise. I feel sort of a relief that the poor guy wont live to see his life dragged through the mud more than it has been. Hopefully we can go back to loving the music and remembering that bright young showman who gave us so many killer tunes.