It may be old news to some, but I find myself still thinking about the life and death of Michael Jackson. It’s not only that i spent virtually a whole day listening to, watching and downloading some of his great video performances; it’s also that my need to ponder his life, its meaning, and the nature of his genius has devoured a lot of personal time.
This morning my psychotherapist mate Dr. Mallory Nash and I spent a couple of hours discussing just this: to what extent was Jackson the master of his own destiny, how many of the risks he took or shrewd business decisions he made – such as buying the Beatles back catalogue, or wresting his own from Sony – were his own, the outcome of his eccentricities? Or were these, in truth, actions of a smart entrepreneur who had real business acumen and surrounded himself with the best people to realise it?
What emerged eventually was unexpected, for the two of us found ourselves discussing Jackson not in terms of great musicians or show-biz personalities like Elvis, Sinatra, Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash, but in relation to people who were both mad and at the centre of great economic or even political empires – Robert Maxwell, Hearst, Howard Hughes – even Adolf Hitler. People who understood power, and whose personal visions and eccentricities others carried out into reality – sometimes with painful or even terrifying and historic consequences.
I don’t in any away attribute “evil” to Michael Jackson; clearly that is not the case. But because of the masterful way he used the machine in which he was, at first and like so many others, just a cog, we may never really understand what was real and what was unreal about him, or where the lines between show business, character and madness lay. For instance: at what point did Jackson’s body begin to refuse to do what he wanted it to? Clearly in some ways the later surgeries were desperate attempts to deal with flesh and bone that would not heal; but at what point did he decide that he should look like an anime figure? Was that decision the cause of the problem, or its effect?
And how could anyone, at fifty, to whom being top was so important, surpass the performances he’d given as a younger man? Looking at the dance footage from those previous times, and knowing about the physical wear and tear that extreme dance and its related injuries leave over time on great dancers like Nureyev, we have to ask whether the prospect of physical failure at the enormous task he’d undertaken was one of main the things that killed him. Or even… No.
Speculation is delicious, but really quite useless. Such boundaries as these – between “reality”, history, fact, and fiction – are artificial, anyway – and one thing Jackson clearly understood better than anyone was the importance of leaving us ever-wanting more.
If any of the gossip surrounding his estate – such as the existence of a large catalogue of unpublished songs – is true, Jackson’s influence on the business world will outlive him by many many years. Not only because of his prodigious talent as a performer but also because of his insight into tinsel heart of the industry he grew up in and manipulated- the huge economic circus that is the Empire of Pop – was he its king.
(c)2009 Alex Brunel. All rights reserved.