MJ and Me

MJ and Me

I was wandering in the rain
Mask of life, feelin' insane
Swift and sudden fall from grace
Sunny days seem far away

-from "Stranger in Moscow"

I avoided writing about Michael Jackson before now because I'm usually one to shy far away from the maddening crowd. Once the news (of his death) became official that day I steadfastly ignored television and Internet accounts, refusing to spend one second listening to anyone do their best to wring out what they could from the certain-to-be lurid and grotesque details of it all. This included yesterday, where I even ignored the funeral. I watched Princess Di's funeral back in '97, but Di didn't mean anything to me, and MJ did. It was personal, and that, more than anything, kept me from penning something the last ten days, just to make it topical.

At the same time, they who would set their path only in opposition are more controlled by the mob than anyone.

Maybe you're tired of hearing about Michael, or never cared. I think you may still find this interesting, for my thoughts are more personal than other eulogies, but if not, that's okay too.

I was telling a friend recently that Michael Jackson will never really be gone, because in some ways he was never really here.

Just a few days since his passing and already we've seen a tremendous shift (one way or the other) of unreality. There are those who want to pretend Jackson's impact wasn't what it was, that he was never that important to the music and cultural scene. There are those who want to pretend he didn't have serious charges leveled against him. There are those who want to ignore the fact that in all cases he was found to be without guilt. There are those who want to pretend he wasn't one of the weirdest people we've ever seen achieve fame, and there are those who insist that weirdness is his only legacy, and refuse to see any genius contained within.

(And while I don't know the details--and don't want to--of Jackson's death, I cannot imagine it is a settled issue, either.)

No, Michael will indeed be with us forever. He was always mythological, which makes him both unreal from the beginning, and eternal to the end

I don't mean to offend anyone here, but like all heroes pushed too far up to see clearly, what you can see is the pattern. No one can agree on their impact, how they lived, what it meant, or how they died.

You think about that.


Everyone can agree that--whatever the word means--Michael was one weird dude by the end, if not way before. That doesn't make him bad. Weird usually just means different from everyone else, and we already acknowledged his talent, his genius, and his upbringing. Why should his personality and actions be any different?

The bugaboo, the fly in the ointment, are the charges against him. You all know me. (Or should.) You know where I stand on this topic in general. In this instance, I don't believe Michael was ever guilty of criminal wrongdoing--unless being monumentally naive is a crime (and in some cases, maybe it should be). When I say "believe," I don't mean it as some partisan who just picks a side and goes with it. I was very concerned with the accusations against Jackson. It would fit a pattern, him an acknowledged abuse victim who clearly did not "get" adult relationships. I looked into the cases in-depth, and past all the hoopla and hype, the hysteria and hyperbole, I found the charges to be false. Yeah, Michael paid them off the first time, but we all know how private he was. He would have gone to any lengths to avoid a trial - which I think was the entire point the first time at the very least.

In the end, I could be wrong. I am admittedly a huge fan, so maybe I'm biased. And if compelling evidence is out there, and it comes to light, I would be forced to re-examine my beliefs. But for now, I've done what I could, and I don't think Michael did it.


What I do think is that MJ put himself in a bad spot, time and time again. This speaks to who he was, and how he was, his genius, ego, what led him to such great heights, and what ultimately crippled him.

Michael Jackson didn't like to be told no. And Michael saw the world differently. For the longest time, this was his greatest asset. He saw it when others couldn't. The stories of Thriller are notorious, Michael fighting his record producers, music video directors, everyone. They wanted it the safe way. He had bigger ideas. We know who was right. Jackson had a vision, and he was more shrewdly calculating than probably anyone will ever realize. All the best free-spirits are, in ways that would shock most of us. (That's why they get places, and aren't twirling around in a park somewhere.)

Now you see him, now you don't; you never really did

Michael crafted a persona, an image he wanted to show the world. He also wanted things his way. He (by all accounts) loved children passionately. Even his most virulent haters would give him that. Where I think Michael ran into trouble was his stubbornness . Where once it served him well (battling Quincy Jones to keep Billie Jean on the Thriller album, for example), in this case it did not. Michael seemed to have no one around him with the strength to tell Truth to Power, to take him aside and say, "Look, dude: everyone who knows you knows you wouldn't harm a fly, but it don't look right, and it opens you up to attack."

Maybe it came as a reaction to the martinet-like control his father had over him as a child, performing from the youngest age. Maybe it was just his colossal ego--and whatever we take from the self-styled King of Pop, we should always remember that personae aside, humble people simply do not make it that far--Michael Jackson wanted things his way. In the end, when his world was collapsing around him, perhaps this was his undoing, as well.

Somewhere inside Michael was a really coordinated cowboy yearning to breathe free


I wrote earlier of mythology, and our penchant for creating a storyline, simplifying the complexity of a person, and reducing him to archetypes that fit our need, the way we need to see heroes and villains, so that we can believe, or hate, with a pure heart. Certainly this has been (and will be) done with Michael Jackson, in much the same way it was to Diana, Cobain, Lennon, Elvis, MLK, JFK and Marilyn, to name a few.

In the case of a genius like Jackson, it serves well to look at the mythology and work backwards. Jackson created his own mythology...this character, and it wasn't who he was, but rather, some idealized larger-than-life version of him.  And it wasn't the difficulty in maintaining the super-sized persona that caused any crack. 

What happens with genius is that they are well aware (at least in the beginning) that the character is separate is separate from the man, a part to play, a mask they wear to hide.

Over time, though, the separateness of the two begins to collapse. The character becomes real, the two halves merge. It is the disruption from THAT reality that causes the crash. At some point,

"Heal the World, make it better place, for you and for me and the ENTIRE human race..."

becomes a heavy burden, and if you don't think Michael's lyrics took on a mythic nature to him, even if originally written to fit a meter, a tempo, and a four minute time slot, then you haven't begun to understand the true pathos of genius, and what it does to a man.

That said, no discussion of masks and their true nature would be complete without the acknowledgment that we live in a time of unparalleled scrutiny and potential fame. People can become famous in an instant, and then we scoff when they are not "instantly" able to handle it. (See Boyle comma Susan.)

There have been maybe a scant handful who have pushed above even that level, to a white-hot glare of publicity that none of us can even fathom, let alone describe. It is worth noting that not one of those people have come through the gauntlet unscathed. We sit and watch celebrities on TMZ and Entertainment Tonight, and we laugh at the mistakes they make - and they are responsible for their own lives, but it's worth not only noting but repeating - NOT ONE OF THE FEW WHO HAVE HIT THAT STRATOSPHERIC LEVEL HAVE COME THROUGH UNSCATHED. 

Would that We were not as quick to judge.

This certainly includes Michael Jackson. Michael had the power and influence of a Sinatra, the isolating crush of fame (and rabid following) of an Elvis, and the supernovae Media Saturation that Britney went through. And Jackson has basically been astronomically famous since he was 5. You wanna talk about one weird dude? You wanna talk about ego run amok, and people without boundaries, and all that other stuff? I say, how is it possible he lasted this long? We should probably be thankful there isn't a country or two missing. (And should check, just to be sure.) We will NEVER understand the impact of that kind of fame on a human being, any more than we will understand the impact of that kind of genius given to someone who is forced to live in a world that doesn't get it, and never truly will.

If only he'd known....


Lastly, I did mention in my intro (and title) that this was a personal reflection. (ahem) Some of you didn't react much to Michael Jackson's death. No sin there. Some people even got offended. I get that take, too. Weren't people dying in Iran for the chance to be free, and people suffering all over the world, and on and on?

Yes, of course they were. People are always dying, and it is always sad. And one person is worth no more than another. But with respect, people did not flock to the funeral yesterday, and around the world haven't been held in grief and mourning for the actual Michael Jackson. That misses the point.

People who reacted did so because of what Michael Jackson, what his music, dance, persona, everything, what it meant to THEM. For a certain group of people who came of age musically in the '70s, or '80s, and lived through those eras, there was no greater entertainer than Michael Jackson. There simply was no better arbiter of cool than Michael Jackson songs, and his dance. Jumping Jackie V - the Dances!

Admit it: you've done this

For some of us, we simply will not forget the first time we heard Thriller or Beat it or Billie Jean. I wasn't allowed to listen to secular music in '82, so these songs trickled into me, like Radio-America to the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War. By '87 (Bad) I was ready to learn, and to this day I'm convinced it's the best pop album of all time. (I won't argue there are 4 songs better than the Thriller immortals, but you take the Top 9 songs from Bad, and I will throw down with anyone.)

Who wants to get struck down by a Smooth Argument? WHO??

That's my whole point, though. You might disagree with me. Odds are you do. You'll want to make the non-thrilling traditionalist Thriller argument, the dangerous case for Dangerous, maybe even some off the wall logic for Off The Wall. (and if you're really nuts, you might even try to make HIStory.) And let's not forget the never-ending squabble about his second best song. (Since EVERYONE already agrees on #1.)

All of us who were fans of Michael Jackson came at him from different places, at different times. We all tried to do those dances, whether it was the hilarious (but hard to get the steps right) Thriller, the singularly awesome and utterly memorable Moonwalk, or the jaw-dropping Smooth Criminal. There was a time, and that time was growing up, when a Michael Jackson song on the radio was an event. Coolest thing imaginable, and everyone wanted to dance a little bit.

There was a time, and that time was right now, when a Michael Jackson song on the radio means just about the same thing. Maybe (for some) there is the baggage. And at the moment there is the sadness. But it's still the coolest music out there, it still makes you smile, and you just can't help but dancing, if just a little bit.

I don't think that will ever change, because in the end, Michael Jackson, his music, his legacy, is eternal.

Lift your head up high
And scream out to the world
I know I am someone
And let the truth unfurl
No one can hurt you now
Because you know what's true
Yes, I believe in me
So you believe in you

July 8, 2009

Thanks to Nezemnaya for editing help

Had I but more Time
The First time you saw Thriller.
Heck, all his videos
The Pepsi Commercial
The Super Bowl Appearance
Vitiligo - and maybe body dysmorphic disorder?
So much more. sigh. another day, perhaps

How does it feel
When you're alone
And you're cold inside


lost goddess said...

This is a great piece of work
Hyperion. I am glad I had time to read it. I didn't watch the memorial simply b/c I was sick but, I believe much of what you have said here.How no one will ever trully understand some one , some thing some event of t/his magnatude. His presents on this earth will be felt for ages to come, and will be missed by ages past and present.

Hyperion said...

Lost Goddess - thanks for your comment. It means a lot to me.

gigietc said...

Well thought, well written. MJ was a lot of things, Brilliant was but one of them, if only most could see past all the other names he was shamelessly called. He was treated horribly, taken advantage of terribly. Appreciated by some, like us,systematically. Rip dear Micheal RIP.

Hyperion said...

gigetic - You are too kind. I fear we will never get past the labels. We simply cannot fathom someone so far beyond us, so we put them in a box.

Trust me - I know this well.