As everyone with a pulse knows, Michael Jackson died yesterday from what appears to be cardiac arrest. It's a strange thing - I've never once thought of Jackson as someone I'd call a favorite artist - in fact, not even close - but his impact is undeniable. As many, many folks have said, his passing is akin to Elvis or John Lennon dying.
That's a hard thing for some folks to digest, because in the last 20 years, he's been nothing but a joke, often a sick one. I have a hard time ignoring all the claims - many of which seem justified - of what newscasters seem to be calling "inappropriate" behavior with children. I can't just shelve that, and it's hard to also ignore the fact that he was trying to get away from himself - his race, his sex, his appearance - through crazy surgeries that not only made him look unlike himself, but weird and alien.
Still, there's no denying his talent, his impact on music and the world, and his presence and impact deserves all the respect it is getting. Like I said, if I made a list of my favorite musicians, it would have to be a LONG list before Jackson made an appearance, but I can probably sing along verbatim with 20 of his songs, and even enjoy it. "Thriller" remains the greatest video of all time, and even if someone tries to top it, the sheer impact of Thriller can't be topped; it defined, in many ways, a new medium.
Plus, what other artist could inspire this? Sure, I can't see it ever happening at San Quentin (this is in the Phillipines), but it's still pretty awesome.
Andrew Sullivan, normally writing exclusively about politics, wrote this yesterday and I think it's relatively spot on:
Watching him change his race, his age, and almost his gender, you saw a tortured soul seeking what the rest of us take for granted: a normal life.
But he had no compass to find one; no real friends to support and advise him; and money and fame imprisoned him in the delusions of narcissism and self-indulgence. Of course, he bears responsibility for his bizarre life. But the damage done to him by his own family and then by all those motivated more by money and power than by faith and love was irreparable in the end. He died a while ago. He remained for so long a walking human shell.
I loved his music. His young voice was almost a miracle, his poise in retrospect eery, his joy, tempered by pain, often unbearably uplifting. He made the greatest music video of all time; and he made some of the greatest records of all time. He was everything our culture worships; and yet he was obviously desperately unhappy, tortured, afraid and alone.
I grieve for him; but I also grieve for the culture that created and destroyed him. That culture is ours' and it is a lethal and brutal one: with fame and celebrity as its core values, with money as its sole motive, it chewed this child up and spat him out.
I hope he has the peace now he never had in his life. And I pray that such genius will not be so abused again.
When someone dies, they say Rest In Peace. Perhaps Michael Jackson will finally find that.