As cliché as it is to say, he was (is) an artist for the ages. A child prodigy with a voice a natural force of nature who, along with his brothers, morphed from gifted cuddly curmudgeons to teen heartthrobs to, finally, solo global megastar nonpareil.
But I’m torn. Torn between the art and the artist, the musician and the man, the musical genius and the grotesque madman.
No one can deny the Jackson 5, or THRILLER, or my personal favorite Jackson opus, the exhilarating OFF THE WALL, and you’d be a liar or a fool (or both) if you attempt to deprecate such classic sonic pleasures. No one would be boldly stupid enough to deny that if Madonna put the ‘M’ in MTV, she shared that with Michael. A canon so rich with perfect pop music can’t ever – shall never – be overlooked or under-valued.
But Michael Jackson was a flawed, complex man-child, and lest we forget, a dangerous one – a man who dangled his child over a cliff-high hotel balcony. A man who “purchased” his seemingly genetically engineered kids from a emotionless surrogate mother, who flippantly released them to him, then robed them in burqas to shield them from any public life, eventually robbing them of a “normal” childhood. A man who admittedly slept in the same bed with little children (which, as eerily uncomfortable as it is, is NOT the same as ‘slept with’). Forget, if you will, the molestation charges – they were never proven, and the majority of facts point more toward the fabrication and megalomania of the accusers then the guilt of Jackson (biggest mistake was to pay off those accusers rather than prove their ostensible mendacity, which was pretty damned easy if you peruse the police reports) – but you can’t forget that the man was a self-made whack-job, a man who called himself the King Of Pop, a moniker the press repeated so often it permeated the public consciousness, in turn eternally labeling him as such (even though one can argue, not totally inaccurately, that the innate talent hadn’t been exhibited for over a decade).
The cornucopia of decades-old personality disorders would require an endless scroll.
We’ll never be sure if the freak-show lapel was intentional or not, merely a case of an overlooked, undiagnosed mental disorder or his well-documented, horrendous childhood (surely his self-mutilation was indicative of something far deeper than its shallowness). Everyone has an opinion on the man, and is entitled to it (I never bought the molestation allegations – rather that Michael’s man-child persona – perhaps one symptom of that assuming mental disease – merely related to the mentality of his young “friends”; superficially creepy, sure, but psychologically more complex and not so easily pigeonholed). That he spoon-fed the mass media such copious amounts of psychosis is his saddest legacy, one that has rallied his decriers for years.
I want to separate the art from the artist, the musician from the man, the musical genius from the grotesque madman. It’s not always easy (see Woody Allen).
But sometimes you have to.