Michael’s A Mystery To A New Generation
Wednesday - July 15, 2009
My son is listening to Michael Jackson music for the first time. I mean, he’s heard some of the songs before, but now he’s really listening. He’s 15. How is it possible he’s only now discovering the genius of a man who literally changed the face of popular music?
Silly question. It’s our fault. All of us. I mean me, my husband and everyone else out there who basically tuned out Michael Jackson after years and years of wondering about his increasing weirdness, topped off with the sleazy spectacle of the child molestation trials.
He was acquitted, of course, but by then it didn’t matter. We had grown weary of the King of Pop, or more accurately, of the controversies surrounding him.
For me, the final, final straw was when he dangled that baby over the balcony. I just lost patience. From that point on he was, to borrow from one of his saddest songs, out of my life. And I bet he was gone from most of yours, too.
Which is why, I think, so many people now are shocked, and some are almost rabid, at his passing. It’s because they never had a chance to come to terms with their ambivalence about this most ambivalent of performers. What was he? Man? Child? Self-hating? Gender confused?
Yes, yes, maybe and yes.
Sexual predator or misunderstood innocent? Vulnerable or calculating?
On those, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. To me he looked like the ultimate victim - abused as a child, lonely, and almost too emotionally exposed to function as a normal human being.
I did believe he was Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up.
There also are the facts that cannot be disputed. Jackson was a genius. Mad talented. A risk-taker and fierce in his artistry, if not in his private life. His influence on young musicians of today is undeniable.
Now that my son is older it’s easier to have certain conversations with him. We can talk about sexuality, bigotry, appropriateness, as well as perceptions versus reality, music in general ... and truth. Or, rather, the confusion often surrounding the truth.
“Someone said on the radio he was a child molester,” he said this morning.
“Did they also say on the radio that he was acquitted after a trial?” I asked.
No, he replied. They didn’t say that. And I could tell he was thinking about it. And that led us to a brief discussion about trials and justice and gossip and opinion and facts versus perceptions. It was a brief conversation but, I think, a good one.
I suspect that he, like many kids today, will never “get” why Jackson’s death is such a blow to so many of us. It’s because he never got emotionally invested. He never loved Michael Jackson as a supernaturally talented little boy, or followed him as he grew into an awkward teen, or marveled as he morphed into the show-stopping, singing, dancing, gazil-lion-record-selling phenom who gave us Thriller and Bad.
And he didn’t watch in amazement and dismay as the entertainer we loved publicly disintegrated and became the object of pity and revulsion.
Of course, there were many who never stopped believing in him. But most just stopped caring. And now I suspect a lot of them are feeling a tad guilty about that.
Does his death hold a lesson for us? Can it say something about the importance of forgiveness and judgment, understanding and redemption?
There is more ugliness ahead as investigators and a hungry press do what they’re supposed to do: Dig up the truth. There are all the questions surrounding his estate, his debts, his alleged drug use, his children.
But in the meantime, people young and old are rediscovering the best part of him - his music. On the day of his death, I downloaded the Thriller album and some of my favorite Jackson music videos from iTunes. I was one of millions to do so. All the music he made during his long, stratospheric and troubled career will be his legacy.
It took his death to make me love him again. Too bad for all of us it’s too late to say I’m sorry.
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