Friday, June 26, 2009

Tread Lightly as the Gloved One Departs

A thin, not to say skeletal figure lay wound in a white sheet, transferred from helicopter to white van on the roof of a medical center in Los Angeles. As always when big news happens in that city, the main visual feed is itself by helicopter. There is an eerie feeling imparted by the drift, silence and weightlessness of these helicopter feeds. But in this case, the eerie nature of the affair was extraordinary in its own right.

Those who have been tramping through the Amazon or lost on the wrong side of an Antarcitic mountain may not know, but the rest of us know that Michael Jackson is dead at 50. I will bet dollars to doughnuts he was badly overmedicated and that his handlers, especially those with trunks full of pills, will have much to answer for in the coming months.

In fairness to my own musical taste, I must state up front that, no matter how sad or how evocative I might find his passing, his music never worked for me even a little bit. I found it strangely cold and unappealing despite my acknowledgement of its technical mastery. The same for his dancing: wonderful in its way, but robotic, alienating, icy. The school of dancing characterized by many dancers simultaneously making the same elaborate, jerky movements has always struck me as not a little fascistic (and clearly militaristic) in nature.

He presented, more than anything else in the past decade, a figure twisted by multiple, compounded tragedies. His horrid visage, his trysts with children, his queer amusement-park "ranch", his bizarre liaisons with the mothers of the children of which he had custody (not his biologically), his obvious financial and physical frailty, his long train of lawsuits and his multitudinous retinue of handlers and sycophants--not to say the millions of fans who (to me inexplicably) responded viscerally to his showmanship; all of these curious strands of human entanglement were wrapped tightly around the singular musical and physical talent that seemed to possess him.

In a rush to lionize him in the first flush of sadness over his passing, the mainstream press focused on his obvious achievements in music and often went too far in calling him a "groundbreaker". This in particular mystifies me--he didn't break any ground not already trod by the truly great Muhammad Ali, and while he did cross the color barrier, the newsbreakers seem to forget that musically, the color barrier had already been crossed by Motown years prior (though admittedly whites and blacks by the early 1980s had stopped listening to the same music with the advent of Album Oriented Rock radio stations and the attendant Caucasianization of that blues-based genre).

Those African-Americans who were heard commenting on his passing were--and perhaps they can be forgiven for this in their surprise and their grief--apparently willing to ignore the very obvious and major flaws that in the case of his relationship to young boys may have in fact been villainous; and to focus entirely on his worldwide fame, his "wonderfulness" as a human being, and of course his record-shattering musical achievements.

Mr. Jackson's life and death are far, far beyond the capacity of this blogger to do more than briefly comment upon, and yet I am, like the rest of world, caught up, for now, in the mystery and the wonder of his outsized persona.

It is perhaps as interesting to note the items driven like stricken hounds from the world's front pages by the Jackson death: first, Iran, where a great nation lies torn and beaten after a week of shocking events; second, the inept amours of the smitten governor who disappeared to Argentina without seeming to understand how it might affect his public duties; third, and very sadly, the same-day-death of the extraordinarily popular and most talented actress Farrah Fawcett (whose charms also were mostly lost on me)--and whose passing would certainly have dominated the news had not the earth suddenly quaked in that rented Los Angeles home occupied by the Gloved One.