Archive for June, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Freak Show Has Now Closed: Michael Jackson

Posted in Slices of Life (add $1 for ice cream) on June 27, 2009 by tigereye

It’s not unfair, I think, to say Michael Jackson died as he lived: in the middle of a circus.

Not only was this literal – Bubbles, Neverland, toys, fawning and slightly unbalanced fans – but he caused a circus in death, too, and like that last rube out of the freak tent, I couldn’t quit watching. I was glued to NBC when I should have been working, watching a chubby-cheeked, talented black kid grow up into that rare creature in the ’80s — a star who actually had talent — and then that star as he turned into something whiter than me, with a wig a drag queen would have envied and pajama pants and enough money to buy himself out of being a pedophile.

I’m not mourning Jackson, in case you’re wondering. I gave up on him while I was still in my teens, when he released the substandard “Bad” on the heels of the truly phenomenal “Thriller.” If it was possible to give up even more, I did this too, in the ’90s, when he started fondling kids. My old boyfriend, N.J. (Not John), and I used to tell the kids who worked for him that Michael Jackson used to be just eccentric. They joked back that we were making it up.

But I have to say I miss something, and I’ve missed it for a while: the rare and few good moments of my childhood.

I miss the kid who got the “Off the Wall” album for Christmas and played it ’til the grooves wore down, dancing spastically in front of my parents’ stereo to “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” when they were safely two rooms away. I miss the 12-year-old who saved her allowance to buy “Thriller,” which was, no kidding, the only redeeming feature of seventh grade, when I was thrown into a school where it was wrong to be poor and smart and ugly. “Thriller” sort of saved my life, which is pathetic. I fell into that album the way a lot of kids fell into Goth. It was a brilliant distraction.

I loved that album, and I guess I loved the Michael Jackson 2.0 who released it. It was hard to argue with him back then. Even my mom, who doesn’t own a freak flag and wouldn’t fly it if she did, watched that Motown special where he glittered and moonwalked, and said, “He’s really talented, I have to give him that.” (I also recall her adding, thoughtfully, “But he seems kind of weird.”)

I played the living daylights out of “Thriller” like I’d never played a non-Elvis album¬†before. There wasn’t really anything you could criticize about it. Michael Jackson lucked into Quincy Jones and produced what I still have to say is a work of art. Speaking of Jones, let me clear something up: anyone who’s out there comparing Jackson to Elvis should shut up right now, because you can’t compare them. Elvis changed the world. Elvis made Michael Jackson possible. And Elvis stopped at “eccentric” and didn’t wander on down the freak show to climb into the “lunatic” cage. Michael Jackson, without Quincy Jones’ brilliance added to his talent,¬†might never have been more than “good.”

My dinky town didn’t get cable ’til 1989, so I missed the premiere of the massive “Making of Thriller” video and had to wait, itching with impatience, for my favorite uncle to tape it for me. Of course I loved it. I watched it until my parents complained and then I got up late at night when they were in bed and watched it again.

I didn’t know it, but that was the height of Jackson for me; the roller coaster went straight downhill after that. He got weird. He got white. He got plastic surgery and Brooke Shields and a chimp and, God help her, Lisa Marie Presley, whose daddy would have warned her off him if he could. I was done with him before he started inviting kids to Neverland, kids who always seemed to be from marginal, troubled, kind-of-trashy homes. This wasn’t out of sympathy for their circumstances but, as it turned out, because those kids’ parents didn’t mind putting them in harm’s way for a million or two… kind of like Jackson’s own father, with his own ruined, troubled kids. In the end, not only did he prey upon children, he preyed upon the poor, and if one hadn’t been enough to finish him off for me, the combination was fail-safe.

I don’t miss Michael Jackson, who died at 50 of cardiac arrest brought on by God only knows what combination of pharmaceuticals. I feel weird about anybody who does. But I wish I had known, 25 years ago when my uncle gave me the “Thriller” video on tape, that it was the last thing I’d ever see by the guy who made two brilliant albums. I would have mourned him then, just as surely as if he’d dropped dead while walking down the midway, where his seat onstage in the freak show awaited him.

I would have mourned this: Michael Jackson, star of “Thriller” and “Off the Wall” and the Apollo Theater, died yesterday. He was 25. The cause of death is believed to be fatal, irreversible changes that occurred in his heart.