Tuesday, June 30, 2009

6/30/09 - Michael Jackson RIP - a double helix of genius and strangeness

It's a question that comes up again and again when it comes to any art form: how does one reconcile phenomenal work with disreputable living? The death of Michael Jackson has produced a lot of commentary about the man, his music, and his life, which opens up a whole Pandora's box of queasiness.

MJ is one of the more extreme cases; he's got one of the widest divides between artistic accomplisment/reception and personal freakiness in recent memory. As high as the artistic peaks are; equally taboo-violating and strange are the personal freakiness episodes. And unlike some artists whose work seems to resonate with their own negative personal tendencies, Jackson's life and the way that it produced sadness and revulsion in the observer was directly opposed to the aims of his work, which aimed for univeral pop inclusiveness (not in any sort of altruistic sense - the man wanted to sell his music to the maximum amount of people, he was a pop artist in every sense of the term). So while it's easy to square, say, Hank Williams the man as a nasty alcoholic with the content of his songs (all that cheating, drinking, and sadness), it's a lot harder to square the ecstatic dance floor rushes and sparkling love ballads aimed at max pop penetration with a man whose life seemed to involve a whole lot of family abuse, possible child molestation, self-mutilation, and racial angst. If I were to guess at what Jackson's music sounded like based solely on the biographical details of his life, I'd guess something on the order of early, urgent Nine Inch Nails, or Nick Cave - machine-tooled and rage-filled, or dark and Gothic.

Jackson's life is a full-on tragedy - one of the cases of a celebrity whose life no sane person would wish upon him/herself, and by virtue of how many taboos he violated, it's no wonder that the urge is to remember him up until about Thriller, when he still seemed to be in full command of his vast array of gifts. For giving so many people so much pleasure, he sure seemed to have a sad and lonely life; which has always made listening to his music feel a little vampiric to me. It's not on the same level of a Fleetwood Mac, where one can dip into the drama-laden Rumors and know that everything eventually worked itself out from the long cocaine/infidelity bender. Jackson never recovered his equilibrium, and really, it seemd like he never quite had it to begin with. The artist that he reminds me of in this sense is Phil Spector; a murderer responsible for some of the most gorgeous music of the '60s. The accomplishments don't pale, exactly, when the life is factored in, but the coloration and connotations of every note and lyric change in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. "Human Nature"? I mean, what the hell did that even mean to Jackson?

Still, though, the artistic peaks are towering. "Billie Jean" may be the best song of the '80s. "PYT" is the hands-down best song of most singer's careers, and it's not even the best song on Jackson's top-selling album. Just a list of the radio hits is staggering. There's a reason the man was a superduperstar - he was exceptional talented as a singer, songwriter, dancer, and businessman in the music industry. Michael Jackson was no f'in joke, until, by the end, he had become one.

Some takes on Jackson's death that I found interesting:


A great write-up of the child molestation trial:



mike brotzman said...

I didn't like the recent Salon piece you provided, far too interpret-y without much sense of fact in there - and in fact I think the writer confused and/or embellished many of his facts, from what I've read

Croz said...

I'll grant you that, but I liked the interpret-y-ness of it. It's the only way to get at MJ, I think, with how oversaturated he is and was. Not sure about the facts that are wrong/embellished - can't speak to validate or repudiate that.