This past week has hit me hard. I mean HARD. Apart from the death of Michael Jackson, which has hit me like the loss of a close family member, it's been a week of personally difficult issues. My neighbour's front window had a soft-ball size hole shot into it, after fifteen or so gang members rode slowly up my street with murderous intent, looking for her son. I was back in hospital for a small operation, reminding me of how different my life is compared to this time last year. Add to those issues a few small confrontations with one of my sons, and you could say that this week has not been great.
But the thing that has upset me the most, is the death of MJ. As the media goes into overdrive, raking over every angle of his death, re-opening the questions of Michael's sexuality, desired racial identity, relationships with Jordie Chandler and Gavin Arvizo, biological parenthood of his children, financial insecurity etc, there is also a healthy level of praise and adulation that has long been absent from the TV and newspapers. Finally, it seems his position as the most important entertainer of the modern age is about to be secured, as well as a final recognition of the barriers he smashed down in terms of race and injustice.
From the plethora of tributes and expressions of grief from the rich and famous, two have stuck in my mind. The first is from the Reverend Al Sharpton:
"Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama...no controversy will erase the historic impact"
The second is from Robin Gibb of the Bee Gees:
"It’s so sad that we can’t praise people while they’re here in the world. When they’re gone it’s too late. The people who were down on him last year are praying to the altar of Michael Jackson today."
He went on to say that if a fraction of the praise and admiration that was being heaped on Jackson in his death, had been given to him in recent years, he might still be with us today.
Michael's life and contribution to modern culture are now being dissected into infinity. It would be futile for me to try and evaluate this phenomenon, as so many commenters are doing, and will continue to do so for years to come, for it would only be lost in an ocean of words about the man.
Instead, I'll simply recount the story of my own, (very late,) emergence as a full blown and fanatical Michael Jackson devotee.
I remember the Jackson 5 from the time I was about six or seven. I liked them well enough, particularly enjoying their cartoon show, but they were no more significant to me than any other band.
By the time Michael graduated into a global superstar after the release of Thriller, I was completely indifferent to his music. The year I remember that as being, was 1983. At the time I had just graduated from punk and was beginning to enjoy an exploration of all things psychedelic. My musical tastes were very much rooted in the sixties - The Doors, Love, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Who, Small Faces and Sly Stone. The contemporary black artists I admired and listened to existed in the worlds of reggae and hip hop... The Wailers, Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse and Aswad... Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, Afrikka Bambatta and so on. To me Michael Jackson felt like commercial pap directed at teen girls. His music couldn't have been less significant to me. I was always mildly amused and slightly intrigued by tabloid reports of his eccentricities, however.
Fast forward 10 years and I'm 24, working hard as a teacher, married with a two year old son. We have a load of Disney videos which we put on for him when we're busy, or occasionally, if time allows, sit down and watch with him. I loved that, sitting watching cartoons and cuddling my little son. Somehow, in amongst that pile of Disney films is Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. I don't know who bought it, but it begins to be the one we both select to watch most often. I totally dig it's spacey, fantasy, futuristic feel, despite the cheesey overtones! It becomes a useful movie to show in school for 'reward time'; every kid, no matter how good their ability to speak English, seems to love it, and it's guaranteed to keep thirty rowdy eleven year olds completely absorbed and engaged for an hour and twenty minutes... BONUS!
About this time, the first allegations of child abuse emerged from Jordie Chandler, or to be more correct, from his aspiring movie producer father. I didn't believe the allegations, they smacked of extortion way back then. But I felt Michael had made a bad choice in paying the family off, rather than vindicating himself and proving his innocence.
Then in 1995, came Earth Song. Little Joe, my son, now four, saw the video on the chart show and asked if he could have the CD. I duly obliged, and we listened to it and sang it together. It also had a dance mix on it and a 'megamix' of all of his solo hits, promoting the HIStory CD. It was cool. It was the first time I'd bought a Michael Jackson song.
I liked the video too, but I wasn't so keen on his stage performance at the Brits. I felt it was cheesey and that Mike was being a bit too 'messianic'. Jarvis Cocker from the band Pulp thought so too. He ran on stage and waggled his arse. It was quite funny, but I also thought it was a bit mean to the fragile Michael.
Cocker's subsequent treatment at the hands of police and security however, was way out of line.
And then I suppose I just forgot about him. I spent the latter half of the nineties off my head at a gazillion raves, festivals and parties. Acid house and dance music dominated my conciousness. The new millemium saw me chilling out and getting used to middle age after my last flourish of youth. Staying in and listening to music or watching TV with Mrs. K became my ideal evening.
Michael was still way off my radar musically though.
In 2003, the family had gone shopping at the Trafford Centre, the local mall. Joe (12) and his younger brother Martin (9) had been allowed to go and have a look round on their own, and returned excitedly saying there was a MJ impersonator dancing and doing the moonwalk outside the HMV store. It was to promote a new CD of all his number one hits and the boys asked me if we could buy a copy. I told them "sure", and sent them off with the money. We listened to it on the way home. I was intrigued by how much I'd never heard and how good this 'new' stuff sounded to me.
Virtually the next day, Michael's haunting mugshot was all over the papers.
(- Now as a quick aside, his changing face had never bothered me that much. I'd always thought it was his, to do with what he wanted . I didn't consider his skin lightening or nose reduction to be a betrayal of his race any more than I considered his increasingly androgynous look to be a betrayal of his gender -)
But that face looked ghastly to me that day, not at all good. The Bashir documentary had aired and Michael's flawed decision to put his (I believe 100% innocent) sleep-over arrangements with Gavin Arvizo into the public domain had backfired on him spectacularly. Bashir had entrapped Michael with the deception of false trust and friendship. He seized the opportunity to exploit Michael's naivety and innocence, and portrayed him as a predatory paedophile. It was disgusting to watch Bashir turn from obsequious and gushing, to judgemental and damning. Michael was like a lamb to the slaughter - he simply could not believe there was anything wrong with what he was doing.
No one in his family circle or collection of advisers or friends had been strong enough to tell Michael to stop. He had become so disconnected with the real world, that he didn't see he was voluntarily climbing upon a cross of his own making. The media and public were now clamoring to hammer in the nails. Incidentally Martin Bashir has said since Mike's death:
"Certainly when I made the documentary there was a small part of that which contained a controversy concerning his relationship with other young people, but the truth is that he was never convicted of any crime.
"I never saw any wrongdoing myself and whilst his lifestyle may have been a bit unorthodox, I don't believe he was a criminal."
I began to listen to his music more intently and carefully. The more I listened the more I liked. I bought every CD available by the Jackson 5, the Jacksons and Michael as a solo artist. I loved everything, but for me the albums that I loved the most were his later ones, Dangerous, Blood On The Dance Floor, HIStory and Invincible. I bought and watched every DVD and video I could. I became convinced of his genius as an entertainer. His music and performance eclipsed and out-shone every other music I had liked up until that point. As I watched his later videos again and again, a strange thing happened... I got used to his face. Even his later looks didn't freak me out. I'd go as far to say he still looked good in the videos for "You Are Not Alone" or "Blood On the Dance Floor"... Controversial I know!
As my passion for his music grew, Jackson's whole life was put on trial in a Santa Barbara courtroom. I watched the Sky dramatisations of the day's events in court, avidly every day. I looked at the fans outside the courtroom. At one point I would have seen them as fanatical nut jobs, now I identified with them strongly. When friends and visitors found out I liked Michael, they reacted with either bemusement, pity or disdain. To be a public supporter of Michael at this time was not a popular position! I read around the case, found out what I could from the Internet. I was encouraged to see messages of support from artists such as P. Diddy, LL Cool J, Missy Elliot and James Brown. I read these in the Voice, the biggest black publication in Britain. The only good press for Mike, was in the black press.
Then came the verdict. Not guilty on all charges. As each verdict was delivered, one of the fans released a dove. I was ecstatic. I was overjoyed. Michael's life, including the most intimate details of his physical privacy had been aired in public. His home had been violated by searches of his most intimate possessions. He looked gaunt and frail, not exultant and victorious. The trial had clearly had a devastating effect on a man who had still been able to dance like a twenty year old, just a couple of years earlier.
But surely he would regain his strength? Surely he would put the record straight and explain himself in a frank interview with someone like Oprah? Surely he would 'rise again'? Well it didn't look like it. Mike flitted from place to place, country to country, with nowhere seeming like home.
When photographed his trademark 'quirky' outfits no longer looked mysterious, they just looked weird. Fans waited anxiously for new material which never came. Michael had become a ghost of himself.
Until last year that is. Thriller 25th anniversary edition had new collaborations from Kanye West , Will.I.Am and Akon. Ebony magazine printed some photos of him looking... beautiful... for once. And then the O2 Concerts! I did two posts about them, which are here and here. I was going to go and see him! One of my ultimate ambitions in life was going to be realised!!! I knew the show would be an extravaganza with Mike contributing a small amount, but if I had seen him perform just one song, I would have died a happy man. But it was never to be.
Now he's gone and I feel like there is a huge hole in my life. You shouldn't be able to feel as sad as this about someone you never met. But that is what being a true Michael Jackson fan entails!
For the last four years on the kitchen noticeboard in my house, has been the front cover of the Manchester Evening News dated 14.06.05. It has a close up of Jackson's face with a one word headline "INNOCENT". You'll notice it says innocent and not 'not guilty'. In my hall for every visitor to my house to see, is a small portrait of Mike which I got for £1 at a thrift store. I'm proud to have been an "out and proud" supporter and fan of Michael, before the 'all too late' hysteria now he has been taken from us. I'm doing things to cope. I've transferred all my CDs to my PC, so I can make compilations and burn Cds for people. I've written my thoughts down for posterity. I'm wondering about whether I'll go to any tribute show that will be put on in the wake of the O2 gigs. I do know I'll be keeping Mike in my heart for the rest of my life and doing my best to ensure his legend is cemented into the consciousness of all those I come into contact with!