Thursday, July 2, 2009

RIP Mr Jackson

I find myself a little saddened by the passing of Michael Jackson. Not a true mourning of loss, but a sort of mild melancholy at the surrealism of a world without the surreal figure of Michael Jackson in it. My sister was a teenager when Michael Jackson was at the height of his '80s King of Pop days, so I grew up with his music as part of the soundtrack of my childhood. He's been on my radar, either for his music or his wacky personal life, for my entire life. While I'd never really thought about his demise, he seemed more like the type to end up dying at an old age after living a bizarre life of seclusion . He (rightly, it turned out) feared he would die like Elvis, but I figured he'd go more like Howard Hughes.

I think he was brilliant and talented. He always kept himself very involved in his work, right down to being around during the stage set up for concerts to ensure it met his standards. He was a master of timeless catchy beats. In 50 years I bet people will still start giving a head bop and shoulder shimmy to Thriller, Beat It, and Billie Jean His music videos are, by and large, great. They weren't just music videos, they were events. And often they were groundbreaking from a digital technology standpoint. Watch the video for Black or White and tell me it's not fantastic for the time it was made.

I also think that he was a fractured, fragile, and lonely person with childlike naivety and genuineness. His father is one of the most notorious bad stage parents ever known. Jackson was denied any sort of life or childhood because his father pushed him into show business. I do believe that he behaved inappropriately (though not necessarily sexually) with children, but I also think he incapable of seeing that due to his own stunted maturity level. I also think the parents of the children were very much in the wrong for allowing their children to be in such a situation.

The degree to which he hated his physical self is incredibly saddening. For all that he was brilliant and talented, he also hated himself to the point of mutilating his face to hopelessly seek out perfection. In his teen years he hated his large nose and suffered from acne that made him unrecognizable when he didn't have his stage makeup on. Vitiligo, the skin disease that causes splotchy loss of pigmentation, is not easy to live with even for a normal person with a mundane job. I worked with a woman who had vitiligo and she was incredibly self-conscious about it. She started off life with lovely clear olive skin, then in her early twenties her hands and neck started to speckle white. At the time I knew her, her hands and forearms were very pale while her upper arms and shoulders were her former darker skin tone. Her face was splotchy and her neck speckled in varying colours. Except on the hottest of summer days she wore long sleeves and high-necked shirts because she was so embarrassed. The stress it must have caused Jackson in an industry where appearance is so important must have been crushing.

My thoughts are even more with his children. I was a child of custody battles and also of disputed wills, and I can't imagine what turmoil life will have in store for them right now. Jackson's eldest son was there when he collapsed and was present while CPR was being performed. The rumours and questions about the biological parentage of all three children have ramped up even more, though I don't believe it should matter. Whether he provided the sperm or not, Michael Jackson was their father. Temporary custody has been granted to their paternal grandmother, who was very involved in their lives, but she's in her late 70s and is unlikely to receive permanent custody for that reason alone. The woman who gave birth to the eldest two may have been a surrogate and have no biological relationship. Twice before she has made moves for custody but gave up when offered money, so even if she is the biological mother a family court is unlikely to grant custody to a woman who has twice sold her rights to her own children.

I hope the children will come out of this as normally as possible. I hope the back catalogue of music will be released with as little exploitation and reworking as possible, and that for the sake of the children it will earn enough money to offset the massive debt of the estate. I hope Mr Jackson has the peace now he didn't have in life.

Michael Jackson's absence from this world will be missed by me, even if for superficial reasons.

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