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Everything I can think to say about Michael Jackson
msauvage purple
Michael Jackson, Pop Icon, Is Dead at 50.

I actually wasn't very surprised this afternoon when the news came out. There have been quiet reports for a long time--ill health, painkiller addiction, financial straits, downward spiral. I was more surprised that he didn't collapse in the middle of the upcoming tour, that he didn't even make it that far.

I remember being five years old and sitting on the couch with my parents watching a half-hour thing about how they made "Thriller"--this was a very big deal, because they were going to show the video FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER right afterwards--and I was fascinated. Particularly by the dancers rehearsing and the wolfy makeup stuff. And then the video itself came on and I hid behind the couch. I liked the red jacket, though.

For someone who nurtured such a childlike image--the soft falsetto, the boyish thinness, the gentle save-the-world ballads, the constant company of children--there was a strange undercurrent of aggression in his music. Beat it. I'm bad. Dangerous. Leave me alone. Give in to me. And for decades, even before the really ugly levels of crazy set in, he indulged in a strange paramilitary motif--the jackets, the buckles, the epaulets. (Don't even get me started on the giant statues.) And then, the crotch-grabbing--that delicate body's weird masculine assertion. "The Way You Make Me Feel," for example, is a great song with a disturbing video, unless you're actually turned on by a gang of wolf-whistling guys shadowing you down an alley and refusing to take no for an answer.

It's hard to watch the early Jackson 5 performances now--a time when he seemed to be happy, joyous, unconflicted, normal--and know that his father was beating the kids.

I can't explain why "Smooth Criminal" is such an amazing song, because 85% of the lyrics are some variation on "Annie, are you okay?," and the clearest film clip of the choreography is the centerpiece of a weird little tangent in Moonwalker about Joe Pesci kidnapping little kids to hook them on drugs, but it's okay because Michael turns into a car and a spaceship and a giant Transformer or something, I don't even know. The blurry, sped-up/slo-mo version actually has some great little editing touches (mostly from about 3:00 forward), even if it's mostly... blurry. (I do remember reading that the reason he always had contrasting socks and too-short pants was so you could see his feet better.) The famous anti-gravity lean comes in around 7:37 in the full, clear version, but for my money, the best part is 8:20 or thereabouts, when the other dancers are slowly absorbed into the routine, like they're just magnetized to him.

I'm not sure at what point we all realized that Michael Jackson had actually turned white--at what point the balance tipped and we all went, "Holy shit--I don't know how he did it, but his skin is not the least bit black anymore, at all." I mean, yes, I know: lupus and vitiligo. That doesn't explain the way everything male was also being whittled out of his face; maybe vitiligo really was causing the (incredibly even) skin lightening, but it was easy to believe that he was trying to bleach himself on purpose, that somehow he just hated the face he'd been born with, even as the rest of us wished more and more fervently he'd go back to it. Comedians had fully run this into the ground by the--late '80s? Early '90s? ("He started out a black man and now he's a white woman!" There, I just saved you ten years of jokes.) The really off-putting thing for me was the way his nose seemed to melt until it was like that last sliver of soap you can't quite bear to throw away. The last few years, I couldn't stand to look at pictures of him at all.

I was standing there behind the recliner earlier this evening, a plate of (un)frozen pizza in hand while all the news channels waited for the family press conference, watching Keith Olbermann make the point that one of Michael Jackson's great regrets was that he had not become an equally gigantic movie star. The last I heard, he was trying to get something called The Nightmare of Edgar Allan Poe off the ground. The article is dated 1999, but I swear I heard something about it (...still being stalled) in the last two years or so. The idea of Michael Jackson playing Poe--yes, he was actually going to star as Poe--is bizarre on a number of levels, perhaps the strangest being that it was almost a little bit fitting. If nothing else, there was no way he could have played a conventional hero today; his face was way too far gone for that. I'm hoping he's somewhere now where he doesn't hate himself anymore.

He was formally accused of molesting a child--twice, actually. There were weird rumors about what went on at Neverland Ranch, and gossip has it that various former child actors of his acquaintance have implied that bad things happened, but I can't find sources for any of it. Even the Corey Feldman thing turned out to be about someone else. He was not convicted; he was not found guilty. It's not for me to declare, "Well, but clearly he was abusing children." I think bad things probably did happen. Bad things to him, we know, and bad things that he might have done. And if people were hurt, it's disrespectful to them to deny it; but if a man is innocent, it's unfair to insist that we just know he wasn't, somehow we just know. That's the elephant in the room. I don't know what else to say.

If I'm recalling this correctly, "Remember the Time" came out in February of 1992--the video did, at least--and despite a great deal of Egyptian-themed silliness (what, you don't remember the great pharaoh Eddie Murphankamun?), I was pretty sure the song itself was the best thing ever. I have a very strong sense memory of being thirteen years old and walking home from school--well, not home; walking down to the church parking lot where my friend's mother picked us up in the afternoons. The residential road sloping down from the school was maybe a block long, but it was walled by tall trees that reached across the street and formed a cathedral roof of leaves, and every afternoon I would walk down that sun-dappled asphalt to the church. There were also a few houses on the edge of the parking lot, and I always passed an open garage--whoever lived there, he liked to tinker in the afternoons, and he always had the radio on. More often than not--due to the cyclical nature of radio playlists--"Remember the Time" would come on while I was waiting under the crape myrtles, hoping Melissa's mom would take a little longer to show up. I associate it very strongly with deep golden afternoons, amber autumn foliage, a road roofed with mystery, with feeling like the radio was always lucky for me. It's still my favorite Michael Jackson song.

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Lovely writeup - it speaks to both the discomfort this person could engender, at the same time that his talent wowed us.

Thanks, hon.

That was lovely, thank you. <3

The whole thing makes me so sad. He was so deeply hurt and wounded and was never given a genuine chance to recover. I don't know if he ever did the things he was accused of or not...and we might never know now. But pop culture did nothing to help by mocking him so viciously...and I'm as guilty of that as anyone. His death has bothered me more than I expected it to.

Nicely put. That's exactly what I've been thinking and feeling about it.

While I'm way over the whole thing, this is nice to read. I am always fond of memory posts, and you've done a lovely job here.

And now if everyone else could get over it in the next two days, I'll be happy even if I have managed to avoid any music so far.

why in 2 days? do you work in a music store or sumthin?

just curious....

Trully great and very true.


This says pretty much everything I've been thinking, but you said it much more eloquently than I could have (and of course have your own memories to add).

It was just a really weird day...

You captured a lot of what I've been feeling.

One of my first clear memories is waiting for the premiere of "Remember the Time" -- I just turned six, and my memory's kind of bad -- and being bouncy all day. And I remember how clear the night was afterward. I'm not sure I would remember if it wasn't for the video.

And one of my earliest memories is hiding behind the couch, hearing the screams from Thriller, too afraid to look, while my Babysitter sat on the couch enjoying it. Even with the cheesy special effects by today's age, that video scares the pants off of me. I really can't figure out what's going on. The best thing I can think of that makes the most sense is that Jackson is a psychic who's also a jackass and enjoys tormenting his girl.

that's also my fave song (and video) of him. Its really an end of an era. Even if you dont like his music, you have to admit he had a great impact

As I said in a chat earlier, love him or hate him, he was never boring. And that counts for something.
I don't think he had any normal coping skills. He didn't know how to be Michael Jackson the person. He was always Michael Jackson the icon, an image he projected to the world. And he never realized how wrong that image could be viewed.
Maybe now he's at peace. I hope so. He deserves it.

It's hard to watch the early Jackson 5 performances now--a time when he seemed to be happy, joyous, unconflicted, normal--and know that his father was beating the kids.

I try to not be sentimental about celebrity's troubles but clips of those early years for the Jackson kids are heartbreaking. They all exuded such happiness, Michael especially! That was my favourite thing about him as an entertainer - those songs are pure joy. Yet there was such awful sadness in his childhood, I can never entirely enjoy that music.

I can never entirely enjoy that music.

I feel the same way. And if you believe LaToya, Joe Jackson didn't just beat the kids, he sexually abused them as well, which would explain...just about everything. That's why I feel so much anger towards MJ and so much sadness as well.

We are about the same age and the song/video that I remember growing up was the Black or White video. The whole face morphing sequence was the most amazing thing ever back then.

I felt indifferent to his life then and to the event of his death now. The reactions of the world are almost predictable.

I watch the news, read the blogs and everyone's reactions and I think I feel more guilty for not feeling anything but mild fascination at how everyone suddenly mourns a man they only paid attention too in the last fifteen years for his strange behavior and the chance for a new punchline for a joke.

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I'm too young to have known Michael Jackson as anything other than the strange, sad mad he has been in recent years. My first clear memory of him is from when I was eight or nine and we watched the video of the song he did for Free Willy during choir (it was one of the songs we were doing that year). The music teacher warned us about the way his face looked, but it wasn't as bad as she described it.

I've never given him much thought, but I do feel so sorry for him. The poor guy never had a chance, really.

That's the only song I remember too- I LOVED that song. I was seven, I think.

"Remember the Time" is the only classic MJ vid that I didn't see on MTV today. I adored the song and vid as a child, andI need to see it again.

Regardless of how eccentric and reclusive Michael was, I just feel so very sorry for the way he grew up and how badly he was scarred by his experiences with fame at a young age and with his father's abuse. It's so difficult for me to absorb that he could have ever hurt children because he just seemed so gentle. You raise a good point about a certain undercurrent of anger or aggression in his music and ensembles, but it's like my mind refuses to believe that he could mistreat anyone, esp. a kid.

I know it sounds weird, but I think I would give anything to go back in time and somehow be able to redirect MJ's life. I wish that he could have had a way to cope with his pain and loneliness and to accept his looks so that he wouldn't reduce himself to a scary caricature.

I used to think this would be one of the first things I'd do if I had a time machine - go back and put the Jackson kids in a safe environment. Hoping that then we'd just see some amazing talent and not all of the creepy issues - wishful thinking though.

I was never a huge fan, but honestly the "too soon" jokes are bugging me. Inevitable though, I suppose, considering his history. I still think it's such a shame.

I just wish people would give it 24 hours. Not even more than that, just a day. I mean, by the time people were already cracking nasty jokes, fans on the other side of the world were asleep and hadn't even heard yet.

Commenting again. I never was a fan of rock or pop. I grew up on classic country and it remains my favorite music genre. But Thriller was an iconic album of my childhood. I remember my art teacher playing it back in elementry school and telling us to color to the music. I remember coloring just bright splotches. So, I guess to me, at that age, Michael Jackson represented bright splotches of color.


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