It’s been an exceedingly strange several hours, with conversations everywhere — my living room, on the internet, on television — understandably revolving around the now official news of Michael Jackson’s death. The tone of the conversation has been different than when any other celebrity has died. There’s a certain uneasiness that’s been pervasive in the dialogue and the reporting, for a number of reasons, I think, not the least of which is that at this point, after decades of seeming so deeply unnatural in so many ways, the very idea of thinking about the biology of Michael Jackson, of him taking part in any natural act, from sleeping, to eating a meal, to just walking around, or even, now, dying, is almost impossible to fathom —the way it’s hard to imagine, say, Bob Dylan tying his shoes, but to a much greater extent. The manner in which Jackson treated his body, or, depending on what you believe, the way his body turned on him, certainly has played a part in him being perceived as something other than a regular person, if only because, frankly, it’s been quite a while since he looked, or acted, like anything even remotely resembling a regular person.
But it’s also important to remember that long before things got really weird — or, with the molestation charges of the early 90s, really scary — he was already larger than life, completely removed from reality simply by virtue of his impossibly wide-reaching fame. I’ve been thinking for the past little while about this, and I can’t come up with a single person anywhere who’s famous in quite the same earth-shattering way. It might seem like a stretch, but I’m not sure a single person’s death has been recognized and discussed by as many people who will ultimately chime in on this, or even just spend a few quiet moments thinking about it, since John Kennedy was shot. There’s Elvis, of course, but when it comes down to it, Elvis was just a dude who got messed up on drugs, ultimately no different than the dozens of rock stars who’d suffered the same fate before him.
The other thing, which I realize could seem a bit crass, is that to millions of people all over the world, Michael Jackson the performer, the pop star, the young man with the smile that could light up a room or a planet, the creator of some of the most important and, fuck important, downright enjoyable songs ever committed to tape — that man had essentially been dead for almost two decades. His life was a miracle, then a tragedy, then another tragedy, to the point where he was barely even fascinating anymore, even in a train wreck sort of way, which is no small feat at a point in time where that’s pretty much the only way anyone is considered fascinating.
There will be a deluge of video footage in the coming days, of Jackson as a wide-eyed, freakishly talented and charismatic child, of Jackson in his prime with the glove and the red leather jacket. And there will be footage of him sitting in a courtroom, of him dangling his children over a balcony, or doing any of the other completely insane things he’s done over the past fifteen years or so. It will continue to feel strange, and figuring out which version of Michael Jackson you’ll let stand as the version you most remember will be complicated and personal.
Me? I’ll remember him at his best, as the best, and I’ll chalk up the rest of it to a guy simply falling apart and not knowing how to handle what came at him. It happens, you know.