Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Michael Jackson's Star-Studded Debacle

Like the Bible, Bob Dylan has a quote for every occasion. When it came to the "star studded" memorial service for Michael Jackson at the Staples Center on July 7th, one Dylan line, above all, came to mind: "They're selling postcards of the hanging" from his song Desolation Row on the album Highway 61 Revisited.

No one could ever accuse Michael Jackson of being humble. Sure, he was a benevolent, harmless, torrentially talented man/child who did many good works in his lifetime. He made the money and he spent the money. It was his -- he could do whatever he wanted with it. To anyone who would criticize Michael Jackson for his ridiculously ostentatious wardrobe -- that sequined glove always stood out to me as a wretched beacon of laughable excess -- I would offer the line from Jesus Christ (which I think of every time I stiff a panhandler): "The poor will be with you always." But for all his virtues -- and they were many -- no one could accuse Michael Jackson of being humble.

So, the unhumble, ostentatious Michael Jackson was waked yesterday in a concert hall named for a company that sells adding machines and Liquid Paper. I didn't watch the event. I don't have any interest in postcards of hangings. But this being the 21st Century and this being North America, there wasn't a gawddamned place I could go yesterday where there wasn't a TV barking in my face -- and every one of those TVs was tuned to the orgy of weirdness in Los Angeles.

What I saw was stomach-turning: a gaggle of funeral crows surrounding Jackson's eleven year old daughter as she was propped up, nearly hysterical, to speak of her love for her father. The normality of the child's pain and grief stood in stark contrast to the rest of the debacle's unreality.

The painful, schmaltz-upon-schmaltz musical selections performed to slide shows of Michael Jackson flashing on a screen five storeys tall was more than my pancreas could take. And all of those "stars" crowding on the stage for their few minutes in the spotlight. It's like Jimmy Kimmel's appointment book was used to find "stars" who were available: Usher? John Mayer? Jennifer Hudson? Magic Johnson? Kobe Bryant? Shaheen Jafargholi? Al Sharpton (whose speech, I'd heard, was actually well done)? Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, who apparently embarrassed herself in her over-the-top late-breaking defense of Michael Jackson against child molestation charges, of which he was completely acquitted years ago.

Incredibly, Jesse Jackson -- America's #1 Uninvited Guest -- wasn't there to growl inarticulately about how much Michael Jackson owed to him.

I heard a bit of Berry Gordy's speech on the radio. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but it struck me as deeply unseemly. There was something victorious in the voice of Berry Gordy, having outlived a much younger, towering talent which he had "discovered." It's just me, I'm sure, but it was like J. Edgar Hoover speaking at President John F. Kennedy's funeral.

There is no question that Michael Jackson was a preternaturally talented person. His performances with the Jackson Five were amazing. As he got older, he remained inventive and vital, but his voice sounded like it was squashed in his throat. The first time I ever saw Michael Jackson perform was in about 1977, when he was on some TV variety show performing "Rock With You." Hearing him, I turned to my mother and said, "He sounds like a girl." So did Geddy Lee and Neil Young, but there was something trapped and hiding and unpleasant in Jackson's voice. Clearly, I was in the minority with my opinion.

I watched, live, in the 1980s as Michael Jackson received his truckload of Grammy awards for Thriller. Aside from the song "Beat It," the album didn't do much for me.

I saw Oprah Winfrey's interview with Michael Jackson in 1993, and marveled at how vulnerable and helpless he appeared. He was a 35 year old man who clearly still needed his mother. It seemed I wasn't the only person who saw that, for it was only months later that child molestation accusations against Michael Jackson surfaced in the media and amid California law enforcement. I wasn't there, so I cannot say definitively, but I don't believe for a second that Michael Jackson abused any children. I believe those molestation charges were simply a shakedown. Most celebrities have competent handlers who head-off potential problems. Obviously, Michael Jackson did not. No manager, agent or handler or publicist for a celebrity of that magnitude would ever allow their client to hold sleepovers with children who were not blood relatives. But Jackson either surrounded himself with spineless, idiot "yes" men, or was too naive to take good advice. So, he opened himself to heinous accusations that forever tarnished his name, and robbed him of $20 million -- the first time around.

Then came the child molestation charges in 2005, or thereabout, of which he was completely acquitted.

I also watched Martin Bashir's shameless, execrable documentary Living With Michael Jackson. Again, Jackson's handlers were utterly asleep at the wheel, allowing Bashir's camera to film their client's life in all its bizarre and creepy absurdity. How Jackson traveled around with an army of foam rubber human dolls, all with caricatured facial expressions, which were seated throughout his palatial hotel suites. Jackson on shopping sprees, impulse-buying items worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Jackson's limousine being besieged by his terrifying fans, who swarmed the vehicle like starving cannibals. And then Jackson dangling his child out of that hotel room window in Germany. Directly after that occurred, Bashir put on some sort of Dr. Phil act, seeming to try and get Jackson to admit that it had been a foolhardy gesture. But for all Bashir's probing, only one thing was clear: he wasn't trying to help Michael Jackson come to a realization, he wanted to provoke the unstable pop star into doing something even more outrageous.

Michael Jackson wasn't the only person duped by Martin Bashir's journalistic guise. ABC News gave him Nightline after Ted Koppel retired. Truly bizarre.

So, Michael Jackson was buried in a gold casket, and his memorial was compared by TV talking heads to President Obama's inauguration and Princess Diana's funeral. After all, it's not about the loss of a human life, it's about the ratings.

Michael Jackson died as he lived -- used, abused, tacky, enigmatic. The final, horrific image I caught of the funeral was Jackson's brothers/pallbearers each wearing a single, sequined glove in their brother's honor.

Now for the stories of him being sighted, alive, in Mauritius or Tanzania to begin.

1 comment:

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