Image (cc) brenheitt bakst. See also the tribute by our own Rob Harvilla and Robert Sietsema’s pictures of the MJ Tribute in Union Square.
5. He liked children. We admit that when a politician is — as Jackson was — frequently accused and never convicted, we are less inclined to generosity. But that’s because politicians give us nothing but misery, whereas Michael Jackson gave us Off The Wall. If, as Faulkner said, Ode to a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies, maybe Thriller was worth a few little boys — who, it must be said, got some nice gifts, college money, and a night at Neverland in recompense. Hell, Jerry Lee Lewis married a 13-year-old. And that’s assuming Jackson was guilty. If MJ was as weird as everything else about him suggests, maybe he really did just want to cuddle. That fact that every chucklehead comedian in Christendom assumed he fucked them is not in our view dispositive.
4. He tried to be bad. Jackson was a child prodigy raised to be a great performer. This is a stifling position for kids, and they often come out like the guy in Shine. Jackson had the advantage of being in an aerobically demanding singer-dancer racket, and could work out some of his frustrations on the stage and dance floor. Another thing from childhood he held onto was mischief. If it seems a little odd that he would end the original Black and White video, fuzzy and multiculti as it is, by grabbing his crotch and smashing up a car, or that he tried to sneak “kike” and “Jew me” into a song, or that he would dandle his baby off a hotel balcony, remember that childhood for him was hard work and whippings. He didn’t get to smoke cigarettes in the alley or steal candy bars like he supposed to. So he felt that, for all the happiness he was giving us, he had leave to fuck with folks a little. Because he was a success, they had to let him. And it wasn’t always just a weird thing. Michael Jackson in a gang fight? Beat It was definitely him fucking around, too. It just worked out better than most of his jokes.
3. He owned the Elephant Man. We remember seeing an ad years ago featuring Ernest Borgnine and his stamp collection. Yes, Ernest Borgnine collected stamps. He was shown sitting over an album of these, clutching a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers and grinning maniacally at the camera. He looked deranged. All of us do in our passion, and stars will always be that much weirder. MJ had a ridiculous amount of money and few social outlets. So he collected mummies, skeletons, celebrity corpses. Everyone needs a hobby. And if he asked you if you wanted to see the Elephant Man, would you say no?
2. He worked the rarity of his public appearances. Coming late to a trial on child molestation charges and dancing on a car roof makes absolutely no goddamn sense. But MJ knew it would be a great day in the kingdom of his fandom — He will walk among us! — and he wanted to make it memorable. People even today are making mean comments about his “declining fame” and “dimmed star,” but for literally millions of people around the world, to the very end, Michael Jackson taking a shit in their milkbox would be the highlight of their lives. This so-called has-been died hours ago and we’re still talking about him, aren’t we?
1. What he did. Michael Jackson was of the last of the oldest of old schools, a tradition handed up from wandering minstrelry through music hall, cabaret, and vaudeville, in which the artist developed as many skills as he could and worked them at maximum intensity. Jackson had stock moves by the time he could shave. The modern recording studio would seem to obviate a lot of these skills, but he and Quincy Jones and the rest of his team found ways to suggest both the mystery and the energy of his personality in the tracks. And then he would come out on stage and in videos and show them what he had spent a lifetime learning to do. We could go through the catalogue and the themes and wallow in how good it was, but everyone else is doing that. Let’s just take a moment to remind ourselves, as Jackson was never allowed to forget, that the show was the important thing.