Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye Michael

On reflecting on the career of the late Michael Jackson, I have to start by saying that I hate child singers. Their voices grate on my nerves. The Osmonds and the Jackson Five are at the top of this list. That colors my views of the rest of Michael Jackson's career.

Something else, he was always a little creepy. His first number 1 solo hit was Ben which was a love song sung to a rat from the movie of the same name. I didn't pay much attention when he released his album, Off the Wall.

Then came Thriller with its first two releases, Billie Jean and Beat It. I didn't mind Billie Jean and I kind of liked Beat It, especially the video (although these days I can't watch it without thinking of Weird Al's version). The rest of the world went crazy over Michael. Everything he touched turned to gold. MTV devoted huge chunks of time to Thriller and the Making of Thriller (which was longer). Just signing background for an unknown like Rockwell (Somebody's Watching Me) guaranteed a huge hit. All of his siblings released records, even the ones who had never recorded before or who had retired from singing.

Michael began to get seriously weird. It is impossible to say at this point just how strange Jackson actually was. Some of the original stories were planed by Jackson and his publicists. He didn't really sleep in a hyperbaric tube. He just posed in one for a fake story. The same was true about his wanting to buy the Elephant Man's skeleton.

Other stories were true. He underwent a lot of plastic surgery. Between his first and second solo albums he changed his nose and straightened his hair. Later he added a cleft chin. His face kept changing over the years until he began to resemble Morbius the Living Vampire. At the same time his skin got paler and paler. Officially he was under treatment for a skin condition. There were rumors that he had taken drugs that totally removed all skin color. This is possible. He stopped going out in the sun and even when he moved between a car and a building his handlers held up umbrellas to shield him from the sun (another Morbius similarity).

Pop psychiatrists say that he was so busy performing that he missed his childhood causing him to fixate on it as an adult. He was said to be fond of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. This was the inspiration for his home/theme park, Neverland.

This might be charming in a 20-something but it starts to get strange in a 20-something and outright disturbing in a 40-something.

As Michael was to find out, once you start planting stories about a celebrity being strange, they develop a life of their own and can never be taken back.

By the end of the 1980s, pop music had moved on. Michael still managed some hits into the 1990s but his production costs were so high that even his best-sellers didn't make money.

Michael married Elvis's daughter. They broke up and he married the mother of his first two children. That also broke up.

Questions remain. Did he actually sleep with either of his wives? Did he really give his second son the same name as the first? And did he actually call him Blanket? How did a black man produce blond children? Did he die a wealthy man or one heavily in debt?

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