When Anna Nicole Smith died, a friend of mine, not himself a fan of the professional celebrity, said he burst out crying. He “couldn’t help” feeling sad. And so I felt earlier today, upoing learning of the passing of Michael Jackson. I did not cry, but felt a certain unfathomable sadness.
He was, quite simply, one of the (if not the) most gifted musical peformers of our time. He was born with a talent that individuals spend a fortune in money and countless hours of their own time to acquire, only never to distinguish themselves in any memorable manner. This is not say that Jackson did not work hard; there is abundant that he did.
Indeed, the strenuous rehearsals for his upcoming London comeback shows may have caused the cardiac arrest which took his life. We know from stories of his childhood that he spent so much time rehearsing, recording and performing with the Jackson 5 that he could not do what most children did, hang out with their friends and play with their toys, living in a world of their imaginations.
He didn’t have time to dream, performing as he did in a successful band and dealing with the fame brought about by its success.
That ban was successful large part due to his own talents which his father recognized early on–and pushed him to develop. Joe Jackson dominated young Michael’s life until, in his early adulthood, he set out on his own. In a matter of months, Michael experienced a transformation that takes years, if not decades, for most of us, from being in thrall to his parents to being in control of a vast entertainment empire. And just as he was achieving success on his own, music videos, the perefect medium for communicating his talent to mass audiences, were coming to the fore.
Can anyone (without googling) remember a music video which antedates Thriller? And can anyone who has seen that video forget its haunting visuals?
Jackson’s tragedy perhaps lies in his quick ascent. He didn’t have time to figure out who he was before he became an international superstar. In some sense, he became his public persona, almost like a Greek god trapped in a human body from which he could not escape.
He was truly a “musical genius.” His fame caused him to be treated as something more. But, he was beneath it all, like all of us, a human being, with the same longings, the same aspirations as all of us. Perhaps his body simply could not bear the weight of the burdens created by the limelight.
As he passes, we recall how prominently he figured in our youth–and childhood–and that of milions o othes, not just here in America, but around. He was a major cultural icon when his groundbreaking albums and videos were released and remained so as the many controversies of his later life dominated the headlines. With his passing, it’s as if the earth has shaken.
And even those of us who didn’t consider ourselves fans, are moved by his death.