One day I’ll have to sort out why I always felt for Michael Jackson, but not for his contemporary (born just two weeks before him), the pop star who calls herself Madonna, whose popularity, like his, derives, in large part from her ability to put on a great show. Both have enjoyed tremendous success in their professional lives (yet her stardom doesn’t even come close to rivaling his), yet never seemed to have found happiness off stage.
A friend told me yesterday that he once heard King of Pop had say he only felt comfortable on stage. No wonder. Groomed from his earliest childhood to be a public performer, he likely wasn’t equipped to do much else. He just didn’t know how to interact with his fellows in private.
All that said, he and he alone is responsible for the mess that his life became, just as Miss Ciccone is for hers. My sympathy for him would be more complete if he did not have any children, taking responsibility for their upbringing by bringing them into this world (or into his care, as with his youngest).
Many have called his life a tragedy. And in some sense it was, even if we rely on the original context. Like a Greek tragic hero, he fell from grace due in large part to a flaw in his character. For the pop star, it was to seek his solace on stage and to ignore the imperative of making changes in his private life. A true tragic hero must recognize his flaw, understanding how his own failure to correct it brought about his downfall.
And the recognition lay in the lyrics of one of his best songs:
I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change
But, he, alas, sought the wrong kind of change. He worked on changing his appearance and not, to borrow the lyrics of another song, “the mess that’s inside.” He tried to derive satisfaction by crafting a particular public image and soaking up the adulation of his fans. Perhaps, he thought money could buy him happiness and peace of mind. Had he realized otherwise, he might have lived a healthier, longer and more personally fulfillling life.
His life becomes yet another example of the maxim that money doesn’t buy you love—or give your life meaning. Worldly success and financial good fortune do not necessarily yield personal happiness (though they certainly can help).
And so I feel for this man who never seems to have lived. And yet to his slightly elder contemporary, I am cold, as if she is more the author of her misery than was her thriteen-day junior.