Sunday, June 28, 2009
Standing next to me in this lonely crowd,
Is a man who swears he's not to blame.
All day long I hear him shout so loud,
Crying out that he was framed.
To paraphrase the American author, Henry Miller, "fame is a fickle thing."
I couldn't agree more. Despite having written an entire novel revolving around the ravenous impact fame has on the famous, I still don't a clue what it's like to walk in their shoes.
But I have spent a lot of time thinking about it.
In the wake of last Thursday's shocking death of pop sensation, Michael Jackson, I imagine we’re all going to have an opportunity to give some thought to the fickle mistress that is fame. And here's a place to start—
It seems that when our cultural icons are taken from us unexpectedly as Jackson was last Thursday, our impulse is instinctual: elevate them to a pedestal while simultaneously delving into the dark crevices of their seemingly perfectly sculptured lives.
I surmise with Michael Jackson it will be different. Bar a surprise discovery of John Merrick’s petrified body (whose bones Jackson attempted to purchase in 1987) stashed away somewhere on MJ's 2,600 acre ranch, in all likelihood there are few, if any, skeletons left in Jacko’s closet. After all, a large part of the Jackson mystique wasn’t so much what he withheld from us as it was what he dared to show us.
Unapologetic and undaunted, Michael Jackson was remarkably candid about his personal life. He didn’t give many interviews, but when he did he was always revealing.
Of course, we didn’t always like what he revealed. The 2003 admission that he slept with young boys because “they need love, too,” is hardly an endearing quality, no matter how quaintly it’s couched.
And while Michael Jackson’s personal demons ultimately unraveled both his life and his art, in the end, it was his demons that gave him that transformative, angelic quality that made him so captivating.
Like a modern-day Dorian Gray, Jackson truly was ‘the man in the mirror’—self-reflective and ever-changing. But unlike the troubled nobleman at the center of Oscar Wilde's classic 1890 novel who surreptitiously sells his soul to preserve enduring beauty and an epicurean fulfillment of the senses, there were never any shades of a dark, festering Faustian bargain with Jackson.
Truth be told, the Faust in this forlorn story is Joe Jackson, who saw not just in Michael, but in all of his sons, the deal of a lifetime and cashed in unabashedly on their vibrancy and youth.
But it would be wrong to call Jackson’s life simply ‘tragic.’ Sad, perhaps, but not tragic. Jackson lacked the fundamental quality that turns talent into tragedy—hubris. Of all the self-destructive qualities Jackson exhibited, an overweening, self-effusive sense of pride was not one of them.
Upon hearing the news of Jackson’s death, I imagine the response for most of us was closer to a knee jerk reaction than anything remotely resembling the smooth, effortless sleekness so imbued in the “Gloved One’s” now-famous moonwalk.
And therein lies the real tragedy in the passing of Michael Jackson. It was so sudden, so unexpected, so abrupt. Yet after the shock subsided, the only emotion left was an overriding sense of acceptance…as if it just had to end this way.
Like any great artist, Michael Jackson dedicated his life giving himself to others. He could have hoarded his vast talent like some chastened child. Instead, he shared that talent with the world. But in doing so, he became trapped, inexplicably linked to all the people whose lives his music touched.
Jackson lived in a literal Neverland, spending the last have of his life trying to take back a childhood he never had. But after a lifetime in the limelight, the self-professed King of Pop’s palace probably came to more closely resemble a prison.
But we can take solace that those shackles he spent a lifetime trying to release himself from have been lifted once and for all. And he is now finally free…
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east.
Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released.