Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Life Truncated: Rest in Peace Michael Jackson, 1958-2009

I was driving from the gym today this afternoon, around 5 o'clock PM. I had my radio tuned to a local station and I was completely taken aback by alleged news of the death of Michael Jackson. When I first heard this, the first thought that arose was, "Is today April Fool's Day?" I promptly realized that it was June.

I do not seek to jump on Michael's bandwagon and portray myself as a devoted or adamant fan of his music. However I have always appreciated his artistic ability---his absolutely unparalleled dancing and singing ability. I must say that I have neither witnessed nor encountered a single artist who could even begin to compare to Michael Jackson in either dancing or singing aptitidue. His gifts were absolutely remarkable and astounding. In his performances he put these gifts to excellent use.

Growing up, Michael Jackson was just sort of an integral aspect of American life that you just, almost from conception and almost innately, knew about. In my childhood we knew everything about Michael Jackson. It wasn't because we harbored any particular adulation or fanatical admiration for him. We just knew him. We knew "Bad", "Thriller", "Smooth Criminal", "Black or White", "Scream" (featuring Janet Jackson), "Billie Jean", "Beat It"---what didn't we know? Thriller? Of COURSE we knew Thriller. Thriller was simply legendary. Michael was a ubiquitous figure, seemingly present in all aspects of pop culture and the media. Michael Jackson was beyond a being, beyond an individual---he was a culture. He transcended superstardom in that he did not simply mold the culture---he became the culture. It is so difficult to fathom what the fate of popular music would have been without his presence. Obviously it would be in a much worse state than it already is.

Michael Jackson led a tempestuous life. He did not voluntarily choose the kismet that was beqeathed upon him. Michael's childhood was the turbulent period that bred an equally turbulent individual who was, because of his environment, rendered uncomfortable with himself. His fame came during his childhood as he led his brothers in the Jackson 5, one of the best-selling artists of the 1970s. Constant practicing of his dancing and singing and cultivation of his performance abilities produced an individual unparalleled in talent and charisma, an individual who combined natural and innate capacities with hard work (though often times against his will) to produce a remarkable performer.

The public domain scrutinized Michael's life and Michael's actions almost obsessively. Actually, "obsessively" is quite an appropriate term---entirely obsessively. For a singer whose best album Thriller sold over 100 million copies, who forever immortalized himself in pop culture with the 14 minute long mini-film music video for the title single from this album, and who topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart an unprecedented 13 times, such public intensity of inquisitiveness was to be expected. A man rendered emotionally sensitive and intolerant by a heavily abusive and tempestuous childhood, Michael simply succumbed to the pressures around him. He was twice put on trial facing child molestation charges. Both times Michael was acquitted. Whether Michael was truly innocent of these charges or used his tremendous pecuniary means to purchase his innocence, we can only ruminate. We do know, however, of Michael's great eccentricities, his idiosyncratic behavior, his addictive drug use, and his outright rejection of his blackness---and how all these factors contributed to his downfall.

Michael suffered from an extreme identity crisis. Joe Jackson, his imperious and most-domineering father, in addition to working him incessantly and bestowing intermittent beatings upon a weary and worn Michael, assigned demoralizing and painful epithets upon his son. "Big nose" he would refer to Michael with some sort of perverse and insensitive type of endearement. From this we can begin to understand not just Michael's identity crisis, but further his image crisis. Michael rejected his blackness---every aspect of it. Michael, from the late 1970s likely until his death, transmogrified his hair, his skin, his nose, and finally his soul from that of a black man into that of, not a white man, but simply a confused man, devoid of a racial or a spiritual identity.

Of all Michael's indecisions and insecure actions, none was so profound as his self-modification. It was the cruelty of Michael's father that made him seek to reject and abdicate his blackness. In all the abuse and dislike and pain that his father administered upon him, he could not seek an attribution or rationale for why he was so despised by his father. "Big nose". He attributed it to this---his appearance. His African nose was transformed first into a European nose and then subsequently into that of perhaps a particularly deformed European. We saw his skin lighten dramatically---allegedly attributed to a sudden case of vitiligo and lupus. We saw his hair unravel and fall into its latest limp state. We saw his lips shrink, we saw the shape of his face change---soon, Michael Jackson was unrecognizable.

Michael was extremely aware. He was always cognizant of his enviornment and surroundings. He lived in a society where not only was the alleged inferiority of his blackness affirmed to him by his own father but it was even more strongly affirmed by the racist society in which he lived. Michael's young childhood transpired at the time of the supposed Civil Rights victories. He was entirely aware of white society and the hostile attitude with which they regarded the supposedly inferior black race. In all the insanity-inducing pressure of his childhood---from hours-long practicing, to bloody beatings, to almost constant touring---Michael could not cope with this extreme curse of blackness (as he may have viewed it). In the American black experience every black person must come to cope with who they are in such a soceity where their very being, their very presence, their very right to exist is questioned in so many subtle ways. Michael was unable to.

It's easy for so many to judge the life of Michael Jackson. "He was a rapist!" "He was odd!" "He did drugs!" "He defaced himself!" I can hear many accusations and harsh claims challenging the integrity of the King of Pop. I say, Michael, that while I have never known you personally I have been well enough acquainted with you through the intimate obsession of the media to know that the pressure that you had to endure everyday as Michael Jackson was extreme and understandably unbearable. Your fame and fortune came at a heavy price.

Earlier I said that Michael endeavored and succeeded in turning his soul from black into something unrecognizable. Well, in reflection I don't think this is true. I feel that while we can mutilate our hair, our faces, and our skins in order to emulate the appearance of white people, it is our black soul that can never ever be changed. It is the unalterable essence of our being, the core of our selves. In Michael Jackson's music, in his dancing, and in his performance he expressed and reveberated the rhythms of our African ancestors. All of Michael Jackson's talents and abilities were born out of Africa, out of the hearts of his enslaved and oppreseed and lynched and beaten and demoralized but NEVER BROKEN ancestors. In Michael Jackson's music he expressed the love, and joy, and excitement that African people have always expressed with such eloquent rhythm and pulchritudinous vocalization. He expressed the same happiness that white oppressors sought to take from us, that they literally sought to beat out of us. No matter how much Michael may have sought to reject his blackness, it was his black soul and his innate black creativity that bought him the fame and worldwide Christ-like adulation with which individuals of every race, faith, creed, political presuasion, and nation, in every crevice, cranny, and corner of the world, regarded him with.

As I retire to bed---I still cannot believe that Michael Jackson has left us. He has departed us. God bless you, Michael. Though talented you were (completely beyond measure), you were a very confused and lonely individual. I feel for you. I hope that God and the ancestors will judge both you and the actions that you committed during your lifetime justly and I hope that they will analyze them in the context of how you were raised and what damaging and unalterable circumstances transpired in your life.

I firmly believe you did much more good for humanity than you ever did bad.

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