Edited by Bill Gibron and Produced by Patrick Schabe
It's sad to see this particular circus back in town. These clowns have long since worn out their welcome, no matter the changing faces of the ringmasters or the acrimonious animal tamers involved. From questions of paternity to that clichéd concern over drugs, Michael Jackson managed to leave this Earth in much the same way he lived on it for the last 20 years -- under a billowing big top of rumor, innuendo, and self-made/ exacerbated scandal. Gone was the youthful grin that wanted to dance us into day and 'be' starting something. Missing was any real mention of the amazing music he made. In its place was a 30-mile zone zeitgeist that saw a simmering midway of tabloid attractions lure the fan once again away from the facts and into their horrific house of mirrors.
This is not to say that the late, great King of Pop was perfect. One look at him in the weeks before his death indicates a man still manufacturing his own myth, both artistically and physically. But in the speed to spin any speculation into truth, the biggest part of Jackson's legacy got left in the dust. It's almost a given -- like Elvis' influence, John Lennon's gifts, or Kurt Cobain's pain. It's so ingrained in us we need to be shocked into respecting it. We see hundreds of Philippine inmates mimicking the famed dance from Thriller and the most rote parts of our brain processes the homage in like kind. It may not be our Bible, Billy Jean is still not our lover, but we're all struck by the smoothest of criminals, and no one can truly deny the way Jackson's incredible musical gifts made us feel.
With that complicated perspective in tow, PopMatters is devoting the next four days to paying tribute to the man who made MTV multiculturally viable, who reinvented dance into something suave and soulful, and delivered an amazing amalgamation of musical styles, sources, and genres. But this is not a pure praise-a-thon. Not every piece will be complimentary. For some, Jackson remains an uneasy ruler, even in the last act finality of death. Others can't escape the poisonous political era which saw him rise to prominence. There will be those who make it all too personal, reminiscent in a way that shows affection and fandom. And a few will offer up their choicest mix-tape picks, putting together the kind of aural honor befitting a man whose sole driving force was the crafting of clever, creative poptones.
So join us in remembering the life and troubled times of this mythic musical figure. Clearly, for all his talent, for his ability to communicate across generations and borders, timelines and lifestyles, Michael Jackson will forever be an enigma. That he literally personified the term stands, for many, as the stain on the otherwise spotless sonic record. From the time he was five until the moments before his death, he was a part of our cultural path, an occasional sideshow that really didn't need to be so odd, or so obtuse. During his reign as lead singer of the Jackson 5, he once cautioned about being mindful of "the love you save". It was a sentiment he clearly forgot before entering this particular center ring one more time. Sadly, he's now left all alone.