I was never really aware of Michael Jackson as a kid--I know that seems crazy, but it's true. I never really listened to music that much, and what I did listen to was mainly The Beach Boys and various other golden oldies. He just wasn't on my radar. I wasn't even a year old when Thriller was released. If I'd been ten or eleven, then he would have been a much bigger part of my universe. But by the time I was old enough to begin to be aware of the larger world of music around me, he had already begun his long slow decline.
Having said that, there are still a few distinct memories I have. When I was a kid, I wasn't allowed to watch The Simpsons, but my best friend would tape it, and when I would visit on weekends, we would watch it on his old top-loading VCR. And one night, FOX premiered the "Do You Remember The Time" video either right before or after The Simpsons, and the two of us watched it, fascinated by the then-current "morphing" technology used in the video. Despite the song not being very good, I can still remember it very well, nearly seventeen years later. FOX did the same thing with the "Scream" video, and I remember my grandmother making a point to watch it, which I thought was weird then, and still do now, as the only music I ever knew her to enjoy was the kind they played on Hee-Haw. It was a genuine "what the hell?" moment, one that goes to show the kind of weird charisma he commanded at that time.
He was probably the last genuine Global Megastar to walk the earth, the kind of celebrity who was as famous in America as he was in China, or Brazil, or Italy. For better or worse, no album will ever again sell like Thriller, and it is almost as likely that no musician will ever achieve the kind of worldwide renown that Jackson achieved.
Was he a pedophile? Well, probably. There's almost as much evidence for his innocence as his guilt, but...yeah, he was almost certainly a pedophile. And if nothing else, he was more or less completely out of his mind for probably the last twenty years of his life. I can't think of a single figure who better illustrates the way fame--and especially the kind of desperate, nasty fame we create in America--can destroy a person. Just looking at the ruins of his face, the way he seemed to be trying to make himself something more, or less, than human, speaks volumes about how a person can crack so thoroughly they can never really be put back right again. For someone who brought so many people joy, he seemed to have never truly been happy, and regardless of the crimes he may or may not have committed, he is ultimately a truly tragic figure.
Columbia University Magazine
1 week ago