Blanket’s Dad Buys The Farm
You know, what was great about Elvis was he could do the greatest thing in the world followed by the stupidest thing in the world within a span of five minutes and not know the difference. That’s America in a nutshell.”
– Mojo Nixon
The above quote, spoken to me earlier this week by the man who did indeed play Toad in the Super Mario Brothers movie, could easily be applied to Michael Jackson. Michael was certainly the Elvis of my / our generation, and there’s no question he habitually offset his lofty genius with moments of pure insanity ported straight from the nearest mental ward. Not only are we talking about the man who made Thriller, the most monolithic and undeniable pop album of all-time, we’re also talking about the man who put on a Spider-Man mask a few years ago and invaded the office of a California politician to demand more Taco Bells be built near his residence.
Michael Jackson was just fascinating, plain and simple. He had more talent for singing and dancing than anyone else on the planet. He created the world’s sexiest Halloween song. He made America fall in love with a ballad dedicated to a killer rat. He got the Bloods and the Crips to stop fighting for five seconds so they could appear together in the “Beat It” video. This cat was overflowing with so much ability, charm, and charisma that even his worst songs made people get up and lose their proverbial shit. This man’s failures were still awe-inspiring objects to behold.
Yet MJ fell into that Howard Hughes trap, that cavalier, play-by-my-own-rules-no-matter-what, super rich mentality, the same dangerous hubris that turned a dashing Texas billionaire into a delusional pile of skin and bones wearing tissue boxes for shoes. Throw enough money and power at anyone and they will go crazy (whether they know it or not). I’m not saying everything Michael Jackson did was dubious; sometimes I think my own life might benefit from the presence of a Hawaiian-shirted chimpanzee, and I often give children nonsensical nicknames.
Dangling your infant son from a hotel balcony, however, and spending most of your time partying with eleven year olds when you’re pushing forty…well, let’s just say Prince never did stuff like that, and people still consider him to at least be in the same zip code as normal. Of course, Prince didn’t make Thriller. Prince wasn’t in the Jackson 5. Next to Michael Jackson, Prince was just some drama club reject from the Midwest. Prince could never hope to command the kind of global respect Joe Jackson’s most popular son had earned. When’s the last time you saw news footage of crying teenage girls in the Philippines screaming, “Prince! Prince! Purple Rain! We love you!”? I’ve never seen that. MJ, on the other hand…that guy made dudes in the most remote tribes in Africa want to moonwalk.
One of the first freelance pieces I ever wrote was an itemized wrap-up of MJ’s 2005 molestation trial. I’ll never forget the fervor Jackson’s supporters displayed outside that courthouse. They were like Slayer fans, screaming for MJ until they were red in the face, fighting with cops and various nay-sayers…these people got behind their man. Granted, I would not say the Jacko courthouse crowds were a microcosm of the nation at large – most of America wrote Jackson off after his first molestation arrest (which he followed up with that absolutely creepy publicity stunt marriage to Lisa Marie Presley) – but that kind of love is hard to come by. Did Obama inspire Americans like that? Barely. Just barely.
Michael Jackson fans are absolutely unwavering—we all remember Dave Chappelle solemnly muttering the phrase, “He made Thriller…Thriller!” in defense of MJ on “Chappelle’s Show.” A lotta folks just threw this guy a lifetime pass and loved him unconditionally no matter what, which is kind of odd when you realize how much there is we still don’t know about Michael Jackson.
Forget all the scandals. Michael Jackson was the most popular entertainer—nay, the most popular human being—of the past few decades. What were his politics? What did he like for lunch? How did he view other artists? Did he have any career regrets? How did he view his own body of work? How many songs had he written in his life? What was Michael Jackson’s favorite TV show? Did he think the moon landing was faked? Did he think Oswald acted alone? Did he think Carrot Top was funny? These are topics I never heard MJ address, probably because he was so media shy / wary to begin with, but also because most journalists were really only interested in getting to the bottom of oddball crap like his plastic surgery fetish.
Of course, now that Michael’s gone, all this stuff is going to come out. Little by little, treasured Jacko secrets both mundane (“Michael loved cucumbers with Tabasco sauce!”) and freaky (“The first Bubbles drowned in Michael’s Olympic-sized swimming pool! Mike was trying to coordinate an all-primate swim team!”) will trickle out from his friends and family, and we’ll lap it up like thirsty dogs. It might take a while, but eventually we’ll get as complete a story we can about the most famous man in the world and all his proclivities. I’m sure the definitive book about MJ’s life when it comes will be the read of the century.
I think my only immediate criticism of Michael Jackson as an artist is the fact that he seemed a little spineless at times. If a song or video of his caused even a ripple of discomfort with the general public, he’d bend over backwards trying to apologize or fix the problem. He put that “I’m not into the Occult” warning in front of the “Thriller” video, he had racial epithets digitally added to that car he smashed up in “Black & White,” he changed the “kike me” lyric in “They Don’t Care About Us”—it was like he wanted to be daring and forceful, but only if no one got upset. That’s not really how it works. You’ve got to stand by work if you really believe in it. Throughout his whole career, the only thing that seemed overboard to me was the “kike me” thing. Everything else was like…who cares? If you wanna smash up a car, smash up a car! You’re Michael Jackson.
Concerning the worldwide “shock” over his death—well, yes, it was a tad unexpected. He was only fifty. However, as Bill Wyman pointed out on his blog yesterday, Michael Jackson had the body of a frail Eurasian woman on the wrong side of ninety. Any zest for life or vitality he possessed dissipated long ago. Can you recall the last time he was seen in public not sporting a surgical mask? From about 1993 on, he looked like E.T. after being captured by the government and put in that long white tube. Just on the verge of death. It’s not like big ol’ burly Mike Jackson was out chopping wood yesterday and his manly heart burst from too much axe-swingin’. More like a small gust of wind came by and knocked his ass to the floor. Jacko probably should have never left the ICU (or, you know, done all those drugs everyone’s saying he was probably doing).
Still, it’s quite strange to think we now live in the post-Michael Jackson world. Whatever slim hope he had of pulling a massive comeback out of his silk pajamas or dropping another masterwork like Thriller has completely evaporated. Never again will we read or hear about a brief, unexpected Jacko cameo in the strangest of venues (read: local mall, dog track, FedEx Kinkos). No one will ever have the opportunity to sit down with the King of Pop one last time and say, “Seriously, you’ve only had two plastic surgeries? Who the fuck do you think you’re kidding?” It’s all over now. His throne has officially been abdicated. Will there ever be another King? Will anyone have the balls to swipe that title from Michael Jackson? Could anyone in the future ever hope to attain the kind of global fame / God-like status he enjoyed / reviled?
I dunno. I’m just some jerk with a blog.
I can tell you this: “Beat It” is a kick-ass song. So is “Billie Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Leave Me Alone,” “Scream,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and pretty much everything he did with his brothers in the Jackson 5. And without Michael Jackson, “Weird Al” Yankovic would just be some dipshit with an accordion making fun of the Knack. So for all that, you nose-destroying freak from Gary, Indiana, we thank you.