Michael Jackson passed today. Upon reflecting on why his passing is so painful, I realized a few things:
We saw him grow up. Michael was young, gifted and Black. Instantly likable and boyish, with an ability to conjure a grown soulfulness in his singing that made you certain that he had been on this earth before (see “Never Can Say Goodbye” and “Got to Be There” for two of my favorite examples). We saw him grow into an awkward teen, struggling with his self-image and trying to define his identity outside of his family. Then, he was his own man: Visible striking, trend setting, exciting and wildly successful. His tumble into middle age became a downright mid-life crisis. He never duplicated the success of his youth, and failed relationships and disturbing behavior made even his biggest fans question him. He left us an elderly man, but not elderly enough. His health was poor, and his spirit was broken.
It represents our deepest fears about success. He was great, and then he was the best. Then he reached a level of fame that was unparalleled. He hit a career plateau (Thriller) and never reached that level of success again. What happens on the other side of the zenith? When you become the best that you can be, what comes next? The fear of what is on the other side is enough to keep most people from striving in the first place.
We know he wasn’t at peace when he passed. Reporters speculate that he was feverishly preparing himself for his comeback tour. Michael wanted our love and approval so badly that he may have killed himself trying to get it.
He represents the last of an era of true entertainers. Michael was a singer, dancer, style icon and one of the most exciting entertainers who ever lived. He was a skilled musician and vocalist who was able to not only go with the fickle tide of pop music, he guided it. Michael came from an era where you had to be the best to get a shot. Many (forget that, MOST) people who dominate the current pop music scene wouldn’t have lasted 5 seconds at the Apollo during the heyday of the Jackson 5.
His legacy won’t just be about the music. I choose not to delve into the darker side of Michael’s final years, but that puts me in the minority. The media loves a freak show, and they promoted his eccentricities more than his talent.
Thank you for your music, Michael, and for loving us enough to be your very best.
Take care, withhold judgment, love others and love yourself.
Never Can Say Goodbye (LIVE)
I Want You Back (LIVE)
I Wanna Be Where You Are (LIVE)