“Heal the world, make it a better place
For you and for me and the entire human race,
There are people dying, if you care enough for the living,
make a better place for you and for me.”
I remember the image well. The King of Pop modeled in gold, a giant towering into the sky and making HIStory. I was 11 years old and found the disc in my older brother’s CD collection. He was 20 at the time, and first introduced me to Michael Jackson through the daily echo of a shower falsetto. My sister and I would play Black and White and fall in love with the opening dialogue, quoting Macaulay Culkin.
“Dad, this is the best part, c’mon!”
We thrashed our air guitars.
We joined the Culkin rebellion and cranked the speakers.
We flashed our teeth and hid our naiveté behind sunglasses.
We didn’t know about the racial prejudices which fueled the song, or the way it would be used against Michael in the later stages of his vitiligo. We knew it grooved, we knew how good it felt to emulate a Michael Jackson “Woo!” We knew that rock music was meant for us. In the years that followed, I began to realise just how true the Golden God image was to so many people. It was perhaps a narcissistic move, but was not without foundation. Jackson was revered and treasured by the music industry and its fans.
“Why not just tell people I’m an alien from Mars. Tell them I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight. They’ll believe anything you say, because you’re a reporter. But if I, Michael Jackson, were to say, ‘I’m an alien from Mars and I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight,’ people would say, ‘Oh, man, that Michael Jackson is nuts. He’s cracked up. You can’t believe a damn word that comes out of his mouth.'”
I was too young to take it all in, but I remember the way Michael began to play the media. Some of it was intentional; his publicists began to release information that made him seem strange. Other stories came from other sources. They were oddities that would easily befit a megastar. In public, he was seen playing out his fantasies for a childhood he never had, opening Neverland and inviting children to stay. He carried out everything in the way he always did, to the final degree, installing video games and amusement park furnishings to complete his dream. He repressed the childhood abuse, and used his energy to reinvent what he had missed, to imaginary perfection. Michael was always a perfectionist and his albums testify to the fact. Just listen to the way everything on an MJ album sounds perfect and feels just the way it should. Where other artists of the 80s have become dated for their use of the latest audio fad, Jackson has reigned supreme with number one tunes that have stood the test of time. Unfortunately, his strangeness gained him the title “Wacko Jacko” and his reputation began to fall. What is strangest is the way devotees began to separate Michael from his music; refusing to believe that the lover behind “You are not alone” and the self-confident machismo which fueled “Bad” could be the same as this new man. This frail and pale man, no longer the spectre of masculinity he once was, but an effeminate recluse.
Of course, it is difficult not to make mention of the sexual abuse allegations, and I use that word purposely for Jackson has never been officially convicted. During the 2003 court case, mental health professional Dr. Stan Katz assessed Jackson, finding that he had mentally regressed to the capacity of a ten year old, and did not fit the profile of a pedophile. But this is not an allegation which will ever be dropped against him. Sexual assault is one of the few crimes where allegation can ruin a career, acquitted or not, for it is the one which so easily destroys trust and reputation, and so rarely recovers it. When the allegations were made, it cannot be denied that Michael’s life was generally approached with a perverse fascination. There is no doubt that Michael would have been better off throughout the trial if his lifestyle was not considered inconceivable already.
I don’t know what to make of the trials. But to be honest, I don’t need to. There are many who consider themselves a close friend of Jackson and it is for them to decide… I only know him through his music, music which has touched and inspired me for more than a decade. I know that even though I’ve had 17 years with his music in my heart, there are those who have been fortunate enough to have experienced his entire career first hand. We know him for his music and we adore him for it.
As a teen, I didn’t completely understand the allegations. I didn’t watch the news or care for current affairs. I assumed “Wacko Jacko” was just a label created for his extravagant fashion and musical flair. We shivered as we watched his music videos, trailblazers in themselves. We watched him moonwalk and wondered how we might learn to use our feet. We struck poses in “Michael Jackson Hats” while grabbing our crotches, unaware of the dripping sexuality of the act. We wanted to be him. He was the superstar for us. He could sing, he could dance, he could make the world swoon. Michael Jackson, to us, was a fiction and a hero. A god of music we never entirely believed was real. Though his own childhood remained for many years a dark secret, he illuminated our lives with an imagination, grace and talent in abundance.
I remember where I was when I heard that he was unwell. It was a strange occurrence. I found out via twitter, while watching my one-year-old nephew. I saw the information stream in, and watched the eerie way each Facebook status changed to mourn his passing. I saw Farrah Fawcett’s death pushed to the side for the King of Pop. I marveled at the way the world’s media carried a story first published by a blog and how they then backtracked in case they were wrong. I remember looking over to my nephew and thinking about the way Michael will exist for him. He will be as illusory to the next generation as John Lennon was to me. He will be remembered as a phenomenal musician, a humanitarian and one of the many misunderstood.
I watched as the fans stood outside the hospital, as if it was the one place we might still feel his presence. I watched the allegations fall away as they praised his work. I watched the world’s faces fall, put on a record, and smile again.
Heal the world we live in, save it for our children.
The King of Pop is gone, but his legacy is not.