By now the whole world knows about the passing of Michael Jackson the ‘King Of Pop’. A man “born to perform” right from the age of 5 when he was thrust front and centre as the lead singer of the original boy band The Jackson Five. His precocious talents soon overshadowed his older siblings and the child prodigy would go on to become a music superstar, an icon of icons. Trend setter and innovator in music, fashion and dance, he turned his particular vocation into an inspirational art form influencing a whole generation of entertainers and musicians.
Michael lived his whole life in a fishbowl under the full glare of the public eye from the time he performed with his brothers until his death. In contrast to most children his age he was always in the limelight performing, working and travelling much like an adult would. Thus, in my opinion, Michael never grew up in the conventional sense. There was simply no time nor the opportunity. Life on the road became the teacher and life lessons learned this way must surely be skewed towards the adult’s angle. A large portion of the gradual transition from child to adult is thus missing from his psyche making him so childlike and immensely enamoured of childish things even when he was a grown man. This perhaps explains his propensity to surround himself with young people. Maybe he was trying to capture and experience the childhood he so obviously missed. Coupled with a reputedly ambitious father who drove his children to super achievements, the chase for fame and fortune superseded all considerations of a necessary and natural grounding in most childhood things.
Whatever the case it may be this unusual, and many say inappropriate, fascination with children brought him the full attention of the media. As a celebrity of his stature this probably came with the territory – a necessary price to pay for the glamour and the glitz. The resultant scandals, bizarre behaviour and costly litigations meant the music quickly became overwhelmed under the weight of negative publicity.
For all his personal upheavels, Michael was beyond compare when it came to crafting unique, iconic music. Many insights into the mind of the tortured genius can be gleaned through the personal, almost autobiographical lyrics. Words with dark undertones that are wrapped in a slick, pop package. Much of his music also had a social conscience. A few of my favourite MJ tracks are “Black Or White“, “Earth Song“, “We Are The World” among others. Perhaps THE MJ track for me is “Man In The Mirror”. On the surface it would seem a simple song but it is a cry from the heart with a fundamental theme: to effect deep, far reaching change we must first look ourselves in the mirror. In other words we must change our own behaviour and perceptions first before we look at others. This is such a basic premise that we forget the simple truth of it’s lesson.
Perhaps it is the eccentric and troubled soul of the man that enabled him to produce such pop masterpieces. Although Michael Jackson was undoubtedly a gifted musician he was a musician flawed nonetheless in the dark recesses of his person. Perhaps he looked himself in the very same mirror and did not like the reflection that stared back. The subsequent pursuit of artificial physical alteration could have been a manifestation of this insecurity. A magnificent talent and yet so tragic in his later years clouded by accusations that ultimately tarnished his reputation, it is the pure artistry of the music that I choose to best remember Michael Jackson by.
*Two lesser known tracks but revealing much of the emotions churning within the man : Childhood and Gone Too Soon. The latter is a tribute song to Ryan White, a haemophiliac boy who contracted HIV while receiving blood treatments and who died at the age of 18.