I’d planned to take this week off – another in my periodic hiatus weeks – but the death of Michael Jackson and surrounding furor seemed to demand comment. Not that anyone has been (or should be) breathlessly awaiting my thoughts on the matter, but just to have my say. That’s what a blog is for…
It was early afternoon when rumors of Michael Jackson’s heart attack rippled through the set, and suddenly everybody on the crew (except me*) was staring into the blue glow of their cell phones. Being Thursday (our block and pre-shoot day), the entire crew was present -- grip/electric, camera, sound, set dressing, props, hair/makeup, and production -- and the stage was packed. Many people seemed stunned at the news, but I didn’t feel much of anything then or later when the confirmation of his death finally came. To me, Michael Jackson was freakish in every way right from the start – a prodigiously freakish talent that shot into the pop cultural heavens in the early 80’s, then, like Icarus (another young over-achiever) flew too close to the terrible heat of the celebrity sun, and plunged back to earth with a thud. There, he retreated like some warped hermit into his own bizarrely freakish Xanadu in the Santa Ynez Valley, replete with chimpanzees, amusement park rides, and young boys in the bed. My own brief encounter with The Gloved One was enough to convince me that this was no ordinary human, but rather someone so deep in the Golden Bubble of mega-success – and so consumed by the intolerable pressures inside that Black Hole -- that any hopes of having something resembling a normal life had long since been crushed.
Such limitless success opens the gilded door for her evil twin, boundless excess, which has a way of leading those so gifted (and afflicted) to an early death.
I still don’t feel much over the demise of Michael Jackson. His death is certainly a personal tragedy for his family, whatever friends still remained (a select group apparently including Elizabeth Taylor and Lisa Minelli, if no one else), and his worldwide legions of fans, but although the news came as a surprise, it was hardly a shock. The man had been in free-fall since the infamous Neverland trial a few years back, and even the planned fifty concert tour -– all fifty dates sold out, apparently -- seemed unlikely to restore him to fiscal or mental health. Fifty concerts is a lot to ask from such a seemingly frail man twenty-five years removed from his best days. With all he'd been through, you really have to wonder just how much he had left to give.
In that light, veteran LA Times music critic Robert Hilburn's perspective is worth reading. Then again, another piece in the Times reported that Jackson had been thoroughly energized by the ongoing rehearsals for his London concerts, preparing to once again take the pop world by storm and reclaim his self-anointed title as the King of Pop. If true, then perhaps he went to sleep at the end of his last day of life a happy man, filled with hope for the future.
Maybe that's the best any of us can hope for.
I have no axe to grind against Michael Jackson. Although I didn’t care for the Jackson Five’s music, when his solo career finally hit its stride, he created some of the most propulsive, dynamic songs in pop music history. In that brief window of undeniable brilliance, his presence on stage truly was magic. Yes, working on the video for “Billie Jean” was an extremely strange experience, but the song itself, like so many of his efforts from that era, was terrific. His best work deserves to be the legacy we remember him by, rather than the long dark path he subsequently descended. Michael Jackson had his share of problems, many of which he created for himself, but the same is true of the rest of us here on planet earth. To me, Clint Eastwood's character said it best in “Unforgiven," when he muttered “We all got it coming, kid.”
Indeed we do, and if Michael Jackson died too young, then so have millions of other young people all over the world in the past bloody decade –- and in case anybody missed it in the tsunami of All-Michael-All-the-Time media coverage, Farrah Fawcett got a pretty raw deal herself this week.
It was the sudden tectonic insanity of the media frenzy that bothered me more than anything else, as the News Machine did what it does best -- instantly commodifying a celebrity death to create yet another twisted scene right out of “Day of the Locust.” The now familiar sight of sobbing fan-mobs dominated the Toob, and once again I felt embarrassed to be a member of the human race. I don’t mean to be critical of those who were weeping in the streets when the media horde descended upon them like a pack of hungry wolves -- a powerful emotional response will bring the strongest of us to our knees -- but I will say this: if I'm ever overwhelmed by such all-consuming grief in public, and some media asshole sticks a camera in my face, I just hope I’ll have the presence of mind to turn away and force the bastard to get his/her sound bite somewhere else.
*Not that I wasn’t curious, mind you, but I seem to be the last person in Hollywood who doesn’t carry a cell phone…
(An attentive reader brought to my attention the lack of footnotes in last Wednesday's post. There were asterisks in the text, but nothing down below -- promises made and not kept. For anyone who cares, I've since added those missing (if rather inconsequential) footnotes to the post...