The King Is Dead. Long Live The King Of PopJuly 30, 2009
It’s just over a month since this event and I would’ve written about it sooner, but I hadn’t yet set up this blog. I also had a number of events of my own to occupy the mind including fruitless job searching, increasing letters demanding payments from my bank and tracking the progress of sick relatives many miles from here who have since died.
News of the death of Michael Joseph Jackson was so big that the death of Farrah Fawcett on the same day was all but obliterated once this juggernaut smashed into our consciousness. We’ve all had some “where were you” moments under our belts and the older we get, the more we collect. I’ll give you some of mine. I was swimming in the womb waiting to be born when JFK was assassinated. I was at home when I heard that Elvis died. I was also at home when the news declared that John Lennon had been shot dead. It was late night radio that alerted me to the death of Marvin Gaye by the hands of his father and again when Princess Diana became part of the concertina that used to be a car in the Paris underpass. Heath Ledger was my last big shock and now this one.
I was getting ready to turn off the TV, put on the radio and settle down in front of the mac to do some design-type noodling when I got two texts within seconds of each other declaring that Michael Jackson was dead. Now given that his life became a National Enquirer staple, particularly in the last ten years, I initially took it as a bad joke. However, it was the second text by a trusted friend that urged me to call. From that point onwards the remote was practically glued to my hand as I conversed with said friend expressing disbelief, while surfing the available news channels from Freeview, the poor man’s digibox. So I switched in a regular cycle from Sky News who had already decided he was dead to BBC news who wasn’t sure, then CNN, the most cautious of the three who said he was in a coma. I wish I had access to the full digital TV spectrum because I would love to have known how Fox News reported it. I understand it’s a very measured, unbiased station and I’m sure it gave Mr Jackson full respect at that frantic time. I stopped watching CNN after a while because they kept flashing a picture of the little boy Jackson which filled me with sadness. The innocence and promise in that face could not possibly had predicted such a difficult and bizarre future with a bad end. Once I had finished speaking to my friend and finally put the radio on, his death was declared. It was around midnight, UK time. Then the tributes started pouring in and every time a Jackson 5 or Michael Jackson tune came on, I danced around the living room like a whirling dervish, drinking in the joy of the music as if I were a flower turning its face towards the sun. It helped to take the edge off but I really couldn’t believe it. This went on until 2.30 a.m. when I finally decided to go to bed.
The next morning my hope that it was a mistake was busted as it was all over the place. The radio stations were full of it, as was the TV. Many people would’ve woken up to the news and reeled in shock, regardless of whether they liked him or not. I wondered how his super fans would mark this occasion because in 1997, Kensington palace became the central point for Diana. Michael Jackson doesn’t have one here. I was informed by a friend that there was to be a place of gathering outside the Lyric Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue where the “Thriller” tribute show is currently playing. We decided to meet up, arrived at 6.30 p.m. and left after 9.30. While we were there we chatted to people, got angry at the film crews who insisted on pushing their cameras in the faces of crying fans, lit a candle and generally hung around. Throughout the weekend, everywhere I went, Jackson 5 or Michael Jackson songs were playing and jogging alongside like presidential security at a cavalcade were stories of a possible drug overdose and a hitherto secret life of prescription drug abuse. On Sunday, as more stories about him were released, along with the constant stream of Jackson music, I was overcome with this overwhelming sadness thinking of how he seemed to have had such a sad life where the apparent drug abuse was possibly an attempt to kill pain. In every sense. This sadness, or compassion if you like, extended to people worldwide, living in quiet desperation trying to knock out their own pain with drugs, alcohol and other substances or activities. What could I do about it? I didn’t know at that moment. I guess the answer will come in the fullness of time, though my impatient self says this needs fixing now. I know as you read this it sounds wanky and girly, but I absolutely felt it and meant it at the time. As a human species, surely we can do better than this? we’re supposed to be the intelligent ones on this planet, though perhaps it’s intelligence that’s the problem. Anyway, as the week wore on and more silly stories came out about where he was to be buried, the tussle with the custody of children and others I can’t remember now, a memorial which would occur after the funeral was decided upon. Considering the short amount of time they had to pull it together, it proceeded almost without a hitch on the 7th July to a worldwide audience. Since then of course there has been a steady stream of speculation about whether his body was in the coffin, what happened to his brain and family members accusing doctors of murders. Which brings me to Dr Conrad Murray. He is not a suspect at the time of my writing this but he’s clearly under a lot of pressure, as are all the other doctors who may have had contact with Jackson over the years. They must be shitting themselves. The words Chickens, come home and roost springs to mind. When Dr Murray was offered the job of looking after possibly the biggest name in pop for the 50 date “This is it” tour, he must’ve thought he’d landed the sweet gig. Bet he doesn’t think that anymore. Truly a cautionary tale of how a dream can turn into a nightmare in a nanosecond. Be careful what you wish for, ladies and gentlemen, because you may just get it, but not in the way you expect.
Michael Jackson was my childhood, as was Farrah Fawcett (she’ll always be Farrah Fawcett Majors to me). I’d been with him man and boy from the first appearances on TV and the cartoon series in the seventies to the disco era. From staying up to watch the premiere of the “Thriller” video to “Bad” where suddenly he wasn’t a black man anymore. What he was instead I couldn’t tell you. Stories of his Neverland Ranch, his best friend, Bubbles the Chimp, the increasing cosmetic surgery (his nose was a particular source of interest) and the Oxygen tent were starting to take us down the spiral of weird. Hoovering woodlands of magic mushrooms would never had bought you close to the life he was living at that point. I’ll be honest with you, on the strength of the evidence before me at that time, I didn’t think he would live past 40. When the child abuse case came up some years later, I had to seriously ponder on whether I could listen to his music again if found guilty. Gary Glitter was part of my childhood too, but I only had a couple of his records and his imprint wasn’t that deep, so dropping his music wasn’t a big wrench, whereas Michael Jackson had been a big part of my musical map. To not have his music anymore would’ve been like removing the M25 off an A-Z. There would’ve been a very large gap. He was eventually found not guilty and my map was left untouched, unlike the man himself. As much as I loved Michael Jackson, I was not totally blind to his failings. However, some of his super fans whom I met at various memorial points like the HMV shop in Leicester Square, The Lyric and the 02 centre appeared to be. I noticed that many of these fans were young, possibly born in the late 70s and the 80s. There may not be anything to conclude from that. It was just my observation. Thank goodness he and the rest of the family created such fantastic music and of course many musicians and dancers, including Justin Timberlake and Usher, have much to be grateful for as he influenced so many artists.
Many people wondered if he could’ve done the 50 dates. I imagine bets were taken to see if he would go beyond the first ten. If the clip of one of his last rehearsals was anything to go by, he may had been able to do it if he was looked after properly. I guess we’ll never know.