A Few Thoughts About Michael

For those of us below a certain age, Michael Jackson has always been the absolute biggest of larger-than-life entertainers in the world. Gloved hands down. In fact, I can’t remember a time of pop culture consciousness in my life when he wasn’t miles above and beyond everyone else in terms of brand name status. The Beatles, Elvis… Sure, but they had all stopped active entertaining by the time I was aware of such things. No, it was always just Michael at the top. In the beginning that stature was for his immense musical and theatrical talent. More recently it has been for less noble press.

My first specific memory of Michael Jackson was at a friends eighth birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese (and if they had gone out of business yesterday as well, it would have been a fairly traumatic time for my childhood memories). It was 1983, and he received from his parents a copy of the new greatest album in the world: Thriller. Being raised in a very conservative household, I knew that I would have to settle for being happy that at least he had a copy.

I remember discovering MTV (after we got a VCR, I found out that there were more than just the thirteen channels on the rotary knob of our television! Crazy wizardry!) and recording the full premiere of the “Bad” video. Michael’s epic videos were one of the best reasons to watch MTV back in those days. And now with a lack of music and a glut of bad programming, there is no reason.

In more recent times, I remember Michael being closely followed and scrutinized at every turn. I recall the exhaustive coverage before his pedophilia trial, where for literally hours all of the cable news networks filled time as they tried to figure out how Michael was getting to the courthouse simply so they could film his journey from helicopter. For all of his eccentricities and possible misconduct, it’s hard not to feel partly responsible for the fact that we helped create the monster we always wanted.

Ever since he was a small boy who should have been out having fun with his friends, he has been in the constant gaze of the spotlight. His post-adolescent spike in celebrity only magnified the issue. Instead of having his adult years to cope with the loss of childhood as a child star, he just entered the next bigger, stranger and more bloodthirsty stage of fame. Everything from tabloids to television, from paparazzi to suffocating mobs of fans did their best to never give him a moment to live a normal life.

I can’t really speak for some of the things that Michael was accused of – from simple surgery to more damaging legal matters – because I wasn’t there and all I know comes from a media that never gave him a moment’s peace and was anything but objective. But what I do know is what we as a culture did, and it was undoubtedly sick. We obsess about, stalk, accuse and interrogate our celebrities in the name of entertainment and news, but more to fill an emptiness in our own lives. Then we turn right around and demand that they dance for us like trained animals.

And after all of this, we wonder why some of what they do doesn’t match our standard of “normal.” We did it with Michael, we do it with Britney, most recently we’ve done it with Jon and Kate, and we’ll continue to do it because there is something seriously wrong with us. Michael was every bit as strange and larger-than-life as we absolutely demanded that he be every day of his life.

As I write this, Michael Jackson has nine of the Top 10 albums on iTunes. His death yesterday afternoon brought a virtual standstill to the Internet. Part of me would like to think that there is a cultural realization happening that we can now no longer terrorize the poor man. Maybe we realize that all we have left is his music. Music that is really, really good. Music made by a musician, and not someone who should otherwise be at the constant center of our 24-hour news-obsessed culture.

As crazy as it seems, even to me, I bought my first Michael Jackson album today. It had never really occurred to me before to buy one, as his music always seems to be around somewhere, but I picked up a best-of. As I type this, I’m bobbing my head along to “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and it’s every bit as enjoyable as it’s always been. This is how I choose to remember the biggest entertainer of my lifetime.

Finally rest in peace, Michael.