Pete's Blog

I, too

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I have tried to be strong, have told myself that this is not a pile I wish to pile on to, not a story I care to make any bigger, not a skunk I want to match, but in the end I do have something to say about the death of Michael Jackson. In his statement President Obama (is this guy the greatest thing that has ever happened to our national discourse or what?) said the story was amplified by the 24/7 news cycle. Ya think? American culture keeps producing compelling figures who are very good at what they do but don't seem to want to be doing it. Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and now Michael Jackson all had this quality - a profound discomfort, a sense that in the corporate entertainment industry the phoniness that surrounds fame calls the work itself, the spiritual dimension of one's artistry, and one's entire self, into question. And yet this discomfort (think of performance footage of Elvis in his last decade - this is a guy who thinks what he's doing is morally wrong) becomes part of the Myth and serves only to attract followers more and more compellingly. It's pain as a marketing tool. This was the elephant in the room at the Staples Center, as one after another glossy showbiz type talked about Jackson's "genius." In the end, this was not a life to celebrate. Michael Jackson was somebody quite literally not comfortable in his own skin, and this drew his fans closer. As he cut himself off and cut himself up his fans wanted to love him back into the world, but it was not to be. Because between Jackson and the people who loved him most, his fans, there was a wall so high and thick that their love could register only as distant screaming. Nobody mentioned this. They talked about what a good guy he was underneath it all, which may have been true. Or they talked about him as if he were the preeminent artistic genius of the age and a figurehead of African-American achievement, neither of which is true. Michael Jackson sold a lot of records. A lot. But the best of his work could fit on a single CD. Those tracks outshine by light-years the insipid music made by more recent acts in his image, but let's be clear. NO ONE in R&B or Black Pop or whatever you want to call it has matched the work Stevie Wonder (another child star) produced in the roughly ten years of his peak. In fact, it's worth asking ourselves what exactly happened to black popular music in the last 30 years or so. Somehow the phrase "victim of its own success" seems insufficient to describe its utter loss of meaning, significance, and distinction. And onstage at the Staples Center were some of the people responsible. Berry Gordy could say what he wanted but in the end this was a guy who made billions off of Michael Jackson's pain and thus had no reason to intervene. Why fuck up a good thing? During Jermaine Jackson's tearful eulogy you could see over his shoulder the Rev. Jesse Jackson ignoring him, schmoozing with the family, happy as a clam to be back on-camera, his post-election obscurity now over. And at the very end, when that little girl, Michael Jackson's daughter, began to cry and was embraced by this group of sycophants - each, chillingly, wearing one glove - was I the only one who wondered: Where is this child's mother?

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