The dead start to walk in their masquerade

June 26, 2009

Well, everyone else is talking about it … the King of Pop is dead.

I can’t say I was particularly shocked by the news. In a way, I think most of us have seen it coming for some time now. The latest word is that –like Elvis, that other musical King — prescription painkillers were involved. Personally, I would have bet on the cause of death being a toxic reaction to his skin-bleaching cream.

I forget if it was Bill Hicks who said it originally, or if it was Denis Leary ripping him off, about how the wrong people get killed in this world — for example, John Lennon getting assasinated. I’m going from memory here, but whoever it was said something like this:

Wouldn’t it have been better if someone shot Elvis instead of John Lennon? Hear me out … what do you think of when someone says “Elvis?” (pause) That’s right — old, fat, popping pills, sweating through his sequined jumpsuit onstage while flubbing the lyrics to his own songs … dying on the toilet trying to shit out a deep-fried peanut-butter-and-bananna sandwich. What if someone had shot him? We’d remember the young Elvis, the thin Elvis, shaking his hips and driving teenage girls crazy. Wouldn’t that be better?

Apropos, isn’t it? … And when you think about Michael Jackson, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Yeah, that’s right.

Not to mention, if John were alive, he probably would have fought MJ for ownership of the Beatles catalog

But while that may be an easy comparison (especially thanks to the one-degree-of-separation marriage to Priscilla), it’s not really an accurate one. In truth, Michael Jackson is the Howard Hughes of pop.

Sure, we’ve all heard the joke about how “only in Amercia could a poor black boy grow up to become a rich white woman” without reflecting that the last time someone made their face look that way on purpose, they were starring in a horror movie.

You can read this article and this one for a full explanation, but suffice it to say that Michael Jackson was disturbed in ways seldom seen outside a Thomas Harris paperback… and his ability as a singer and dancer only made things worse.

How many people on TV have you heard in the past few days praise MJ’s “talent,” his “genius,” his “vision,” his “gift”? It was none of these. It was a curse. It was the cause of an unhappy childhood, and as an adult it brought him the fame and fortune that made it possible for him to act his traumas out, virtually without consequences, to give his disorder free reign instead of striving to confront and control it by therapy. Michael Jackson’s talent gave him permission to commit suicide in slow motion.

Now — perhaps only now — he is at peace, but any true assessment of his legacy will have to balance the value of his work as an artist with the reality of his life as the victim of mental illness … and the virtual certainty (whatever the official verdict may say) that he in turn victimized others.

I suppose that decision will be up to posterity, to those too young to have practiced the moonwalk in their stocking feet on the linoleum of the kitchen floor, too young to have seen a classmate (who shall remain nameless) throw on a red jacket and white glove for an elementary school talent show … too young to remember when he was still the man on the cover of “Thriller.” Too young for the soundtrack of their childhood to have been written by the boy who wouldn’t grow up.

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