I remember being in the back seat of an Olds 98, in Montclair, NJ, at the corner of Watchung Avenue and Grove Street when “Rockin’Robin” came on WABC. My older brother was driving with his best friend to his right. I was probably about 12, give or take, as the song continued, and the friend remarked how the lead singer was only a small kid.
He was. His name was Michael Jackson.
In the immediately ensuing years it wasn’t popular to admit liking the Jacksons, or their tiny front man, but later on, with “Off the Wall”, I came to truly admire this enormously talented artist.
Then came “Thriller”. At that point, even the most hardened skeptic had to admit that an entertainer of uniquely rare proportion was making an indelible mark.
“Bad” was released while I was living overseas, and a few reviewers tried to say its quality was in line with its title. Yet with one listen it was apparent that MJ was more than just the product of fancy production and promotion. He was the real deal.
At this point I need not recount the scandals and universal innuendo attending Jackson throughout the remainder of his days. Grown men and women jumped on the bandwagon no differently than children picking on a kid who is different in the school playground.
Here’s what occurs to me… The jokes that began in the ’90’s, linking MJ with sexual abuse of children — jokes that were openly told by major personalities across the board, and consistently accepted in the same fashion, were simply a disgrace.
If the allegations were true, then the jokes were disgusting. The destruction of a child’s innocence isn’t funny.
If the allegations were not true, then the jokes were disgusting. The destruction of an innocent man’s reputation isn’t funny.
So, I am saddened by this passing.
And I am angry. Angry by a media that “plays” people, one way and then another, for profitable convenience. I am also angry because, either Michael Jackson didn’t get proper help for dealing with an apparently lost and damaging childhood, or he was naive beyond all reason and didn’t stop to think carefully enough about how certain interactions with children, however innocent, couldn’t help but be seen as terribly suspect.
In general, I can’t help but feel that something was stolen from the wider perception of this man. A plug nickel wouldn’t be worth risking on where the real truth begins and ends.
Still, the songs and performances say a great deal. When I see him performing “Smooth Criminal”, live in Bucharest, it still brings tears to my eyes.
At least in that sense, Michael Jackson was good. Unbelievably and perhaps unattainably good.
Was he as good behind the gates and closed doors? Some are sure, and the rest of us may never be allowed to know. And that, I believe, will be a terrible shame in Michael Jackson’s legacy as enduring as the music in our ears.
Whether deserving of suspicion or not, Michael Jackson was certainly the target and victim of a media establishment telling us what we are to think and believe, apart from helping us to perceive what actually is.