Music

Michael Jackson: Punchline and/or Cautionary Tale?

|

Columnist Ron Hart writes on Michael Jackson's death:

Since he morphed before our eyes from a black male into a white woman, I did not realize that many consider Michael Jackson a person who broke racial barriers. Maybe they mean that he started off black and worked his way toward becoming white. He clearly was a talented guy with deep-seated personal issues, but Rosa Parks he was not. Even rival attention junkies Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton could not sell that one to the American people. Perhaps their last chance at selling that particular myth died with Billy Mays….

The cautionary tale that was the life of Michael Jackson is one that we learn over and over. Never surround yourself with "yes men" who will only feed your demons instead of telling you "no" when they know they should. We have lost a talented performer who lived a tragic life. I hope his death will teach us to avoid drug addiction, false friends, and living for too long in Neverland.

Whole thing here.

I found the Jackson memorial service today pretty awful in terms of paying the musician his due as an artist and a cultural figure and many of the send-offs simply bizarre and self-serving, to say the least. It's impossible to bracket the charges of child molestation from any discussion of the guy, even when it gets super-jokey.

But to the extent that America is any way post-racial or at least less racially cleaved or more individualized, there's little doubt that Jackson, despite a seemingly bottomless well of dysfunction, played a significant role in all that. I think RU Sirius got it right when he wrote recently that "in some odd way, [we] will learn from his many mistakes."

And I think Hitsville's Bill Wyman (formerly of NPR and Salon but not the Rolling Stones) is onto something in his piss-take on Jackson's (and Steve Jobs'!) defenders from media mean-ness:

As for Jackson, jesus-his biggest claim to fame is his celebrity qua celebrity. He's an amazing pop artist, of course, but he's no Stevie Wonder, to name just one Motown fellow. He's no Springsteen, either, and he's no Prince. A lot of black activists, like the buffoonish Al Sharpton, have been trying to prop up his rep as a breakthrough black artist; I take the point that "Billie Jean" was a watershed for MTV, but Wonder was hitting crazy commercial landmarks in the 1970s. (Songs of the Key of Life debuted at number one, for example, an almost unprecedented event at the time, and while I don't care much about the Grammys, his dominance of the event in the middle part of the decade was nearly total.)

Read the whole thing here.

NEXT: Yes or No: "Libertarianism's Worst Enemy is Not Big Government"

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. but he’s no Stevie Wonder, to name just one Motown fellow. He’s no Springsteen, either, and he’s no Prince.

    As Springsteen can’t be categorized as a “breakthrough black artist” I assume he suggests that these musicians are somehow “better” or “more important” than Michael Jackson.

    Pop music is quantifiable.Jackson’s records outsold the referenced three artists combined sales.

  2. I have to admit I was surprised, but the best memorial concert appearance – and most unexpected – had to be Gary Glitter.

  3. My brother went to see the Stones at the Kennedy stadium. Lead in was Stevie Wonder.
    My brother returned from the event talking about SW.

    I had an ex-rednecked friend who went to that event to see the Stones. He, too, came back talking about SW.

  4. My older brother took me to see Stevie Wonder when I was like 14 (mid eighties)–it didn’t really stick but today it’s weird for me seeing a man of his talent praising the likes of Michael Jackson. It should be the other way around.

  5. Why do we find it necessary to denigrate the talent of someone just because we disapprove of his life?

    I don’t have to like the (pseudo) adult that Michael Jackson became in order to like his body of music.

  6. I was suprised but though it was a very fitting memorial concert, for a true king of pop.

  7. I saw only a bit of the memorial service on the news before I turned off the television in disgust. Most outrageous part? Al Sharpton telling Wacko Jacko’s daughter that “there was nothing strange” about her daddy.

  8. Jackson’s records outsold the referenced three artists combined sales.

    But not George Strait’s.

  9. Michael Jackson was a pretty exceptional artist. But where he outclassed all his peers was in his abilities as an entertainer. His concerts and videos are up there with some of the greatest acts, stuff like Pink Floyd, the Stones, etc. In that respect, I don’t think he’s comparable to anyone else in this generation.

    As far as his eccentricities, he was a very weird guy obviously. But he was harmless. Nowhere do you ever hear of him losing his temper at someone, trying to destroy someone else’s career because he could, etc. Frankly, he was more mentally grounded and less freaky than a Richard Nixon or Lyndon Johnson.

    I don’t think Michael Jackson was a pedophile at all. He got rolled for big bucks once, and when another went to the trough, it was empty…that’s the only reason there was a trial with the “second” accuser…he was too broke to pay them off. In so much as prosecutorial misconduct, vendettas, abuse of power – all of it – his relationship with the Santa Barbara DA, Tom Sneddon, is ripe for the picking by Reasonoids. It was truly horrible, and I think was a significant contributor to the problems that eventually consumed this poor guy.

    Rest in Peace, Majic Man.

  10. Rest in Peace, Majic Man.

    Magic Man!!! But…but…but I thought I was the Magic Man!

  11. While I did my best to avoid the dulcet tones of Al Sharpton trying to turn the funeral into a civil rights march, I kept thinking to myself, “Why don’t these people just leave Michael Jackson alone?”

    Was there anything in recent memory which was designed to eulogize someone which turned out to be a complete self-serve-o-rama of wanna-be-seensters?

  12. The guy was a bit too much of a freak for me but I will give him props for the charity work he did. He did give millions and raise millions more.

  13. Al Sharpton telling Wacko Jacko’s daughter that “there was nothing strange” about her daddy.

    You’ve seen Sharpton’s haircut, I take it?

    Michael Jackson was not one of my favorite musicians (I like the work of Stevie Wonder and Prince better, to name a couple), but he did release some very, very good material and some classic videos.

    Like many musicians and probably about 20% of the most famous ones, he is also something of a cautionary tale.

  14. Lets not forget Michael Jackson was dubbed the King of Pop.

    Thats “Pop”, folks. Short for “popular” or “popular music”. It refers to mass appeal or commercial success, not necessarily talent or artistic ability. McDonald’s is a huge commercial success and has mass appeal because of how its marketed, but its certainly not the best burger you’ll ever eat.

  15. The guy was a bit too much of a freak for me but I will give him props for the charity work he did. He did give millions and raise millions more.

    Good points. The tabloid stuff was largely cheap, but really, the guy was a walking biopic/tragic hero. Like Howard Hughes, I think a quality director like Scorcese could do something truly fascinating with Jackson’s life story.

  16. moj(o),

    Good points as well.

  17. Don’t blame it on drugs until all the facts are in.

    Even if it turns out that propofol was what killed him, that wasn’t “drug addiction” it was sheer stupidity. Propofol is so dangerous that it’s not even a controlled substance! NOBODY uses it for recreational purposes. You can’t, because you need an anesthesiologist there to put the breathing tube down your throat, etc. It’s not somethign anyone would “abuse” (I hate that work with reference to substances … you can abuse a puppy, not a pill).

    Assuming MJ was addicted to painkillers and other “fun” drugs, he obviously functioned perfectly fine on them. He seemed just fine at the rehearsal 24 hours before his death.

    He may have committed suicide, or maybe giving him propofol was the ultimate example of negligence due to “yes men”. But remember, propofol is NOT a controlled substance (though you can bet your ass it soon will be, with chants of how MJ would still be alive if only it had been more prohibited with larger mandatory minimums for possession of it, etc.).

  18. The guy was a bit too much of a freak for me but I will give him props for the charity work he did. He did give millions and raise millions more.

    Too bad he couldn’t be bothered to give his creditors the millions he owed them while he was being so “charitable.” What a deadbeat.

  19. The praise for MJ is overkill, so is the criticism. His passing meritted a couple of days in the press, no more.

  20. “Too bad he couldn’t be bothered to give his creditors the millions he owed them while he was being so “charitable.””

    HIs creditors knew the risk. If they foolishly gave him unsecured loans, then they have nobody but themselves to blame.

    It’s not like bankruptcy and premature death are uncommon among celebrities.

  21. Michael Jackson peaked with “Thriller”. After that, his music became secondary to the hype. When that happened, his art suffered.

    As for the funeral, it had more than a bit of the Paul Wellstone memorial to it. I had to stop watching it after a while. How they mourned this dead kid-toucher. Amazing and depressing.

  22. Michael Jackson peaked with “Thriller”. After that, his music became secondary to the hype. When that happened, his art suffered.

    Some reported once asked Joseph Heller why he hasn’t written anything as good as “Catch 22” and Heller shot back “Why hasn’t anyone else?”

    Sure, Jackson peaked with Thriller, but no one will ever have as successful an albumn ever again. Modern media is more fragmented, and Jackson’s kind of dominance just isn’t possible anymore.

  23. Abdul, god point, but Catch-22 was far more innovative than Thriller.

  24. “Sure, Jackson peaked with Thriller, but no one will ever have as successful an albumn ever again. Modern media is more fragmented, and Jackson’s kind of dominance just isn’t possible anymore.”

    Very true. This is why I do not think the list of books on the NYT Bestseller list means very much anymore. Such a great diversity of books are being sold and such a diversity of albums are being sold that what you say is very important. I care far more about quality.

  25. Who’s bad?!

  26. HIs creditors knew the risk. If they foolishly gave him unsecured loans, then they have nobody but themselves to blame.

    It’s not like bankruptcy and premature death are uncommon among celebrities.

    On the contrary – they have Jackson to blame. The moral onus is on him and his dishonorableness, not on his creditors.

  27. Perhaps their last chance at selling that particular myth died with Billy Mays

    No! Billy Mays is still selling crap!
    Why can’t he just leave us alone?

  28. Abdul | July 8, 2009, 7:56am | #
    Michael Jackson peaked with “Thriller”. After that, his music became secondary to the hype. When that happened, his art suffered.

    “Some reported once asked Joseph Heller why he hasn’t written anything as good as “Catch 22” and Heller shot back “Why hasn’t anyone else?”

    Sure, Jackson peaked with Thriller, but no one will ever have as successful an album ever again. Modern media is more fragmented, and Jackson’s kind of dominance just isn’t possible anymore.”

    ————————

    Fair points all. In fact, I pretty much agree with them. There was no way Michael was going to top ‘Thriller’ as far as album sales, cultural impact, etc. That type of hit is a once in a lifetime feat.

    However, the follow-ups, “Bad” and “Dangerous” were both bloated efforts that showed Michael actually trying to match “Thriller”. So he made more and more elaborate concept videos and pushed each release as some sort of historic cultural milestone. Again, the hype was far greater than the music warranted, because it just wasn’t as good as “Thriller”.

    Also, we’re talking about the late 80’s/early 90’s, when the media wasn’t nearly as fragmented as it is right now.

  29. I WANT TO BE SURROUNDED BY YES MEN!

    I live my lifer surrounded by “NO” men and “NO” women and even freaking “NO” children. Just for one day I’d like the world to let me induldge all my nerousis and pathologies.

    Is that too much to ask?

  30. Is that too much to ask?

    Yes.

  31. On the contrary – they have Jackson to blame. The moral onus is on him and his dishonorableness, not on his creditors.

    Like Howard Hughes, I think a quality director like Scorcese could do something truly fascinating with Jackson’s life story.

    Jackson’s financial world began its slow collapse around the time of his trial in 2004 or so. He was going on that 50-show gig in London pretty much to pay those debts back. Plus, all his creditors will get their money, plus interest. Maybe more. Colony Capital acquired a stake in Neverland to keep it out of foreclosure, which turned out to be pretty smart investment I think.

    I don’t think Scorcese is the best guy to make a Michael Jackson biopic. I imagine the best combo would be Tim Burton with Johnny Depp cast as Jackson. When you look at Depp’s Willy Wonka, that rendition basically was Michael Jackson.

  32. I think Michael Jackson was an incredible artist at making rhythmic hiccups, or whatever the hell you’d call that sound he’d make when he wasn’t singing words. Real talent there.

    Just bury the fucker already.

  33. I imagine the best combo would be Tim Burton with Johnny Depp cast as Jackson.

    I would totally pay to see that, but I doubt that Depp would ever do blackface (for the pre-freakshow Jacko).

  34. Some of the are really highly suspect, seems to be more like an intervention wishlist. Take South Ossetia for example:

    Political Rights: Due to an increasing lockdown by the Russian authorities, little information about South Ossetia’s internal situation was available by year’s end…

    Civil Liberties: There is currently little information about access to media in South Ossetia. It is assumed that television and radio broadcasts from Georgia have been blocked since the war. Electronic media are
    controlled by the state and reflect government positions. The State Committee on Information and Press maintains an English- and Russian-language website that is updated regularly. The South Ossetian Orthodox Church, which is unrecognized by both the Georgian and Russian Orthodox Churches, continues to practice freely…

  35. Right comment, wrong thread.

  36. I did not realize that many consider Michael Jackson a person who broke racial barriers.

    Black artists that couldn’t get onto MTV probably cared a bit more about that sort of stuff.

    Sure, Jackson peaked with Thriller, but no one will ever have as successful an album ever again. Modern media is more fragmented, and Jackson’s kind of dominance just isn’t possible anymore.

    The thing is, that sort of dominance was so thourough, that it can’t be solely credited to the era. He sold more than double second place.

    Jackson’s records outsold the referenced three artists combined sales.

    But not George Strait’s.

    WTF? George Strait didn’t even outsell George Michael or Dire Straits. Now the Beatles and Elvis will likely never get caught. Jackson is the only one that has a chance of getting within spitting distance of those two.

  37. Michael Jackson: Punchline and/or Cautionary Tale?

    That’d be “and.”

  38. according to the RIAA, Jackson was at 17th, with Strait at 11th.

    http://www.riaa.com/goldandplatinumdata.php?table=tblTopArt

    BTW Jackson had 13 number 1 hits, Strait has 50.

  39. Is that too much to ask?

    Yes.

    stuartl FTW.

  40. I have to admit I was surprised, but the best memorial concert appearance – and most unexpected – had to be Gary Glitter.

    I saw GWAR at the Limelight in NYC about 10 years ago. Incredible, simply incredible.

  41. brotherben,

    That’s US sales, the one I linked to was worldwide. Thriller by itself outsold Strait globally. You can buy stuff with foreign money too.

  42. Mo, noted.

  43. I would totally pay to see that, but I doubt that Depp would ever do blackface (for the pre-freakshow Jacko).

    Given how Jackson seemed to faceplant into a lawnmower submerged in a tank of bleach every couple years or so, you’d probably have to cast more than one dude as Michael Jackson in any full biopic. Who’d be Black Mike? That’s a good question. But by the time Bad came out, Black Mike had been “taken care of” somehows and replaced by Beige Andro Mike.

  44. Black artists that couldn’t get onto MTV probably cared a bit more about that sort of stuff.

    I find this whole “breaking down MTV barriers” schtick to be grasping at straws. Did the clan run MTV back in the day or something? Someone had to be the first black guy on MTV. Did the first guy who registered an internet domain finally crack the racist shell of the internet? Its like saying Madonna broke down the sexism barrier at MTV.

  45. The is just like the lunacy after Princess Diana’s death. At least with her, there wasn’t a dark suspicion that she’d committed any heinous crimes. Not that we’re allowed to talk about that in connection with MJ.

    There’s something seriously wrong with the species.

    Speaking of Stevie Wonder, a much more talented Motown product–and I mean that in the order of magnitude sense, fully respecting Jackson’s contributions to pop music–he’ll get a fraction of the public insanity when he passes.

  46. Hart is damn good, I love his columns. They are in our Jacksonville paper.
    Staples Center hosted both Michael Jackson’s funeral and the Ringling Brothers opening Tuesday. What a day. Everybody’s favorite moment was when Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton and twenty-five other dignitaries all got out of the same Volkswagen.

  47. “The is just like the lunacy after Princess Diana’s death. At least with her, there wasn’t a dark suspicion that she’d committed any heinous crimes. Not that we’re allowed to talk about that in connection with MJ.”

    I find the silence on those suspicions to be pretty lame on the part of his vast legions of fair-weather fans that have come out of the woodwork.

    I have never been a huge fan of Michael Jackson, but I followed his trial in 2004-5. Both the prosecutor’s conduct and the accusations against him throughout that trial, were complete bullshit.

    After Jackson died, I was curious enough to check out details behind his ’93 civil settlement. All the actors on the plaintiff’s side were the same people as his later actual trial: same prosecutor, same psychiatrist to analyze and coach the respective kid, same trial-lawyer shark arranging it all behind the scenes, etc.

    The initial accusation was made by the respective child in ’93 while under a sodium acolyte anesthetic in a dentist’s chair. Who was the dentist? His own father, who is on the record previously stating he hated Michael Jackson, wanted to “destroy him” get “every penny he had” and “make sure he never makes or sells another record ever again.” This dude was behind on kiddie-support payments for his own son (the accuser) to the tune of $70,000. dollars.

    In retrospect, I think the biggest mistake Michael Jackson made in his life was settling with this goon-squad to make it all “go away” rather than deal with a messy trial. All that did was whet the appetites of sharks and so forth to go in for another bite as soon as possible, while permanently leaving a cloud of suspicion around him that he couldn’t even refute later on (part of settlement deal was provision that neither party would discuss details of it ever again; good for plaintiff, bad for Mike).

    Jackson was a weird guy to say the least. He had a unhealthy interest in childhood and children, especially boys. But his unhealthy interest was not criminal or sexually deviant in any way, and was ultimately harmless (or even beneficial) to everyone on earth but him.

    Any real enthusiast of Michael Jackson would state what I’ve just stated above and actually defend him, proclaim his innocence, welcome the debate about that in the wider culture while they reflected on his “legacy.” The conscious efforts to separate the bizarre man from his music by all these fair-weather fans and mourners is a subtle admission on their collective parts that they think he actually was a cho-mo. Quite insulting to his memory in that capacity methinks.

  48. HIs creditors knew the risk. If they foolishly gave him unsecured loans, then they have nobody but themselves to blame.

    I stand behind Michael Jackson, his employees and their communities.

  49. As Hart said in one column, Michael Jackson is a fucked up as Mike Tyson’s check book.

  50. Another entertaining column by Hart and dead right.
    Sombody wondered why Nancy Grace weighed in on M J ‘s death
    The answer ” Her shows are always about dead white women ……”

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.