Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Bill Wyman (not the Rolling Stone, the far-more interesting proprietor of the excellent music-biz blog Hitsville) turns a cold eye to all the media invocations of Michael Jackson as a victim of, well, the media, and a celebrity culture gone mad, a too-tough dad, and blah blah blah. Comparing Jackson to Stevie Wonder, who remained a prolific and successful artist over the years, and noting that Jackson released only two CDs of new materials in the last 18 years of his life, Wyman writes,
If only [Jackson] had an enormous fortune, a large family, and an extraordinary network of famous friends to help him cope with [his] problems. Instead of turning to them, he chose to run away from his art, become a drug addict, ruin his personal reputation, dismantle a towering fortune, embark on transparently absurd PR campaigns, and turn himself into a world-class freak show.
In the transfixing 2003 documentary "Living with Michael Jackson," the star looks like nothing more than a latter-day Blanche DuBois, denying a sordid past and ultimately reality with a shake of his hair and a deranged titter. Jackson's tragedy was almost entirely self-made. Even his complaints about the press ring hollow. It's hardly sporting to complain about the dogs he unleashed for nosing around the spectacle he quickly became.
All of these realities are ignored by the victim talk. It's a cover for a terrible waste, and a lost chance to reflect on how not to live one's life. Michael Jackson was older than Elvis when he died, but he died the same way: alone with the one person who could have saved him.
And for music-biz nerds, read Wyman's interview with Guillaume Vieira about world-wide record sales totals. It's eye-opening, both in the way that artists and labels lie about basic facts all the time, even as they use lost sales figures to gin up stricter and stricter copyright and DRM laws.