Anne Notations

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Beautiful boy

Watch this live (not lip-synched) performance by the Jackson 5 on Merv Griffin in 1974, when Michael was a vibrant young black man of 16. He is James Brown ("ha!"), Fred Astaire, Stevie Wonder; beguiler of audiences; consummate showman. Knowing now that he was gravely mistreated by his father to produce such performances makes me sad, but it doesn't diminish the joy of seeing a bright talent ascendant. You literally cannot take your eyes off him.

It will be one week tomorrow since Michael Jackson died, and until today I have passed somewhat lightly over the news, alternating in my comments between casual snark and obligatory praise for the man's talent. To be honest, he looked so terrible in recent years, I wasn't surprised to learn of his sudden death. He had ceased being a performer and instead become, in my mind, a loony scarecrow living an unthinkably odd life.

Why, tonight, do I suddenly care? Why am I sitting here watching Michael Jackson music videos on YouTube and feeling myself clench in ... what, grief? For ... a freak? Am I crying at this very moment for his glorious youth? For mine?

Perhaps I've read too many debunkings of the child molestation charges; read evidence of the tortured, lonely existence of a closeted gay man-child; read a short but soul-shaking commentary by columnist Andrew Sullivan that begins, "There are two things to say about him. He was a musical genius; and he was an abused child."

How could I have forgotten my immersion, in the early 1980s, in Jackson's seminal solo work on his breakout albums Off the Wall and Thriller? The giddy abandonment of dancing around our living room with my then-teenaged stepdaughter to "Billie Jean" and "Beat It"? The rush of watching him, live on the MTV awards show, glide into his patented moon walk?

A long, fantastically choreographed video of Jackson's song "Smooth Criminal."

I can't help but think that, despite the comfort of his three children and the adulation of fans around the world, Michael Jackson's gentle soul was as tortured in the last decade as the poor flesh of his catastrophically carved face.

This evening on the Web, I've revisited the Michael Jackson who entranced me 25 years ago. That's how I choose to remember him: young, lean, on fire, alight with androgynous sexuality, lifting his gorgeous alto-soprano in song, whirling in an explosion of vitality. Rest in peace, beautiful boy.


  • I was hoping you might write something. I feel much the same way as you do. It's the snuffing out of an iconic, tortured, misunderstood soul that gets me. When an icon falls, I think it serves as a reminder to the world that each life is precious, and that people dying are so much more than mere statistics. I almost cried when I read reports of the autopsy findings; he was just our brother in Christ, with an extraordinary and confusing life. I wish he could have had more stability and friends looking out for him. I almost admire his tenacity in preserving his own gentle, childlike qualities and defending his will to do so. I almost want to say that I "get" it. Although, I've never been convinced he was gay. I think he enjoyed projecting himself as androgynous, as many top entertainers do (and women seem to love it), and that he was child-like in a way that isn't compatible with our view of what a man "should" be, but that he was genuinely attracted to women. (I don't know if he ever came out to say he was one way or the other, did he?) Anyway, do you remember his song, "Leave Me Alone"? It is probably my favorite, and it captures a lot of angst.

    By Blogger Karen, at Fri Jul 03, 11:37:00 AM EDT  

  • I feel sad about Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett's passing. It doesn't seem coincidental to me that they both died on the same day.

    It's hard to put into clear thoughts what my feelings are. Both of them were icons when I was fairly young and still quite vulnerable to the allure of "stars" with their style, grace and beauty.

    I had my hair styled like Farrah in high school (as did millions of girls). This was no easy task with my thick curly hair -- it took an hour or more of blow-drying and coaxing to get the perfect "wings."

    I remember hearing Billie Jean on the radio and being mesmerized. It wasn't long after I first heard Prince, another amazing performer, sing "Little Red Corvette." It seemed to me then that music was coming alive again, after the slumbering 1970's.

    But Farrah and Michael both seemed so sad, confused and lost. I'm not sure what it all means. May their souls find peace.

    By Blogger Miriam L, at Sun Jul 05, 10:52:00 AM EDT  

  • Holy cow, that Dancing Machine clip is great!

    By Blogger AddledWriter, at Mon Jul 06, 11:36:00 AM EDT  

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