Saturday, June 27, 2009
(Even though, there was another Michael Jackson that I used his text book in my computer science course as well).
My foster mum was a die-hard fan of the Beatles and she loathed Michael Jackson except for the two duets with Paul McCartney, "Say Say Say' and "The girl is mine."
Well, Paul was part of the Beatles. She taught me a bit on English literature by playing Beatles songs and lyrics. She could be racist. Michael was a black guy then (she always complained about the blacks using too English name like Denzel Washington)....until recently (when he converted himself into a white sister-in-islam....:)
80s - those years of growing up as a young man in New Zealand. 80s willl not be completed without 'Thriller' which was sold 50 million and those out-of-this-world moonwalking steps. "Beat It' was thrilling and exciting indeed.
His genius wasn't simply in superimposing the high-octane choruses of "Beat It" and "Thriller" with rippling otherworldly falsettos, guttural growls of pantomimed machismo, and his trademark piercing, glittering "he hee"; he was a master at painting a vocal landscape centered on innocence and embellished with idealism, vulnerability, sweet bursts of bravado and utopian visions of racelessness.
Another favourite single, "Billie Jean" - It's all about the amazing, snaky, best-bass-line-in-all-of-pop-music "Billie Jean," pumping out from my radio and foster family's TV.
For a while there in the summer and autumn of 1983 on Wainuiomata Street and ravines, the air was full of "Billie Jean." Michael wasn't calling himself the King of Pop yet, but that's when it happened, because 'Billie Jean's undertone of sexual predation and danger, made us feel delighted to be alive and sharing the same dangerous streets...whatever it meant then.
That was a memorable time in a great place that gave me some best years of my life, and that great pop album had an important place in my 'history'.
It is undeniably that Michael Jackson was the most important popular entertainer since Elvis; he shared some of the same pathologies, and they also shared the ability to reach across cultural boundaries and get you right where you are. Sudirman and legendary P.Ramlee were in the same status in Malaysia's context.
However, consequently, his subsequent albums did not have the same impact on me as 'Thriller'. Could be I was much older with new perspectives and had other priorities in life. 80s were over (but never forgotten) and I left New Zealand for good...
CNN's coverage of Michael Jackson's sudden illness in the minutes before his death was reported captured nicely the way the media has treated him. Nutty people were allowed to talk at length, including a guy who kept saying his concerts in London were in 2010. (They were scheduled for next month.)
Wolf Blitzer looked into the camera to tell us earnestly that the head of the concert promotion company had told them that Jackson was in "tip-top shape," and that he'd passed a health exam "with flying colors."
Funny how an impossibly pampered 50-year-old guy in top-top shape could just keel over dead.
We're supposed to live in an Age of Paparazzi. Isn't it curious how stars nonetheless manage to die right before our eyes?
They do it with our complicity.
Born not just to celebrity but to stardom, Michael Jackson never knew what it was like to live normally, or even behave normally. He was drafted into the family's musical act, the Jackson 5, while in elementary school, and taken to Motown records. He was taught how to live a manufactured image at the feet of Berry Gordy, who was quite good at such legerdemain.
If you're 9 years old and born to be a star, such training will definitely turbocharge the marketing of your record sales; as for the fact that almost all the money from those sales went to your teacher and not you ... well, that was his second lesson.
Trust, truth ... these were concepts Michael Jackson learned early on didn't have much worth. But of course he had his family, right?
His angry father beat him and his eight siblings with some determination, reputable biographers have told us. (Untrustworthy La Toya said that she and Michael were sexually molested, too.) On tour at age 10, Michael tried to sleep as his older brothers banged groupies in the motel rooms they shared. Then all the kids watched in wonder as their father took up with another woman and had a child with her.
Love, marriage, sex ... Michael Jackson learned early that those didn't mean much either. The Jackson 5 had a three-year run, not bad for a kid act. When the family, which realized it hadn't made any money, left the label, a vengeful Gordy exacted as a price not just a brother -- Jermaine, who, married to Gordy's daughter, stayed at Motown -- but even their name. When they moved to Columbia, they couldn't use the name the Jackson 5.
Michael was all of 14.
In five years he collected himself, extracted himself from his father's control and recorded two albums that would change the music industry. The best was the first: 1979's "Off the Wall," a groovy, irresistible stunner. Blithe and implacable, sparkling and protean, it displayed a lean talent, feline in his sexuality and relaxed in his blackness. The round-faced, broad-nosed charmer looking out from the album's cover reeked not just of charm but confidence and, for the last time, normality.
Three years later, "Thriller" would take what became an epochal step forward in terms of commerciality. Viewed now, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see Jackson's evolving physiognomy is symptomatic of an insecurity we didn't think to question at the time.
His celebrity's toll on his own and his family's life became considerable. For some unaccountable reason, after "Thriller" he still lived at home, as his family busied itself with intrigues and cockamamie plans. One imagines him sitting in his room ignoring the knocks at his door as offers of millions came in to the family from across the country and around the world to do just about anything -- anything, that is, that Michael would do too.
With the exception of Janet, his youngest sister, who somehow managed to extract herself and create her own extraordinary career, virtually every member of his family managed to blemish their reputations; among other things, more than one of the boys, their father's sons, were charged with beating up their girlfriends or wives.
The story from that point is a bleak and unrelieved one. Superficial things: Michael's ludicrous trappings and entourages; the fetishization of the armed militias marching around in his videos; tales of his supposed bizarre doings leaked to tabloids; the grasping grandiosity of his public appearances. Jackson had a flair for exploiting the tabloid celebrity he had, but that was a skill he shared with Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton, and it probably shouldn't be listed among his unique abilities.
More serious things: mismanaged tours; declining songwriting skills; ever-more erratic album releases.
Even more serious things: an entirely transfigured physical appearance, morphing from an engaging and handsome African-American man into a misshapen Eurasian woman; his skin bleached, his face resculpted; his nose, finally, needing to be practically taped onto his face. He left his race behind and, in a sense, his family too. (The nose, which seemed to have borne the brunt of his obsession with plastic surgery, was his father's.)
The master of crossover had seemingly crossed over for good.
And finally, a black moral hole, and a descent into a double life as a sexual predator. You've heard about not taking candy from a stranger; Jackson's candy took the form of literal amusement parks. There were nights of fun and sleepovers and inappropriate touching and ...
Accusations were leveled many times; most cases were settled; one case, gone to trial, ended in an acquittal in Santa Maria in 2005.
In the obituaries, writers will savor Jackson's talents, which were unquestioned; his ambition, which was otherworldly and a thing of awe; and his heyday, which lasted really just a few years, and encompassed perhaps two and a half albums. Others will reflect on the tragedies visited upon him and those he visited on others.
I think it's fair to classify Kurt Cobain's death as one brought on by medical problems, specifically the roiling interaction of depression and addiction. Jackson's death is in this sense more purely a suicide, just as Elvis Presley's was some three decades ago. Like Presley, Jackson at some point stepped through a door, closed it, and turned the key. What went on behind the door we'll never know.
By Bill Wyman
Jun 26th, 2009 | Transcript of 911 call placed from Michael Jackson's Los Angeles mansion at 12:21 p.m. Thursday:
Operator: Fire and paramedics 33. What is the address of the emergency?
Caller: Yes sir, I need an ambulance as soon as possible, sir.
Operator: OK, sir. What is your address?
Caller: It's 100 North Carolwood Drive, Los Angeles, California, 90077.
Operator: You said Carolwood?
Caller: Carolwood Drive, yes.
Operator: OK, sir. What is the phone number that you're calling from?
Operator: And what exactly happened?
Caller: We have a gentleman here that needs help and he's not breathing yet. He's not breathing and we're trying to pump him but he's not. He's not.
Operator: OK, how old is he?
Caller: He's 50 years old, sir.
Operator: 50? OK, he's not breathing? Not conscious.
Caller: No, he's not breathing. He's not conscious sir.
Operator: Do you have him on the floor? Where's he at right now?
Caller: He's on the bed sir. He's on the bed. We need them.
Operator: Let's get him on the floor. We're already on the way. I'm going to as much as I can to help you on the phone. We're already on our way. Did anybody see him?
Caller: Yes, we have a personal doctor with him, sir.
Operator: Oh, you have a doctor there?
Caller: Yes, but he's not responding to anything. He's not responding to CPR or anything.
Operator: Oh, OK, we're on our way there. If your guy is doing CPR and you're instructed by a doctor, he's a higher authority than me. And he's there on scene. Did anybody witness what happened?
Caller: No, just the doctor, sir. The doctor has been the only one there.
Operator: OK, so the doctor saw what happened?
Caller: Doctor, did you see what happened, sir?
(Someone spoke in the background but the words were not intelligible.)
Caller: Sir, if you can please.
Operator: We're on our way. I'm just passing these questions on to my paramedics while they're on the way there, sir.
Caller: Thank you sir. He's pumping his chest but he's not responding to anything. Please.
Operator: OK, OK. We're on our way. We're less than a mile away from Cedars and we'll be there shortly.