I guess it is in the nature of humans to die. That could be a way to explain why suddenly the largest selling artist of all time, bar NONE, has suddenly departed from his Neverland to the real Neverland. As I turned on CNN this morning, I saw Larry King’s ageless face talking about “Remembering Michael Jackson”. It didn’t hit me at first… dismissing it as publicity for MJ’s upcoming “retour”.
Larry: “On the line we have Donna Summers, a close friend of Michael’s… Donna, what are you feeling right now?”
Donna: “Larry… I am shocked. There is a sense of tremendous loss….”
Grimescene: “Holy Shit! MJ is dead!”
As the tea grew cold, I saw, unmovingly, Michael Jackson’s dead body being airlifted to the coroner’s office in LA… and I realized that this is weird. I mean, Michael Jackson is one of those “things” that is always there. Sure, he has been reduced to a pathetic caricature by the media wolves – but he is quite simply an inextricable part of this world that I inhabit. Now you’re telling me he is dead? Get outta here…
It was 1983 and I was 6 years old when my teenage cousins introduced me to some really strange music. My ears, hitherto accustomed to the strains of M.S. Subhalakshmi and classic bollywood music, could not decipher what was playing on the stereo. But, at the same time, I felt strangely uplifted by the catchy beats of Billy Jean. This man who sounded like a woman, but not really, with shrieks and loud satanic “Uh!”s and “Oonh!”s – had me mesmerized in no time. That was my first foray into Western popular music. We didn’t have a tape deck at home at that point, so I found myself requesting MJ to be played whenever we visit my cousins – swaying and jumping to the extremely catchy beats of Thriller.
That was 26 years ago. And even now – whenever I pop my special edition Thriller CD into the player – I still sway and sing along. There aren’t many albums in the world which are timeless – Thriller is better and bigger than all those which are. From the mock-serious-horror of the title track, to the sheer cheese of “The Girl Is Mine”, the hissing spitting bet-you-will-dance catchiness of “Wanna be starting something”, the in-your-face rebelliousness of “Beat it”, the beautiful dance of emotions in “Billy Jean”, the tongue-in-cheek naughtiness of “PYT” and the goose-pimple inducing delicateness of my personal all-time favorite “Human Nature” – Thriller is a 9 track redefinition of pop music, the start of an era. An era that has ended today with the untimely death of Michael Jackson.
Sure enough, with a behemoth like Thriller behind him, Michael could never really create anything as phenomenal… although both Bad and Dangerous sold many, many millions of copies – cementing his status as the King of Pop. But behind the success, was a child who never had a childhood. Later, under the glare of the media attention – there were stories of how Michael and his siblings were abused and pushed relentlessly by their father towards stardom. This made Michael into a different kind of person in many ways – and I only know him through his music. He was an extremely vulnerable man. He had no idea how to deal with the trappings of the fame and fortune. He questioned his relationships, his motives, the world around him. He sang of child abuse (in Smooth Criminal) and in a cruel twist of fate was accused of the same. He sang of destruction of innocence. He sang about the destruction of the earth. He sang of poverty and oppression. And all through it he displayed a kind of musical brilliance and virtuosity that the world will never see again.
As the years went by, troubled by the allegations, health problems and the constant media mockery – he retreated into a shell and he became the world’s favorite whipping boy. And yet his albums continued to sell. Millions and millions of them. Tribute remixes of his classics topped charts. He still played on the radios, in pubs, discos, cars, homes, ipods. Soon Michael the cartoon character was dead to the world – but Michael, the King of Pop, the supremely talented musician of our times, lived on in our CD players. His videos and recordings of live performances are still the benchmark for an artist who was not just a voice, but a force in the world of entertainment.
Maybe this is why I saw a kind of evenness in the voices of his fans, his friends on the TV today. Maybe this is why I feel a sort of righteous relief. His physical form was already dead in our minds. Michael Jackson has merely left a world which chose to make him pay for his success. He has merely bid goodbye to those people who could never understand him and thought that money compensated for a childhood of abuse and lost innocence. His real life is still very much alive… and always will be in his music.
We love you Michael – and hope that you find the beautiful childhood that you were denied, wherever you are now.