I was no fan of Michael Jackson. His Off The Wall album was popular with friends whose musical taste I hated. I could admire it but not love it. Although I have to admit I still turn up the radio every time the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back comes on – it has an extraordinary energy:
I first learned of his cardiac arrest via Breaking News on Twitter. Going over to the BBC News site, I saw live streaming of BBC News 24 with tickertape along the bottom of the screen saying that TMZ and then (more reliably?) the LA Times reported he was dead. From that moment on, it was unusually difficult to reload the BBC News front page – something that seems to have been a problem across the Internet.
I sincerely hope we won’t hear too much of the stand-up comics who gained laughter by cruelty towards Jackson (a.k.a. Wacko Jacko). His actions were disturbed and disturbing at times, but in a righteous world there would have been compassion for such a damaged man. The one who first came to fame in childhood never, it seems, outgrew that childhood. Abuse from his father and the pressures of extraordinary fame were all loaded on a fragile person. Time and again in ‘ordinary life’ I have encountered people who were damaged as children, and who did not deal with it. As a result, they were left as emotional children in adult bodies. It would never surprise me if that had happened on a large scale to Jackson.
Indeed, you wonder how much of the bizarre behaviour arose from the wounds inflicted by his father’s abuse. Is this why he acted inappropriately towards children and even his own son? And the quasi-messianic we-are-the-world/heal-the-world/earth-song stuff such as this infamous occasion?
Plenty of entertainers have been so cocooned they’ve lost touch, but this was the phenomenon in extremis. Had he so protected himself from possible pain that this was the result? What was he thinking – the white clothing and the crucifixion pose around seven minutes in? And what was Jarvis Cocker thinking, not only to protest (fine) but to ‘moon’ in front of small children? I might not have wanted Jackson near my kids (had I had any in 1996) but neither would I have wanted a Jarvis near them. Too many Britpop drugs, by the look of it. I can understand the criticisms of Jackson and children, but why not of Cocker, too, and not simply from Jackson fans?
No: while I’m not totally sure about the old maxim ‘Never speak ill of the dead’, I have always been moved by the fact that one of the things the early Christians did was to ensure that people had a decent burial, especially those who would not have had one. Financially, I imagine that even with the debts Jackson racked up, a ‘decent burial’ is not a problem from that angle. But from another angle it is a problem: we could all give him a decent burial by being restrained and compassionate in our comments about him at this tragic time.