I had an odd sort of reaction to the news that Michael Jackson had gone to the big Neverland, the one in the sky.
The first was, honestly? a sort of shrug. The man has been a has-been for half a decade or more - geologic time, for the mayfly world of celebrity. Even before that he had become a sort of freakish parody, not of himself, but of some incomprehensible grotesque that existed somewhere in his clearly badly damaged imagination. Add the very real likelihood that he was a pedophile, and a rather unpleasantly self-delusional one, at that?
Then I got to thinking of the Michael Jackson I "knew", the "King of Pop", the mega-star that lorded over the airwaves and the then-ubiquitous MTV/VH-1 video world (God, remember when music videos were actually important? When they mattered, when having a killer video was as critical to a pop song as a great hook? Christ, stuff like that makes me feel older than dirt...), the singer/dancer/songwriter/icon who was supposed to be the Elvis of the 80's, the Beatles of his generation.
And taken in those terms, you have to look back on the man's career and feel...disappointed? Unimpressed? I'll give him this - he did manage to bring dance-pop over to where it has influenced rock and R&B, and grafted his Motown roots onto dance-pop. But...
Where was "Thriller" or "Billie Jean" playing on FM radio Monday? Who was watching "Moonwalk" last week? Where was the comedian riffing on him, or the musician stealing from him?
In the end, the man was a talented musician who wrote some decent pop songs. Had he been willing to live with that, he might now be remembered the way Prince or George Michael or Madonna will probably be remembered; as a talented artist fixed in a certain time and place. But by insisting on the ludicrous "King of Pop" grandiosity, by first creating and then believing his own publicity machine, he could really only have failed, was doomed to fail, because who COULD succeed on those terms.
So my other reaction was a sort of pity. Now the man will never be a Paul McCartney, going down to the grave full of years and honors; done and gone, as faded as an old newspaper, yes, but with the glory of his youth and strength still clinging faintly to him. Instead, his demons drove him, rode him, until he will be remembered as the freakish albino travesty he became - Whacko Jacko - and the self-created hoopla that overwhelmed his talents will be his memorium.