Thursday, 2 July 2009

On Michael Jackson

The initial shock of Michael Jackson's death has started to abate. So now there comes the chance for us to sit back and reflect on the deeper meanings of his life. The circumstances of Michael Jackson's life and especially the last few years of it, provides us with plenty of opportunity to ponder the state of his mental health, which was fragile to say the least. What were the causes of his delicate state of mind? Are we his fans partly responsible?

It is clear that Michael Jackson did not embrace his blackness. I am sane enough to be able to accept the reality that this man, who many of us were proud of because he was a very talented and successful black entertainer, went to great lengths to erase his African genetic heritage with surgery and chemicals. Many of us remain unconvinced about that 'skin condition' story, with which Michael attempted to explain away the alarming change in his skin colour. It wasn't only his skin, his hair too became transformed, from the tightly curled bush of the African, to the limp, flat oily mop that he wore on his head towards the end of his life. And of course, the description of Michael's transformation will not be complete without a mention of that famous nose, which started out flat and broad. But by the time his surgeons were done with it, what we had was a caricature of a white nose. Even the three children who Michael was proclaimed to be the father of, do not seem to carry any African genes.

Michael's music was rooted in African-American soul. He was a product of Motown for heaven's sakes! His success was hinged upon the fact that he was the most astounding member of a group of brothers, African-Americans who wowed the world with their talent. Michael's genius was weaned on this background, and he was as successful as he was not only because he was extremely talented, but also because he was black. And those of us who adored him are hurt by the fact that our idol seemed to reject the very identity that had brought him success and fame. He started his career as a very handsome black boy, and ended it looking like a not very pretty white drag queen.

Michael was never going to be able to age gracefully as many of us eventually have to do whether we like it or not. Of course most people want to cling to their youthfulness for as long as they can, but Michael took this desire to impossible extremes. Hence we see Neverland and the recreation of Peter Pan's fantasy world. Peter Pan is the boy who never grew up and Michael bought into this and had the money to make it happen literally. Neverland was conceived as a place of eternal youth, where time stood still. But time is that one thing which none of us can hold back. Not even Michael Jackson. So as Michael got older he must have got increasingly tortured as the years went by. The downturn in his financial fortunes would not have helped either.

There are other stars who have been able to cope with ageing by finding inspiration in new material, new forms of music. But Michael Jackson was Michael Jackson. The 50 concerts planned for London this month were intended to revive a waning career and reinvigorate his finances. Tickets were sold out in minutes, people queued all night. But these fans were not queuing to see a 50 year old man singing about a long lost love! No, they were expecting to see the Michael Jackson of 25 years ago, the Michael Jackson of Thriller and Bad. But the reality was that Michael was that much older, and therefore understandably that much more challenged in being able to perform to the standard that had come to be expected of him. And 50 concerts too!

So should we his fans have expected Michael to be the same Michael we grew up with? Most of us are not as energetic as we were when we strutted to the pounding rhythms of the tracks on the Off the Wall or Thriller albums. Was it fair for us to expect that Michael Jackson would at 50 still be as energetic as he was when he was 25? Although these concerts were themed "This is it", meaning that these were supposed to be the final performances of his career, it isn't difficult to form the view that anxiety about these concerts was a contributing factor in Michael Jackson's premature death. Does the public have a hand in the demise of Michael Jackson?


Tamaku said...

I never saw MJ live but now I wish I'd made the effort. Reminds me not to take anything in life for granted.

Rox said...

You are onto something there. I feel that as much as we have standards to aphold and a duty to society yada yada, we must first work on the duty to self. MJ had he been true to himself would've had an easier time. That said, I empathise coz for a man of his stature the burden on his shoulders was huge. It is a learning experience for those who care to learn from this

Anengiyefa said...

Hi Tamaku, neither did I. But I've seen his performances and videos so often that I can proudly say that in my age group I'm one of the few competent moolwalkers. lol. Backsliding, thats the local term for the moonwalk back in Nigeria.

By the way, the loss of Michael is major. Its true impact on the world and in particular on the African-American music scene is yet to be felt.

Anengiyefa said...

@Rox, I totally agree that Michael indulged himself too much in fantasy. Something to do perhaps with the fact that because fame was thrust upon him so early in life, he never had the opportunity to develop emotionally and psychologically as most of us do. And yes, the pressure of the burden of stardom was immense.

I think that its even commendable that he coped as he did, especially in the last few years. Eventually though, it caught up with him..