The Phenomenon Called Michael Jackson
Shock. Loss. Anger – at Michael for fucking up and at the world of complete nonentities who were so eager to scoff and deride and pretend they were cool as they abused him. But now he’s dead it’s cool to laud him. Yes, he was a megalomaniac – he achieved a level of worldwide success and fame that’s beyond stratospheric. And yes, some of his thinking was unfathomable. But he gave … he gave Himself.
Today, black artistes are everywhere at the top of the charts but 25 years ago it wasn’t this way at all. I remember because I followed the charts closely and read the magazines. The portal to global exposure was shut to black artistes. You did well if you sold half a million. To sell one million, whoa! Michael smashed that door open. Like smashed it to smithereens. This is impossible to convey – you had to be there. I remember 1983 – his face was everywhere on every magazine and poster and his name was splashed about somewhere even when he wasn’t the face on the front cover. And this was in Lagos, Nigeria. After the Thriller video and the Motown 25th, oh my god, no one else has come close. There are better singers (we are talking top rank here – James Ingram, Teddy Pendergrass, Marvin Gaye, Michael McDonald etc), arguably better songwriters (from Stevie Wonder to Rod Temperton and many others) and certainly better trained dancers. But no one has brought all three together with the level of excellence and passion that Michael brought. At least not in popular music. The music lived in his bones. When I look at the videos for Billie Jean and Beat It (the look in his eyes, the way he flicks a leg here, emits an “ah,ah” there) … aw man, no better music videos in the history of pop with the possible exception of Thriller. I guess Kylie or Madonna fans may disagree! Well, tough shit.
I was a part of HIStory. I was one of the lucky ones who grew up on and alongside Michael Jackson albeit from afar (as opposed to just reading about it) so his death is … anyway .. I just watched Michael’s brother Jermaine sing “Smile”. 3 times and then the Nat King Cole version and then Michael’s own cover. I’m done with crying now but this affair leaves both a bitter and sweet taste. Bitter because I have seen how a world that professes to love you can turn against you with the most vicious and mendacious intent. And sweet because I have also seen that passion and hard work can overcome about any limitation life puts in one’s way. Perhaps there’s a kernel of truth in the old biblical verse that faith even as small as a grain of mustard seed can move mountains and with it nothing will be impossible. But faith driven by passion (or is it the other way round) is never enough. The tragedy of Michael Jackson is that he lacked or perhaps ignored the wise guidance that passion requires if one is not to lose one’s soul in the quest for immortality. He was my favourite artist ever.