Not only was he not Divine, Michael Jackson was not the most talented, influential, brilliant, amazing, innovative, fantastic, amazing genius of all time. While an impressive singer, he was no great songwriter, composer, choreographer or a musician of anything but his own voice - and we can all sing and all have our own unique voice.
He wasn't Stevie Wonder, who is a real musician. He did not 'get the world dancing' or 'provide the soundtrack to the generation' - much of the British audience preferring to confront the harsh world of the 1980's through Two-tone and the whole independent music approach rather than surrender to the updated escapist Busby Berkeley antics of Jacko and his capital investment portfolio. It is an insult to the artists of the time that Jackson's narcissism should be celebrated above more honest, rewarding talent. To many at the time, Jackson was seriously uncool, even with the genius of Quincy Jones (and Rod Temperton) behind him, and Killer had nothing to say about the problems we faced or the world we lived in. Hence the infamous Jarvis Cocker arse-waving incedent. Why has he not been interviewed yet?
Neither were his shows anything new - enormous production values in popular entertainment go back to Nero, where Jackson would have felt at home. he did not invent the circus, sorry, but it's true.
Neither did he 'invent' the music video, as is being claimed. Apparently, MTV wouldn't exist without Michael Jackson. Which means that MTV in effect owes its existence to Joe Jackson's childcare methods. And in any case, The Beatles, for one, had come up with the pop video with Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields almost a decade before Jackson's record company rode the new medium of video to promote their new star. Given this promotional tool, it would have been bizarre if the three Quincy Jones albums had not sold vast amounts. It is tempting to wonder how Miles Davis would have used video to promote 'Bitches Brew' if it had been around at the time. The point being that Jackson had nothing to do with the development of the pop video. It was not his idea - as many celebrity numbskulls have been claiming over the weekend.
In fact, it isn't easy to find many musical or artistic ideas which are attributable to Jackson himself, as opposed to his writers, choreographers, producers, accountants, directors, doctors, life-coaches, plastic surgeons, or chimpanzees.
And after those 3 albums were over, how far did Michael Jackson progress artistically? The truth is that this child star hit puberty, and the company which owned him cashed in on the classic early period of youthful energy when artists are at their most open and exciting, then tossed him and his scary personal problems aside, into the care of the usual queue of 'doctors' willing to prescribe 'painkillers' to the celebrity 'patient'. He progressed no further than his teenage persona with its particularly infantile brand of camp-gothic, and yet the mass media hysterics like Pete Waterman are still laying on the hyperbole with a giant chrome trowel.
The first response of any member of the public which I heard was on the morning after the announcement of the death, in a cafe in Sydenham. .
customer 1:All of which is the part of the genuine catastrophe which was Michael Jackson's life, as it was with Fatty Arbuckle, whose career was also ruined by accusations rather than evidence. And every other fragile soul demanding attention and a shortcut to financial security which bypasses any political thinking or action.
'You have to be careful crossing that road, Pat, you don't want to end up like Jacko.
'Don't be awful.'
customer 2 (interjecting loudly):
'Well I never liked him, the nonce. That's all he was a fucking nonce. And yeah, allright, he was a showman, but I never liked him. You don't like someone, it doesn't matter how talented they are.'
The grieving multitudes may not believe it but indifference bordering on cynicism is the reaction of many people, not the newspaper-selling brew of rose petals mulled in tears. However, the standard for callousness was not set by a south London wideboy with a big mouth, but (not surprisingly perhaps) by Michael Jackson's dear father, who used the opportunity of his first statement about his son's untimely death to plug his new record label. He didn't say how much of the profits he will be tything to the Jehovah's Witnesses. The Jehovah's Witnesses have not issued any statement on their policy towards child brutality and abuse. Joe Jackson obviously feels no responsibility for his son's fate, but sees it as just another promotional tool. Another idea Michael Jackson didn't have.
Michael Jackson is merely the latest in a long line of damaged human beings who have been the raw material of the entertainment business, especially since the advent of recording, which entailed vast amounts of capital investment in plant and personnel, and a corresponding amount of artistic compromise to cater to the accountancy department. And with artistic compromise comes a further denial of the already fragile sense of personal identity and worth, and such a mind is the natural environment for a self-destructive viscous circle. Which, if tangible on stage, can make for a very compelling performance, but not for a long or happy life in the performer.
Of course, now that artists don't have to rely on vast corporations to distribute their work, the age of the celebrity casualty is, in theory, over. As is the age of the STAR, a label which was merely a way of recovering an investment. There is no reason now why artists of all kinds, but especially performers, shouldn't be perfectly sensible, healthy people who happen to have a talent to entertain, and a story to tell. A career in music no longer demands the traditional showbusiness gamble of an ordinary life on the chance of stardom, fame and fortune. The individual can now do everything which the bankrolled corporations of the past could, and thereby escape the deadening demands of industrialised entertainment. The returns will not buy many Ferraris, but the genuine artist will not care about that.
The neurotic exhibitionists, with their self-obsessed drivellings, are welcome to the wealth and 'pain-killers' and bling. Art is not, no matter what Pete Waterman thinks, a matter of money and 'hugeness'. But the truth is that Waterman knows as much about art as Lady Diana - or Michael Jackson, if his lifetime achievement is viewed objectively, and not as an excuse for middle aged columnists to wallow in their own adolescence for a while. This morbid vice is a harmless enough in moderation, but very unhealthy as a permanent state, as with Michael Jackson, who was so traumatised by his own childhood, or lack of it, that he spent the rest of his life trying to reclaim it, for the amusement (and profit) of others.
Those who once used the entertainment industry as an escape from poverty can take comfort from the fact that their new powers of publishing and distribution will at least keep them fed, if they have any talent. And that if they do not have anything to say, they will not be forced to perform merely in order to repay a bank. And that from now on, their work need cater less for the commercial demands of corporations, and more for their own artistic and personal identity, and the concerns of their audience, however small.
The musical 'stars' of the C20th were the product of a time during which two major motivations for success were hunger and the need for affection. The list is very long of local boys and girls who made it to the top at disastrous personal cost. So the pleasure we get from watching and hearing them is partly that of observing suffering and deprivation through the filter of what we called 'talent'. This isn't that different from watching gladiators in the arena. Both depend on real suffering to exist. And the corporation contract, with its clause requiring creativity on demand, only served to destabilise already wobbly personalities, and guarantee a continued supply of inner turmoil. Now that artists don't need the corporations, maybe we can move to forms of performance and production which don't rely on the worst of motives to exist. And performers can do what they do best, not what they are told to do.
And now Jacko is a god, apparently. The God of Pop. And this time, a lot of people seem to mean it, the family and managers especially. Some of whom are licking their lips at the prospect of the Michael Jackson Memorial Tour, and the Michael Jackson Memorial albums, videos, T-Shirts and dancing singing dolls. The Japanese will naturally supply the range of Robo-Jackos as soon as they can perfect the robo-moonwalk.
The annual Michael Jackson Memorial Day will repeat the roadshow, with variations to cash in on whatever famine or disaster is happening at the time, giving the whole circus the mask of charity and avoiding vast amounts of tax in the process.
Like most show-business martyrs, Jackson is worth more dead than alive.