Frankly, I was totally down with Michael Jackson for the Ben and Forever, Michael, Off The Wall and Thriller albums. Bad was cool, but Bad was after the Pepsi/fire incident, and, in my mind, that is really when the cracks started to show.
As I've been watching people mourn Michael Jackson's passing for the last several days, it's like a charade, I'm sorry to say. Nobody seems to be mourning a human being, but mourning a larger-than-life persona. And now, his funeral is to be held at the Staples Center? Really? Even in death, he's like a cartoon. Though this is fertile soil for a criticism of what celebrity is and means culturally at this point, instead I'm thinking of the real tragedy and that is: Michael Jackson was a fucked-up, fragile human being, who apparently survived a terrible childhood, and still never was really, really loved for who he was at his core and instead, depended on the hollow love of a planet full of strangers. How could he be-- how can anyone be?-- when larger-than-life and, therefore, surrounded by, I would assume, yes-men and cultural icon worshippers, not one person the voice of reason.
Today, enjoying my morning ritual of coffee and email with one eye on WGN-TV, I was really happy to hear what Rabbi Shmuley Boteach had to say on the matter.
WGN-TV linked to Rabbi Boteach's statement on Twitter after I praised it in a tweet as it happened, and called it a smackdown. I don't think it's a smackdown at all. Rabbi Boteach knew and, as far as I can tell, cared very much for Jackson, and tried, it seems, to be a dependable, reasonable person in MJ's life, only far too late, when MJ was already dying of fame.
Which reminds me of a great Salon.com essay about Anna Nicole Smith by Cintra Wilson just after Smith's death in 2007. Wilson writes:
She was indelicate, but an unstable element nonetheless — not so much a candle in the wind as a bonfire in a hailstorm. But the real similarity between Anna Nicole and Marilyn was their shimmering tension — an unsettlingly powerful physical beauty, collapsing irresistibly in real time beneath the frailties of its hostess. She was entropy porn at its finest.
Our fascinated gaze was her real addiction — and the humiliating media tractor pull between our disgust and our attraction for her was, in all likelihood, both her lover and her murderer. Fame, the only chemotherapy available for the desperate toxicity of narcissism, proves once again that it is deadly enough in its own right to be avoided.
Anyway, the Rabbi Boteach on Michael Jackson clip from WGN-TV is about six minutes and change, but it's worth hearing.