Mixtapes for Hookers

On Michael Jackson

I wasn’t going to, but the death of Michael Jackson has occupied enough of my mind this weekend that I figured I’d try to articulate it.  Most of these thoughts have probably been written dozens, if not hundreds, of times by other people with better blogs than this one.  But here goes:

I’m sort of intrigued by the way news of his death spread.  I personally found out via Twitter, originally via (I think) Pete Wentz, and then within seconds from everybody else, celebs and non-celebs alike, nearly all of whom felt the need to write heartfelt eulogies in 140 characters or less.  By the time any paper could have possibly gone to print with anything, the whole world pretty much knew every detail, and had hours and hours to make their own observations, form opinions, and talk to their friends, rendering the whole print news vehicle sort of useless.  Twenty-four hours later, people were over the shock, and pretty much everyone had already moved on to writing thesis-y thought pieces about the (self-proclaimed, lest we forget) King Of Pop.  I’m actually pretty excited about this kind of information transition, if  it’s done right:  newspapers, no longer necessarily the bearers of hard facts, could actually get smarter.  (Of course, that’s assuming things stayed relatively fact-based on the internet; and I guess that’s a lot to expect, as we all know.)

Another thing I’m surprised about, though, is that one of the more intriguing trend-piece stories hasn’t been really acknowledged at all:  that Jackson died just a few days after the fortieth anniversary of the passing of Judy Garland. Garland’s 1969 death took place just days before the Stonewall Riots, and many people–seriously and jokingly–have cited her death as the birth of the gay rights movement.

Both were child stars, forced to perform at a young age by crazed show-business parents.  Both had awkward transitions into adulthood.  Both had periods of adult success, but for all the glitz and fame both were also visibly conflicted.  Both had issues with debtors.  There’s also the Kennedy/Lincoln-type parallels:  Garland starred in the Wizard of Oz and Jackson in The Wiz; Garland was Liza Minelli’s mother and Jackson the Best Man at one of Liza’s weddings;  there’s probably more.

(During my sleeplessness Saturday night I searched the internet to see if anyone had written anything about this, and nobody had.  Dan Cirucci brought it up on Sunday, but I’m sure there’s a lengthier essay to be written about these two.)

What strikes me, when comparing the two, is that Jackson never truly channeled his feelings into his songs.  Though she didn’t write any of them, Garland got to sing Over The Rainbow, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and The Man That Got Away, three of the most miserable (and wonderful) songs ever recorded.  Jackson never had anything like that, unless you count Ben*.  Though his song titles often awkwardly paralleled his relationship with the media–Leave Me Alone, Black Or White, Smooth Criminal, Scream–the songs themselves, or at least the singles, were never particularly sad.

Billie Jean is about a woman making false accusations about Jackson, though of course paternity wasn’t the worst false allegation slung at the singer.  Still, in retrospect it’s eerie, thinking about how happy that song makes people.  This one Tumblr I follow was talking about it, with the author saying that he hoped this might mark the end of people being killed by their own celebrity.  I’m not quite that optimistic (at all), but I can’t help feeling a twinge of sadness and fear every time I see another shitty tabloid carrying on about Lindsay Lohan or Britney Spears.

(*For what it’s worth, Ben is my favorite  of all his solo songs.  While I’ve recently grown to appreciate the disco-y Off The Wall period, I’m pretty bored by the Thriller/Bad albums and Dangerous/HIStory singles.)

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