Shorts In The Dark

Michael Jackson: No ordinary life

In the wake of child molestation allegations, Jackson’s legacy has been tainted. My take on his legacy is simple – Suppose Jackson was guilty and in prison. We would still listen to him. Let the jailbird sing.

 |  Shorts In The Dark  |  5-minute read |   30-06-2019
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June 25 marked the 10th death anniversary of controversy’s child, Michael Jackson. Arguably the world’s most influential pop icon ever, Jackson has been the subject of two recent documentaries, Leaving Neverland, featuring allegations of sexual abuse, and Killing Michael Jackson, released this month, on the circumstances surrounding his death, which involved his doctor injecting him with a fatal combination of pain killers. Jackson’s death was a cultural phenomenon, provoking an outpouring of grief on a scale never seen.

Conflicted legacy

In the wake of child molestation allegations, Jackson’s legacy has been tainted, even as his die-hard fans have fought back, proclaiming his innocence on hoardings and banners on London buses. The posters were removed after a backlash by what the Economist calls the ‘liberal mullahs’.

At this stage of his posthumous career, there are three responses to the allegations against Jackson. One, there are those who believe that his music should be erased from public memory. Some streaming sites and radio stations have already removed him from their playlists. Two, the loyal fans, running into the millions, who believe his innocence and believe he has been wrongly framed. Three, the conflicted fans who believe that he is guilty but also acknowledge that his music left such a deep impact on them that erasing his memory is not an option.

str2_reutersthriller_062919013612.jpgMichael Jackson has left in his wake chart-topping musical masterpieces. (Photo: Screenshot/Thriller music video)

CNN’s Lisa Respers wrote: “It’s hard to reckon that a man of such innovative artistry, who brought the world together with his work, could also be the same person who victimised young boys. I’m giving myself permission to feel conflicted about Jackson, the man, and leaving space for affection for his music, intrinsically connected to positive memories in my life, as it was and remains for many.” Jackson’s life provided endless fodder for tabloids and continues to do so. He fits our classical idea of genius: Brilliant at his talent but tortured by personal demons.

He might have been Bad and Dangerous, but his life read like a Thriller. Jackson was a child artist with a controlling ambitious father who didn’t allow him a childhood. He had a string of odd marriages, including one to Lisa, Elvis Presley’s daughter. He had an oxygen tent in his mansion. He underwent medical procedures to lighten his skin tone. His hair caught fire while shooting a Pepsi commercial; he wore a wig for the rest of his life. He surrounded himself with little boys in a ranch named ‘Neverland’ which boasted a mini train station.

India’s tryst with MJ

India was introduced to Michael Jackson at the height of the golden age of music piracy.

Gulshan Kumar’s T-Series had disrupted the market here with cassettes priced at the staggeringly low cost of Rs 16. I also bought a copy in 1987, from a pile of cassettes being sold on a Bombay pavement. In 1996, Jackson came to Bombay to perform. He arrived in a private jet and stayed at the Oberoi.

He was welcomed at the airport by Sonali Bendre wrapped in a sari. In a surreal sequence of events, he also visited the late Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray’s home. Aditya Thackeray recalls being on Balasaheb’s lap when Jackson entered Matoshree. Famously, the pop star also used the washroom, something Bal Thackeray liked to joke about for many years after.

167560-michael-jacks_062919013858.jpgJackson's music left such a deep impact on his fans that erasing his memory is not an option. (Photo: Reuters)

Jackson has always elicited strong reactions, dead or alive. In 1996, during the course of the Brit Awards, Pulp vocalist Jarvis Cocker famously invaded the stage during Jackson’s performance of Earth Song and wiggled his bum at him on national TV for a good couple of minutes. It was a quintessential British controversy.

Cocker issued a statement to the media in the wake of the wiggle: “My actions are a form of protest at the way Michael Jackson sees himself as some kind of Christ-like figure with the power of healing. The music industry allows him to indulge his fantasies because of his wealth and power. People go along with it even though they know it’s a bit sick. I just couldn’t anymore. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision brought on by boredom and frustration.”

The man, the talent

In May, Madonna, in a surprise move, defended Jackson from the new abuse allegations, wading into the controversy even though the two weren’t the best of friends. Madonna didn’t mince words while speaking to British Vogue, arguing that she’s also had “a thousand allegations” flung at her, which were not true. She refused to be part of “a lynch mob mentality,” asking instead: “What’s the agenda? What do people want out of this? Are there people asking for money, is there some kind of extortion thing happening? I would take all of those things into consideration.”

On the occasion of his 10th death anniversary Jackson’s sister, Janet, spoke of his legacy to The Sunday Times: “I love it when I see kids emulating him when adults still listen to his music. It just lets you know the impact that my family has had on the world. I hope I am not sounding arrogant in any way — I am just stating what is. It is really all God’s doing, and I am just thankful for that.” My take on his legacy is simple. Johnny Cash famously performed to raucous cheering at Folsom Prison. Many prominent musicians hold workshops with inmates. Inmates form orchestras and put on concerts for the ordinary public. Suppose Jackson was guilty and in prison. We would still listen to him. Let the jailbird sing.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Remembering George Michael, the timeless, ageless 'Prince of Pop'


Palash Krishna Mehrotra Palash Krishna Mehrotra @palashmehrotra

The writer is the editor of 'House Spirit: Drinking in India'

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