Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson

The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, suddenly died Thursday June 25th. When someone is universally known as "The King of Pop," it seems obvious that anyone who writes on popular culture has to say something. So here I go:

There was no one quite like Michael Jackson, and there has never been (an never will be) an album like Thriller. Even non-fans of Michael (can't call him MJ...that's a basketball player) have to admit that Thriller was an incredible album from start to finish, and it still is the highest selling album of all time.

My blog, however, is Religion & Popular Culture. Even though my use of religion is really broad (ethics, spirituality, philosophy), it is hard to place Michael here. Jackson's music made you want to move and dance, and his lyrics flowed in the smooth as his moonwalk. His lyrics, however, did not have much depth. There's nothing wrong with that, he was an entertainer, not a philosopher or ethicist, but it leaves little for me to talk about here. His videos as well were primarily to entertain and dazzle, not give life commentary.

If you contrast him with "The Queen of Pop," Madonna, there's no question who had more to say about life. Through her lyrics and videos, Madonna had a lot to say...not all the time of course... but there's much to explore.

It's not that Michael didn't try. The song and video Black or White clearly was trying to say something on race...and the special effects of one person morphing into one another was unbelievable...but there was something odd about it all. Perhaps that the singer's appearance has changed so much by then: bleached skin and numerous surgeries, that it was hard to find the message credible...that on some level Michael didn't believe it (at least, he wasn't comfortable being who he was, which is the greater message of the song.)

Man in the Mirror is the song I've been thinking of
since I heard about his death. I am sad...not just about hearing about someone I "grew up" with has died...but perhaps because I have this notion that, for all of his success, Michael Jackson never reached the change that his soul appeared to long for. It's not like I knew him, or even read much about his life, but it seemed to me he never became at peace with "the man in the mirror."

I will remember Thriller as a great moment in history, and a phenomenal musical achievement. An, oddly enough, it's a Simpson's episode guest staring "John J. Smith, " an uncredited Michael Jackson, that may give me my favorite Michael memory (and I'm not the only one...). The episode "Stark Raving Dad" has Homer being committed to a mental institution and meeting a man who insists he's Michael Jackson. Bart, meanwhile, has hurt Lisa one too many times, and she demands that, if he cares about her at all, that he give thought to her birthday for once in his life.

"Michael Jackson" helps Bart write and perform a song for Lisa's birthday that celebrates who she is, (that the real Michael wrote for the show), and acknowledges Bart's real feelings for her. At the end, "Michael Jackson" tells them that his real name is Leon Kompowski, a bricklayer from New Jersey, and that he was now free to go on living his life.

I wonder if the real Michael was ever freed that way...perhaps he is now.


Anonymous said...

You hit the nail on the head. 'Man in the MIrror' strikes a chord with me at this time. I mourn exactly what you mention, a man who had everything: literal worldwide fame, riches beyond imagination, icon status. And yet, no peace.
That is the tragedy in all this. That is what I mourn as a man of faith.
I hope you preach about this someday if not tomorrow, I would love to read the transcript.
With Love, My Brother,

Rosalind said...

"My blog, however, is Religion & Popular Culture... Jackson's music made you want to move and dance, and his lyrics flowed in the beat"

... and maybe sometimes that all it takes to put us in touch with something way beyond ourselves. Lyrics are great; I love words. But perhaps sometimes something even more ... essential ... does the job?

Kurt said...

True enough Rosalind! I hadn't thought of it that way, since I wanted to talk about my impressions of Michael. You are right that movement, dance & rhythm connect to "Religion & Popular Culture" and our very essence.