When I was five years old, I loved to think. Other kids had G.I. Joes, Barbie dolls, and cartoons, but I absolutely loved to stimulate my imagination. The way I usually did this was to skip in circles on my living room rug while listening to Michael Jackson. And so for years I associated happiness with listening to MJ. Even now it makes me happy to dance to “Beat It” in the middle of the night, because only then can I ignore my former hero’s descent into the bottom of the pop culture barrel.
Cultural icons have been disgraced before, but no star who reached the heights that Jackson did in his heyday has ever fallen as far as the King of Pop. Lest we forget, no artist has ever had an album bigger than Thriller. And no other artist, not even the Beatles, has ever had five number one singles from one album, and that album, Bad, wasn’t even his biggest-seller. He also holds the record for Grammys won in one year, with eight in 1984. Worst of all, without Michael, Usher and Justin Timberlake wouldn’t have ever had someone to copy. And that would be a travesty.
Michael’s descent into permanent joke territory was solidified a long time ago. There was the sad, shocking moment at the 2002 Video Music Awards, when the network jokingly presented him with a cake and a plastic statuette, calling him “The Artist of the Millenium,” even though they were really just giving him a birthday cake. Everyone basically knew it was a joke. Everyone except Michael, who humbly accepted the award as if it was the greatest thing that had ever happened to him.
While it’s conceivable that the man could simply have been confused, it proved to me that Michael is simply a 13-year-old living in his own world. I know that when I was 13, I didn’t really listen to people who gave me advice. And Michael has astonishingly continued to do things that he has certainly been told not to do. We all know about the baby-dangling, but why, Michael, why do you come to court in pajamas?
Another particularly adolescent thing about Jackson is his inability to manage his finances. Any savvy person with a record that sells 250,000 copies can live comfortably for the rest of his or her life. History and Invincible (an ironically terrible title, I have to say) each went four times platinum worldwide. That alone would be plenty for anyone, but those were his weakest sellers. Three of his earlier three albums (Thriller, Dangerous, and Bad) are one, two, and three all-time in world-wide sales (46 million, 30 million, 30 million).
Yet Michael hovers between broke and really broke. When you encounter this type of success, there’s no telling what could happen. For a while, though, Michael did nothing but reach out to others. Through his Heal the World Foundation, Jackson funded airlifts of nutritional supplies to Sarajevo, and initiated mentoring, immunization, and drug-abuse education programs around the world. Though many believe him to be some sort of monster, before the scandals outweighed the record sales, Michael was a hero to people everywhere, and remains such to some.
I never understood why people stood up in church to shake their hands and sway because of the Holy Spirit, but the more Michael Jackson concerts I saw on video, at which hundreds of fans would literally faint from over-excitement, the more I could comprehend what the churchgoers were feeling.
Michael Jackson has been a star for over forty years, and since he’s only 46, you can imagine how little time he truly spent being a kid. Even before he joined the family singing group, music was all over the house, and his older brothers had been famous since his infancy. I’m no psychologist, but seeing kids enjoying the part of life when you have so few worries, and knowing you never experienced it, has to have a serious effect on one’s psyche. But as long as he was the biggest star on the planet, it was probably much easier to hide this dissatisfaction amongst platonic evenings out with Liz Taylor.
I’m not going to try to excuse any sexual crimes he may have committed, but when your run of extreme success ends, and you have all the money in the world, you do what you’ve always wanted to do, and for MJ, that was buying a massive ranch with an amusement park, a chimpanzee named Bubbles, some giraffes, and whatever else he decided could replace his lack of a childhood. When the novelty of living at Neverland wore off, he decided, the best way to be a kid was to hang out with kids.
And what kid wouldn’t want to be his friend? He was just like them. Hell, his body was even going through analogous changes. And what do adolescents do? They find a way to get their hands on alcohol; they look at dirty movies and magazines; they basically do what they shouldn’t be doing. Do they sleep in the same bed? Well, they certainly have sleepovers. And sleepovers are the coolest thing in the world when you’re 13, especially if your friend has a rockin’ house. Even better, if your friend’s parents are lax, you can stay up all night for absolutely no reason, ‘cuz it’s really cool. Michael was everyone’s cool friend with all the porn and the liquor and the nice/absent parents.
I can’t fault Jackson for wanting to buy back his childhood. And I can’t be mad at him for having kids over. If he’s warped enough to really believe he can live as an adolescent, then serving alcohol to the kids isn’t the most reprehensible thing in the world. If they’re the type to drink at that age, then they’re going to drink at some other friend’s house. Where you can fault Michael is the fact that he’s not loony enough to forget that he’s Michael Jackson. He might think he’s some weird 13-year-old version of himself, but he knows he has unimaginable resources, and since he’s competent enough to use his identity to get his hands on said vices, then he can’t really believe he’s just another kid. He knows the kids are coming to his house because he’s The Gloved One, not just their friend Mike.
Of course, if any of the sexual allegations are true, then there’s no argument here. If he thinks he’s thirteen, then he’s at that age where sex is just about all one thinks about. He showed the kids porn (allegedly). And the fact that some of the magazines he owned featured women over 50 should alert us all to the fact that there’s something very strange going on not completely inseparate from his lack of a childhood. But, disgraced as he is, Michael is not R. Kelly. All the sexual lyrics in his songs are fairly subtle, and there are no videos of him doing perverse things, unless you count randomly destroying the car at the end of the video for “Black and White.” Part of Michael’s personality seems to be a combination of Richie Rich and Peter Pan, a rich young man that refuses to grow up and who spends exorbitant sums to try to create friendships.
Of course, it was Michael’s friend and the godfather of his first child, Macaulay Culkin, who starred in the annoying movie version of “Richie Rich.” What inferences can be drawn from this, I don’t know. But if he didn’t actually molest anyone—something of which we may never be sure—then the man is no monster. It’s true that his desperation caused him to do a few questionable things, but he’s certainly not the first person to make some mistakes in order to have more friends. Unfortunately for him, he’s now fairly bankrupt, and living in a Beverly Hills mansion that costs him $60,000 dollars a month. His only income is royalties from his own songs, and those of the Beatles. And then there’s the trial, which could certainly be much more costly to the man than any type of splurging he’s ever done. I’m literally scared of what would happen to him in a jail cell.
I have a friend named Michael Jackson. Far from famous, he’s a pudgy young man from Brooklyn who was named after the King of Pop when that was something to be proud of. When he was born, in 1990, I was skipping in circles, listening to vinyl records without a care in the world, and Michael was the biggest star on Earth. Now my friend Michael can’t stand his name. Times have changed. Way back when, I never could have imagined that someone wouldn’t want to be named after Michael Jackson.