09 July, 2009

The Madness of King Michael

The death of Michael Jackson is one of those things that has to be considered shocking but not surprising. Given his erratic behaviour, his lifestyle and the health issues, both real and imagined, no-one should be too surprised about his early passing. One slightly curious aspect though, is the way reports have taken to calling him the king of pop. They’re no longer referring to him as the “so-called king of pop,” or the “self-proclaimed king of pop.” Now they’re saying “he was the king of pop.”

The trouble is, they had it right the first time. Michael Jackson was only the king of pop because he said so. He had it written into contracts that he had to be referred to that way. He had decided that if Elvis Presley was the king of rock and roll, then he would be king of pop. In this writer’s not-particularly-humble opinion, the duets with a Beatle and the bizarro marriage to Lisa-Marie Presley were all steps in the same plan to write himself into musical history. It was all totally unnecessary. Thriller remains the biggest selling album in the world ever. He had no need to overstate his achievements and his attempts to do so only diminished them.

I never really got the adulation that Jackson attracted. I could bop along to Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough (without ever knowing what the rest of the words were), Beat It is a killer riff any way you slice it, and Rock With You still sounds great. But like the other king, I always felt he was rather overrated. He is credited as the sole songwriter on many songs, which I found rather suspicious since we never saw any pictures of him playing any instrument. For sure, a non-musician can dictate the tunes in his head to players but my suspicions were further raised when I read the inner sleeve of a friend’s copy of Bad to see that the singer was credited with lead vocals, backing vocals and hand-claps. Does anyone really need a sleeve credit for hand-claps? Not only that, but the lyric sheet had transcribed every chorus repeat, every woo, ow and yee-hee verbatim. That was an early indication to me of someone trying a bit too hard to assert his importance. That craving got more and more obvious with time and relatively speaking, insisting on being called the King of Pop™ was just a small part of that – just a rather more palatable one than the messiah-complex he developed in the ’90s.

The irony is that in death, Michael Jackson has far more in common with the king of rock and roll than he ever did in life. They both died tragically early having spent their last years doped to the eyeballs, surrounded by users and sycophants, with no-one to pull them aside and say, “Dude, get help!”

Of course, he had lots of “help.” People talk about what Jackson did to his face but the truth is, he didn’t do anything to it. He only asked for it. It was surgeons who should have known better who did it to him, happy to take his money and twist him when they should have referred him to a psychiatrist. Then there’s the family who always claimed to support him, but how much? Surely it would only taken two brothers to restrain him and drag him off to a real clinic where he could get proper treatment for whatever conditions and addictions he was suffering. But then again, they all grew up in the same family Michael did so expecting any common sense from them is probably a lost cause. Papa Joe wasted no time in using his son’s death to plug his record label. And then, there was the memorial. Say what you like about Michael Jackson as a parent, he at least kept his kids out of the media spotlight. It took sixty seconds to negate all that protection and now Paris is bigger than Bindi Irwin. Was it her idea? Speak up sweetheart.

So no, it’s probably unfair to expect his family to have noticed something was wrong with him. And let’s at least be honest and admit that there was something very, very wrong with him. Celebrity train-wrecks make amateur psychologists of us all, but you didn’t have to be Sigmund Freud to notice that Jackson stood out even among over-indulged stars. There is now a voluntary injunction on the phrase “Whacko Jacko,” but let’s not recant and say he was just different. He was insane.

Understand that I am not saying that as a term of abuse. Sometimes, people go insane. It’s not their fault. But it is the fault of anyone who won’t say it when they can see it happening. It was just the same with the other king. Where were the “Memphis mafia” while Elvis Presley was being doped into oblivion by shady doctors who were happy to do anything for the chance of some reflected fame? If Jackson had studied a bit more (or if Lisa-Marie had told him) about what really happened to the first king, he might not have been so desperate to be the next one.

I am having none of this king nonsense. Music is not a monarchy, it's a free republic. Michael Jackson's attempts to live like the king only allowed him to die like the king.

The king is dead.

We don't need another king.