With a mountain of debt to be serviced, a possible custodian battle for his children, and his musical legacy which includes dozens of unpublished music, the sudden death of Michael Jackson, “the King of pop music” reminds me of an old Thomas Mann (1875-1955), saying: “A man’s dying is more the survivors’ affairs than his own”, indeed.
Arguably, this was an untimely death; and if we are to believe one of his closest friend and confidant, Uri Geller, the spoon-bending psychic, the stress of a hugely-anticipated series of comeback shows in London led Michael Jackson to his death.
Mr Geller described the scale of Michael Jackson’s planned shows – some 50 concerts at London’s O2 Arena, which were due to start in July, as “just scary”. He said, “Michael wanted to prove to the world that he is number one, that he is still Michael Jackson, that he can still deliver a thriller”.
And having witnessed the training session of Usher when he was preparing himself for his last European tour, I am finding it painful to picture what it must have taken Michael to prepare himself for his 50 concerts in London. This was supposed to be an extraordinary show, but on stage, a middle-age man, with a middle-age voice and body in top working order. And what about the work required to face the doubts and sneers of so many people?
The fans great expectations and love for Michael was not enough. The show was to have started on the 16th of July up to 6th March 2010; Tickets were super-scarce, and it was the most talked-about tour in history. This time Michael wanted to bring all those deserters back into the fold.
Back in 2005, shortly after his trial for sexual abuse ended, there was talk of “a big show”, it never materialised, so this show would have been the one to rescue him from the dark corners he had found himself for so long … but death proved to be his last best friend.
From here in Rome, to London, Russia to China, India to Australia, and from the Middle
East to most parts of the African continent, fans have been expressing their shock and sadness. Social Networking websites are being used to organise tributes and for people to express their feelings over the sudden and unexpected death of Michael Jackson.
For a life so extraordinary, it is a challenge to write about a man who was without any doubt one of the finest entertainers the world has seen…
Just read what some of the world’s great-living entertainers, music producers, recording artists, film actors, world leaders and, even ordinary people across the world have been saying about Michael Jackson: Quincy Jones, the producer of some of Michael’s great albums including Thriller, said; “He was the consummate entertainer and his contribution and legacy will be felt upon the world forever”, Madonna can’t stop crying since his death was announced, she said, “The world has lost one of the greats, but his music will live on forever”.
Andrew Lloyd Webber, the world’s greatest stage musical producer, described Michael Jackson as “a highly theatrical animal”. Looking back at his life, Lloyd Webber said that the debts, all the court cases, and the trouble that Michael got into was all so sad, but that his “music has transcended all of that; nothing sticks to him, in the end, the music will always survive”, Andrew Lloyd Webber pointed out to journalists.
Ben Okri, one of Nigeria’s finest writers, writing in the Times of London observed that; “Michael Jackson will now become one of the fixed stars in the galaxy of popular culture. Sir Paul McCartney of the Beatles fame said; “It’s so sad. He was a massively talented boy-man with a gentle soul”. Jessi Jackson, Civil Rights leader painted a picture we’ve all known for sometime now, he said, “We are out of our joy. He is out of his pain”.
And whilst film-star turned politician, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, observed that he was “One of the most influential and Iconic figures in the music industry”, U.S. President Barack Obama, lamented that he was; “A spectacular performer whose life had tragic and sad aspects”.
But the one that has haunted me since Friday is a placard I saw on the streets of Rome, carried by a young Italian punk woman, it simply says, “Forgive us Michael”.
Indeed, a lot of people who were and are still involved in the life and life after Michael Jackson should be forgiven.
In his childhood, as the freakishly talented leader of the Jackson 5, he was often described as a 45 year-old dwarf. At the time of his death from cardiac arrest, aged almost 51, he looked more like a decaying infant, speaking in a prepubescent whisper while concealing the evidence of time’s assault behind a patched work of surgical masks, coy Islamic veils and Jackie O-sized dark glasses, with a black umbrella to protect his improbably pallid skin from the sun.
Listening to one of his interviews last night, I suddenly realised how lucky some of today’s teenage stars are; Michael Jackson was famous before any child could reasonably be expected to know what fame was. Born in 1958 in the working class town of Gary, Indiana, he was performing with his brothers in the Jackson 5 band by the age of six, and soon emerged as the group’s lead vocalist.
In that same interview, he disclosed that he used to practice his lines late into the night in a studio across the street from a playground- and – yes, cried a lot, because he wanted to be playing on the swings and the slide, not singing the same song into a microphone again and again.
At that age, in a black family house in America, one has very little choice going against a very strict father. He was the meal ticket out of poverty for the entire Jackson family; No offence to the other 4 brothers, but if they had auditioned for Motown’s Berry Gordy Jr, as the Jackson 4, he would have sent them packing to those dark and sleazy black night clubs of the 60s in Chicago. Believe me they were not nice places to be in, let alone singing in for a living.
It was Michael’s irrepressible on-stage energy and refined voice at that age that gave birth to what we all came to know as the Jackson 5. In those days, especially within the Afro American communities (as they were then called), and in many parts across Africa, there were few other music that could challenge the Jackson 5 for air time.
Indeed, I recollect dancing on stage at the defunct Sierra Leone Daily Mail Trade fair and on SLBS TV to the tunes of the Jackson 5 and Tom Jones in the early seventies.
In later years, Michael revealed that his star performances at that early age was motivated by fear of his father, Joe Jackson, a frustrated and failed guitarist, who will end up beating him and his brothers frequently if and when they failed with their notes or voicing of a particular song.
On the road, Michael didn’t spend time with boys of his age. He shared rooms with his older brother, Jackie, Marlon, Tito and Jermaine, all of whom were past puberty and who, quite naturally, had a keen interest in the other sex and all the other things that comes with being in band backstage or in hotel rooms after shows.
You don’t need to read Sigmund Freud to conclude that Michael Jackson emerged with some confused ideas and feelings about the human sexuality and other aspects of life that he never had the pleasure of enjoying as an ordinary man., and it is being argued now, that it was at this period of life that the seeds of his problems were probably planted.
Part of the argument is also about the future welfare of Michael’s three children, as many now strongly believe that they will end up with their grand-mother, Mrs Katherine Jackson, the old Jackson matriarch who, apparently, wants to raise them as Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Critics of the late Star are now arguing that the three children are yet again pawns, in the hands of adults who do not perhaps recognise them as individual humans with autonomous choices. This of course goes back to the original argument about Michael Jackson and his brothers, when they were known as the Jackson 5. The accepted version today is that the Jackson 5 were abused, forced and exploited by their father, whilst the World danced to their A, B, C, 1, 2, 3…You want I mean….you dig!!! A, B, C, 1, 2, 3
This is an argument that cannot be simply pushed aside; I personally do not believe that these children will be abused or exploited by their grand-parents. But they do need all the love and caring the world can offer them, because Michael Jackson was both a victim of bad parenting and a perpetrator as well.
As a father, I have come to realise that a child is a blessing, a precious life we take care of for a short while, to love and cherish selflessly, to teach and nurture but never to own or recast in our own image. It is a hard call, but it is a call as parents we should always make.
Philosophers like John Locke and Jean- Jacques Rousseau were among the first to recognise children as autonomous beings with rights, long before the UN Declaration on the Rights of Children. But today, one only has to look around to realise that the world continues to fail children of all back-grounds, race and class.
Ten years from now, what would you want to remember about Michael Jackson? His Thriller album and the 14-minute masterpiece of stage performance? The white gloved Jackson? The wealthy and famous pop star dangling his baby-child over a hotel balcony? The accused child molester or the bankrupt Jackson? How about the despised Jackson walking through a mall in Bahrain, his frail body draped in a woman’s abaya or robe?
For me, a Jazz man and a great lover of Congolese music, I must confess that I enjoyed some of his music, but I was never a great fan of his. However, if I am called to remember him, I will think of nothing else other than those electrifying performances on stage during his world tour of 1988.
During his Press conference recently to promote his 50 London concerts, Michael stayed at the background until towards the end of the conference, then he came up to the microphone and started talking to journalists and fans that were there. “This is it”, he said, “this is really it, this is the final curtain call.” With the addition showman ship and theatrical metaphor, these are the last words of Christ, who announced his expiry by gasping, “Consummatum est.”
Winston Ojukutu-Macaulay Jnr