The King Is Dead!
His music will live forever!
Quincy Jones, one of the world’s premiere musicians and the producer of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the biggest selling album in history, was once asked to evaluate Michael’s musical talent. Jones explained that the things he does – such as orchestrating film scores and arranging big bad charts – can be taught in conservatories. But the ability to create a song – music and lyrics – is a gift from God, the process of whose creation remains a mystery. The same thing can be said about why some artists manage to create hysterical responses and devoted loyalty from multitudes of fans across racial, geographical and cultural boundaries. Michael Jackson had that gift too. We have only to witness the avalanche of praise and remembrances from devoted fans around the world. Unless you’ve got a hole in your soul you can feel the love.
It is clearly the most extraordinary response to the passing of a public personality that I have seen in my lifetime – and I remember the funeral of President John Kennedy, and attended the funerals of Dr. Martin Luther King and Duke Ellington. Three of the greatest men of the twentieth century! It is quite enough to just turn on the radio or television in order to experience the massive outpouring of grief and nostalgia. Since music is the most emotionally moving of all the arts, and often serves as the background sound for the major events of our lives – immortalizing special occasions of joy and sorrow, triumph and tragedy – the death of a favorite musical artist often creates a personal sense of loss.
When I first heard that Michael had suffered a heart attack I was on the road traveling from Savanna to Atlanta Georgia. By the time I reached my destination, the ATL Record Pool Hip Hop competition at the notorious Club Libra, deep in the hood, Michael had danced and joined the ancestors. When it was announced that The King of Pop had died, there were open expressions of grief among this thugged out crowd whose rhymes were panegyrics to guns, dope, money and sex. Then there was a call for a moment of silence and the boisterous crowd obediently heeded the call. Then the testimonies began. From that moment on I have been surprised by the number of successful musicians, dancers, singers and record producers who say that they chose these fields of endeavor because of Michael Jackson. The BET Awards for instance, became a memorial service for the fallen superstar.
However not enough has been said about what Michael did for black people in the music business. While there have been numerous allusions to the doors he opened by his spectacular performances – such as opening up MTV to Afro-American artists, which was no small feat but it was dictated by market forces – I have heard next to nothing about his insistence that a black promoter be included in his major concerts. But talking with Leon Kwaku Saunders – who produced the recent “Jazz in the Gardens” concert in Miami which attracted an audience of over 40 thousand – and a former agent at William Morris, Michael made special efforts to include a black promoter in his national tours.. And he gave Al Sharpton thousands of tickets to distribute among financially stressed black communities where his spectacular shows were playing. Hence when Rev. Sharpton says “Michael never left us,” he has a point.
Yet in spite of his virtues Michael Jackson was a very troubled man. And I remain surprised by the number of people who are willing to ignore his pathologies – after all, here was a man who disfigured himself in public while we watched with horror, sorrow or amusement. From the first time I saw him perform as the enormously gifted lead singer of the Jackson Five I thought he – like his brothers – was one of the cutest kids I’d ever seen.
But in the years before his untimely demise he began to resemble a cartoon character – namely the joker in the Bat Man comics. I have often wondered why those close to him didn’t intervene, and the fans did not protest this public immolation of the beautiful golden boy we first knew. Instead, as his friend Dr. Depak Chopra has recently pointed out in a fit of anger and disgust, Michael was surrounded by lackeys and enablers who were only too happy to concede his every wish so long as fame and fortune were to be had – no matter how dangerous or bizarre his behavior – like the thirty something plastic surgeries.
The worst offenders, according to Dr. Chopra, were the medical professionals who served as his drug pushers; for he believes that when the whole truth is told we will discover that it is they who killed Michael. The toxicology reports will testify to the veracity of this claim, but based on the evidence of our senses we can see that this good and gifted man was in deep trouble and none closest to him cried out for help. Alas, this will be Michael Jackson’s legacy as much as his splendid musical gifts; yet the artistic treasures he bequeathed to us will live forever.
Commentaries on the Times
June 29, 2009