July 9, 2009

Less Than Thrilled

One day in 1982, my dad came home from work with a large square brown paper bag. He walked towards the stereo, turned it on, pulled an LP from the bag and placed it on the turntable. It was Michael Jackson's Thriller. It was the first album I ever considered my own.

I liked it. I didn't think it was the greatest thing since sliced bread but then sliced bread didn't have an endless string of hit singles so what do I know? But that speaks to the mixed emotions I have about Michael Jackson. I never really understood the hype.

I don't want to speak ill of the dead but to me, Michael Jackson was no genius. He was a talented guy who could write a catchy song and dance like no one had really danced before. More than anything, he was tragic. He came from a dysfunctional family, was thrust into the limelight way too early in life with absolutely no coping mechanisms, and, as a result, developed into a bizarre individual with some fairly unhealthy interests. If he was genuine in his convictions and motivations, he was truly done a disservice. If he wasn't, he was a freak. Regardless, after his torrent of hits dried up, his private life overshadowed his musical one, he became a caricature of himself, and he - not his music - became the story. He - his marriages, his plastic surgery, his infatuation with boys, his homes - became the entertainment.

Ladies and gentlemen, the age of the sideshow carny freaks is not dead. They've merely changed venues. Now they grace the pages of US Weekly and People or appear daily on TMZ or Egotastic. Their names are Jacko, Jon and Kate, Brangelina.

What was your take on Michael Jackson? Troubled genius? Freak? Or both?

Posted by Chris at July 9, 2009 6:35 AM

i always found him to be tragic. i could never get past his ever-changing appearance and bizarre lifestyle. i did think of him as more of a freak than a musician or father. i truly hope he is at peace now.

Posted by: coral at July 9, 2009 7:10 AM

Wow. You summed it all up perfectly. The man had the biggest freak flag of them all.

Posted by: Debbie at July 9, 2009 7:15 AM

I don't think he was a genius, but I enjoy(ed) his music because I connect it with some happy memories/misadventures.

I will go with tragically freaky. You summed it up perfectly.

Posted by: MariaV at July 9, 2009 7:49 AM

Talented, yes. Tragic, yes. Freak, yes.
It always bothered me that he had the boy of the moment hanging on him. Was it simply a love of children and a boyhood lost? Or was he a pervert? Glad I don't have to make that decision in court or Heaven.
Hope that someone steps forward to really love those kids. And not just because they are the beneficiaries of his legacy.

Posted by: Maribeth at July 9, 2009 7:49 AM

I think it sucks that he made decisions that now make his kids orphans.

Posted by: William at July 9, 2009 8:13 AM

I had this argument on FB. When you look at his body of work, he was the product of good producers and a manager that paired him with stellar talent. Good musicians tour. Good musicians write albums even though they may not sell millions. He was a phenomenal dancer - a product of a choreographer, and a snazzy dresser - a product of a costume designer. His music was average. Quincy Jones made him what he was. He released NOTHING after Thriller. Nothing ... You don't go cold if you are that good. McCartney had Wings. Jackson tried reviving the Jackson 5 and it didn't work. His sister had more success with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Again, producers who knew how to get a "sound" out of an artist.

Thriller was a success because he released it when an audience - black females in their mid 30's - remembered his days with the Jackson 5 and they had disposable income. R&B was in a decline pre-rap of the late 80's. He also rode the wave of videos; his greatest accomplishment, launching MTV from videos of live performances to videos as a means for selling music. But even then he could not top his success after the "Thriller" short.

Unfortunately, we look at someone like Phil Spector as someone who killed a woman. Does anyone know Phil Spector's musical genius? Google him and don't read the news articles on his trial.

It's argued that Jackson influenced artists in R&B, really? How did he influence them? Dancing? I don't remember who WANTED to sound like MJ. No one did. As a matter of fact, the birth of wrap does NOT owe it's roots to Jackson. It owes it to other artists. Now rap dominates the R&B charts and eventually made it's own genre's - hip hop and gangster rap.

He furthered his distance from society by becoming a freakish plastic surgery science experiment and listening to his accountants. Musically, he had a big bag of nothing.

Posted by: Knot at July 9, 2009 8:19 AM

I went into this on my site a week ago (you should have been reading at the beach) but what how you described what MJ became is the same way I'd describe what Elvis became. They really were VERY similar, so much so I think the MJ/Lisa Marie marriage makes so much sense.

Posted by: Darren at July 9, 2009 8:35 AM

both. definitely both. i have a hard time putting together the freak that dangled his son over the balcony with the "loving father" that his daughter Paris said that he was. Everyone says he's a great father, but because he looked so weird and odd to me, I can't picture him as caring and not perverted. I don't know, it's hard. I'm still sad that he died- for his family, his children especially, as they obviously adore him.

Posted by: la petite belle at July 9, 2009 8:40 AM

I think he was talented and creative, but no more so than a lot of other performers. However, his flair for the freaky drew a cult following. He was also in the right place at the right time.

I always felt sorry for him. I don't believe that his brain ever matured past childhood, which is somewhat common when someone goes through trauma at a young age.

Posted by: Rebecca at July 9, 2009 8:44 AM

I think he was a great entertainer. I loved his music - Off The Wall was the dance music of choice at my college bar. He obviously had an appeal to alot of people and I can see why.
I think his childhood was as much a non-childhood as we've heard it was. Just LOOKING at his father scares me. And I think who he became and his actions were a result of that childhood.
Troubled-yes; Genius-I'd have to say for millions of people-yes; Freak-unfortunately yes.
I don't find Brangelina to be side show carney freaks because they work to protect their kids from the spotlight. Jon and Kate on the other hand, their kids ARE the spotlight.

Posted by: NancyJ at July 9, 2009 8:58 AM

Maybe not a genius, but definitely talented. Being a child of the 70's, I was a fan from the beginning. The Jacksons and the Osmonds were the original boy bands, and I was a big fan of both.

I think, like Rebecca, that he never grew up, mostly because he was never allowed a normal childhood. Every time I've seen Joe Jackson's face these past 2 weeks, I cringe.

The saddest thing to me is the fact that he obviously never thought he was good enough, hence the plastic surgery, the wasteful spending, etc.

He's a tragic story that I think every "stage parent" should have to study before they put their kid out there.

Posted by: Karen at July 9, 2009 8:59 AM

Extremely talented composer, dancer, and singer. The real shame is how fucked up his childhood was, and how that ruined his entire life. The fact that he broke through that crap to make so many hits is a feat. Everything else he did is a tragic side effect of what some would constitute as child abuse.

Posted by: Brad at July 9, 2009 9:13 AM

I thought the way you did until I heard Al Sharpton while (briefly) catching the memorial service this week. He was trying to explain to people who didn't understand the huge outpouring of grief over MJ. t might be a bit overstated but I think there's a grain of truth in here at least:

"It was Michael Jackson who brought blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians together... Because Michael Jackson kept going, he created a comfort level... so that later it wasn't strange to us to watch Oprah on television, it wasn't strange to watch Tiger Woods golf. Those kids grew up from being kids who were comfortable with Michael Jackson, to being 40 year olds [who were] comfortable to vote for a person of color as president of the United States."

Posted by: Laura GF at July 9, 2009 9:38 AM

I agree 100% with your both. Side show definitely not dead - just moved venues and we still eat it up.

I too have a similar memory of 1982 - my first album that I "owned". I remember it so well I can feel the paper cover and running my finger over MJ's face and singing along to it - like you he was not my fav and I could never buy into the hype but also always liked different music than pop since I was kid through adulthood so that may be the difference?!

I think MJ was a bit of both. A freak and in loose terms a genius but it was not his genius alone - I think he had lots of advisors and he just got lucky enough to have decent ones from time to time.

Posted by: Christina at July 9, 2009 10:01 AM

I pretty much always thought he was talented, but sad and screwed up. Also, being a bit younger, I've only ever really known the more screwed up side of MJ and less of his new artist persona and all that.

Posted by: Heather at July 9, 2009 10:06 AM

I loved Off the Wall and Thriller, my love for MJ slowly started to go down hill and then completely stopped after the molestation charges. You cannot deny his impact in the music industry whether you liked him or not but I too feel he was a tragic soul.

Posted by: Dee at July 9, 2009 10:59 AM

Yep, he's weird. Yep, his life is tragic. Yep, he's one hell of a performer. He's all of that.

Brilliant people come with the eccentricity. If you're "normal", you're not going to be special.

You'll never see anyone dance like that again. (Well, he DID it first. Anyone else after this is copying Michael.) With music that brings all races together like nobody else.

Posted by: oakley at July 9, 2009 11:04 AM

I respect him as a musician. He had the smarts to know who to pair up with, and he sure had his chops, singing and dancing-wise. I think he did have some traumatic childhood stuff and it's a shame that his nutty personal stuff overshadowed his business as a musician.

MJ's death was a "wow, crazy" moment for me, not something to get weepy about. I don't get the hype, but maybe it's because MJ's work is not a huge part of my life. Maybe I'll cry when Jon Bon Jovi dies, I don't know.

The thing that kills me is how everyone is going out and buying his records now that he's dead. Hello? Those records have been available all this time, and only now that he's dead are people all, "Oh, I LOVE Michael Jackson." Whatever.

Posted by: Brooke Habecker at July 9, 2009 11:29 AM

I agree with you and I think our collective fascination with this sort of sideshow is crystallized (partially - for me anyway) in Lucius Shepard's recent post:


Posted by: Johnny Smoke at July 9, 2009 11:52 AM

My pet theory? Castrato.

Posted by: lumpyheadsmom at July 9, 2009 12:14 PM

Was never a fan of his music or his personal life choices. I hope he has some peace now as he was clearly a tortured soul.

Posted by: LaineyDid at July 9, 2009 12:18 PM

Yes, MJ was talented. Yes, he was a freak. Yes, it was mostly his parents fault for thrusting him into the limelight so young.

I do believe that Paris spoke from the heart and that he really was a wonderful father, if for no other reason he never grew up and was just a big kid with his own children.

However, I am really tired of all the media coverage. I don't remember this much coverage when Elvis died.

Posted by: Krush at July 9, 2009 12:23 PM

Talented, yes. A genuis? Probably not. Troubled? Definitely. And abuser of small children? Yes. Musically relevant in the last decade and a half? No.

I feel sorry for his children, his family, and his friends, but I think the hype over a man who abused defenseless children is way overblown. (I also felt this way when Nixon died. The funeral was all about what a wonderful leader he was and sort of glossed over his indiscretions. I guess that's what funerals are for, but it seems a bit disingenuous if you ask me.) Ahmadinejad is the true winner of this news cycle. All the attention paid to Iran completely went away when Jackson died. Too bad, really.

Posted by: NGS at July 9, 2009 12:28 PM

I've always liked alot of his music, however as a person I think he was horrible.
It is a sad sad situation - I don't believe that he thinks the things he did were wrong.
I think he had a child-like brain that never matured into adulthood.
His daughter was heartbreaking though at the memorial.

Posted by: Rose Winters at July 9, 2009 1:04 PM


I agree that his life was tragic and many of the things that occurred throughout his life were quite bizarre, including the skin lightening and grotesque plastic surgeries.

But I have to disagree about calling him a freak. You are entitled to you opinion. There are many people out there who are not celebrities and have personality disorders and issues with self image.

This may drive them to not only get an obscene amount of plastic surgery to "change" themselves into what they think is a better person, but also to completely try and remove their past self.

I honestly think that MJ had a number of psychological issues including his trauma from childhood abuse. This can often manifest itself in strange ways. His case was extreme because his life in the spotlight exacerbated his problems.

Troubled genius and tortured person is my thought on MJ

Posted by: Julie Andel at July 9, 2009 1:48 PM

I'm too young to understand the hype, I think. It's sad, yes. But why has the world gone (even more) bonkers?

Posted by: Hannah at July 9, 2009 1:56 PM

I grew up with the Jacksons and Osmonds, and have been saddened by MJ's death. The circus that surrounded him helped to encourage his odd behavior.

Hearing folks call him a freak does bother me. As a society we're so quick to pass judgement on others without taking into consideration what it took to create the personality of someone.

I'm really tired of hearing the freaking comments about child molester - don't get me wrong, I'm not defending him, but honestly, if we weren't there, how in the hell can we know what happened? Take into consideration all the hype right now about absolutely everthing that went on in his life, his skin color, the worth of his assets, he's bald, who were the "parents" to his children. Damn. And these people that judge him somehow know "the truth"??

There are some greedy people out there that saw dollar signs when they were around him - I wish everyone would just stop the judgemental attitude of another human being. It's called compassion. Is there any left in our society anymore?


Posted by: Dianne at July 9, 2009 2:15 PM

coming from the world of performance artists and all that jazz. i wouldn't call him a freak.
he had a fucked up life. plain and simple. he never had a chance to be normal and do the normal things someone does to try and pull their shit together.
on top of it all, in that world people let the most ridiculous things/behaviour slide. everyone becomes 'yes men' to their cash cow. so in the end for him, i don't know what kind of man he was. but, i remember seeing him perform as a child, and crying because his eyes were so...shattered.

over the years the 'media' have become lecherous in their celebration of massive dysfunction. it's gotten to beyond disgusting to me. they are no more civilized than the crowds at the coliseum, frothing at the mouth while watching the lions rip people to shreds.

Posted by: cri at July 9, 2009 2:16 PM

Hard to feel too sad when a child molester dies but that's just me.

Posted by: Marylea at July 9, 2009 5:06 PM

If there was any justice in this world, the dude would have died 15 years ago, before all of his personal issues became the front page news. The man was a great musician - you don't have a successful 15+ year career by accident, that's for sure - but he most certainly had his fair share of issues. Issues that got left unchecked and spiraled into something horrible that no one - especially him - should have had to experience.

Overall, I feel bad for the guy because he is tragic, but I'm not especially sad to see him go. He's much, much better off now than he's been in a while.

Posted by: Dawn at July 9, 2009 5:18 PM

Forget US Weekly, they're all on TLC!!

Posted by: Jess at July 9, 2009 6:09 PM

While I believe he was very talented, I believe he was a tortured soul.

He never had a proper childhood and I don't believe he ever grew up. I think, in his mind, he was still a little kid in a grown-up's body... That being said, I don't know what other person in this country would be "exalted" the way he was after all those allegations a few years back. It was like everyone forgot all about that once he died. All I know is that if I had been accused of the same things, no one would have mourned me in the same extravagant manner.

I guess I'm a wee bit "over" it all... I still love his older music, but let's move on, shall we?

Posted by: ironic1 at July 9, 2009 6:28 PM

Well I love a lot of his songs regardless of who wrote, composed or produced them, I love the way he used to dance (especially for smooth criminal and don't stop til you get enough).
It's sad he dies but it is generally kind of sad when anybody dies.
I don't really care about his personal life to be fair...

By the way I have never ever liked 'billy jeans' that song gets on my nerves big time, almost as bad as Bob Marley's music... :)

Posted by: Alex at July 9, 2009 6:41 PM

I can't put this down to word because well... it's hard to keep it short.

Jacko was clearly suffering from any variety of mental illnesses, including body dismorphic disorder, and well, certain pedophilic tendencies. (Innocent people don't give up millions and millions of dollars if they are innocent.) I also think he suffered from delusion of grandeur... had this been you or I, we'd have been sent for treatment. Yes, his parents fucked him up and fucked him up good. But, in my mind, that explains the behaviour, it doesn't excuse it.

He also happened to be talented. Very talented... or just talented... hard to say. But talented for sure. And definitely VERY successful... and here is the issue. Because of the success people just assumed it was his temperament, instead of trying to telling it to him like it is. Effectively, he needed someone to tell him "no."

As for all this... well, I think it's about time it all stopped and we just got on with things.

Posted by: Nat at July 9, 2009 7:14 PM

I, too, am ambivalent at best about his death.

But, what I find more interesting: My dad was musing about all the press coverage and hooplah in the days following, and he said, "I mean, you'd think the president of the United States died or something!"*

And it occured to me--is it possible that he was the most famous person in the world? I don't mean to be simplistic, but can you think of anyone else MORE globally famous, perhaps other than a character such as Mickey Mouse (or Joe Cool, as the anti-tobacco movement would have us believe)?? I mean, his celebrity was larger than life! Really, I haven't been able to come up with a living person who I think is more famous than him. I bet that more people in third-world countries have heard of him than, say, heck! Barack Obama!

*Huh, as I typed that sentence, I could feel big brother log on to my computer.

Posted by: Sabrina at July 9, 2009 9:10 PM

I'd go with troubled freak.

In one way, it's so much more complicated than just troubled or a freak show. But in another, I just can't stand for a child molester.

Posted by: Jennifer at July 9, 2009 11:02 PM

I guess I wouldn't call him a genius, but his many many songs (a lot I had forgotten about until the MJ marathons) were a backdrop to my youth, so I did feel some sadness (perhaps realizing that my youth is gone too), but didn't know otherwise how to react to his death.

Luckily, I happened to go to the Stevie Wonder concert the next night (free tickets) and Stevie's tribute to Michael was just right. He was someone who could rightfully do a tribute (as say Guns and Roses doing one that same night). Stevie covered some Michael Jackson songs, and at the end of the concert, after the bows, he and his band stayed on stage and listened to a montage of MJ songs. You could see Stevie crying.

It was a good way for me to say goodbye to a part of my youth that had Michael Jackson as it's backdrop.

Posted by: Heather at July 10, 2009 9:43 AM

Wait - Michael Jackson is dead? When did you hear about this?

Posted by: robert muller at July 10, 2009 12:57 PM

Little of both...he did change the face of pop music...but that all fades away in the face of being an alleged child toucher. I don't know how much more of the news I can take and trust me, when they finally bury him? It's gonna start a whole new cycle...ugh!

Posted by: The Stiletto Mom at July 11, 2009 8:09 AM

So happy to read this! I was very surprised at the shock and grief of so so many people.

Glad to know I'm not the only one who felt like "huh what's this all about now?" I mean the guy was a good entertainer, with issues for sure, but still just a good entertainer.

The hype is a little alienating, really.

Posted by: mikkie at July 13, 2009 8:51 AM