Michael Jackson, troubled genius

27 06 2009

I had the cable TV news on the other day when news broke about Michael Jackson. I watched for the next two hours as reporters scrambled for the latest word…he was in full cardiac arrest, he was en route to the hospital, he was dead. As the story steadily took over all the airwaves, I kept watching. TV this immediate, and news of this magnitude, is something from which you can’t turn away.

I tried to remember the last time a news event had been so all-encompassing. The Iran protests? Baghdad falling? “Shock and awe”? Just twelve hours before, word of TV icon Farrah Fawcett’s death from cancer had broken, and she was already old news.

For the last several years, I had considered Michael Jackson to be pretty much a freakshow, what with the trial for child molestation, the bizarre marriages, the dangling baby, the incredible morphing face. But as the music channels began showing his videos around the clock, I was reminded of his musical genius, his stage presence, his mesmerizing dancing. It was evident even in the early footage from “American Bandstand,” with little 11-year-old Michael displaying the show-stopping voice and prodigious talent that would keep him in the public eye for his entire life. His video for “Leave Me Alone”, which poked good-natured fun at his tabloid-worthy weirdness and fishbowl existence, remains my favorite — a masterpiece of animation and satire as well as a fine piece of entertainment.

It was good to remember the days when Michael was a musician, dancer, and showman, not simply a freakshow. He hadn’t seemed at peace for a very long time. I hope he has found peace now.

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