The last fifteen years of Jackson’s life were a tragic spiral. That the end of Neverland—not the ranch but the vision in Jackson’s head—loomed large was certainly true. In the final analysis, it was likely reality, not pain, that Jackson was medicating himself from. Whatever else happened in Holmby, it is not beyond reason to suspect Michael—either purposefully or passively—was ultimately responsible for his own exit. In the end, of course, the question should be, “Did Michael Jackson know Jesus?” From all available evidence, one might conclude that he did not, but only God knows what occurred between Jackson and Himself in those final moments.
In prepping this issue, I reflected upon how silent Michael
Jackson’s accusers had grown in the five years since his
passing. My essay is tough on Jackson as well as the either
clueless or greed-driven parents of the young boys the singer
kept company with, Jackson having allegedly paid out an
estimated $34 million to
silence the families of 24 young boys and God only knows how
many others we’ll never know about. None of which diminishes the
awe-inspiring power of Jackson’s magical gifts which are worth
remembering and even celebrating, despite the terrible sadness
of the man-child’s sad reality. As it turns out, Jackson’s
accusers have not, in fact, gone silent, including two men who
staunchly defended Jackson in his 2005 child molestation trial
and who have now convincingly recanted their sworn testimonies.
Jermaine Jackson, still rocking his 1980’s-era flattop Jherri
Curl and whose literal occupation is riding Michael’s coffin to
the bank, continues to act as the Family Bigmouth, competing
with sister LaToya for most clueless Jackson motormouth. Money
is, of course, at the center of all of this sadness as the five
Jackson brothers (with the possible exception of Tito) all seem
vapid, self-absorbed men who refuse to come to terms with
the fact their only marketable skill is their having stood
behind Michael onstage for half their lives. The family as a
whole seems completely unconcerned with the terrible lifelong
damage Michael’s alleged appetite for young boys has inflicted
on these now-men and their families. The Jacksons’ selfishness
extends well beyond that enormous circle as their defense of
Michael continues to hamper real progress in protecting kids
from child predators; the untold millions of lost boys and lost
girls victimized every year around the world. Imagine how much
good the Jackson family could do in this area if they’d just
stop lying. Unfortunately, lying is now literally the family
business, as lying is the only thing between Jermaine Jackson
and a grill job at Burger King.
Even sadder, legendary producer Quincy Jones, who arguably created the Michael Jackson superstar of Thriller (Quincy produced Jackson’s biggest-selling hit albums Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad before Michael’s ego told him to go it alone. Jackson has never delivered a record as good as any of Jones’) has joined the bandwagon of lawsuits against the Jackson estate, claiming Sony altered master tapes for the stillborn 2010 posthumous mess Michael to avoid having to pay Jones royalties. Jones also alleges royalties owed for the documentary This Is It and other performances, and dismissed Jackson’s hot new posthumous release, Xscape, as a money grab.
Through all the weeds, it’s tough to find a place where we can simply enjoy Jackson’s brilliance. Money grab or not, Xscape certainly achieves that goal. Executive Producer L.A. Reid and an all-star production team took a handful of second-rate castoffs and spun straw into gold (if not platinum) by creating a faux-Michael: the Michael we all fondly remember, the Michael we always hoped to discover with each new release, only to instead bring home crowded, uneven collections marred by psychotic rambling about “the man” and loathsome, self-indulgent dirges we’d have to track-skip around. Xscape, is a delightful if brief visit to Jackson’s heyday, the producers no longer being hampered or concerned by what the actual Jackson—his creativity blurred by prescription drugs—wanted but now freed to create an idealized Jackson. In stark contrast to the very creepy and poorly done holographic Jackson construct from the AMA's, Xscape creates a family-friendly fantasy of what Jackson' records might sound like if Jackson himself didn’t consistently ruin them with sound effects and gouge-my-eyes-out Heal The World-type pabulum. As I mention here, Xscape lives up its title as pure escapism because the real Michael Jackson was no longer disciplined enough or, frankly, capable of delivering a disc this good.
History is, I imagine, still writing Jackson’s biography, as it is a difficult balancing act to find oneself in a place to appreciate Jackson’s genius without feeling guilty about it. That is, I suppose, the nature of my rambling essay, which we revisit this month, as I teeter between praise and scorn for this, one of the greatest talents in entertainment history.
The King: Jackson beneath massive airbrushing, nostril prosthesis and wig.
One Bad Apple
During an appearance on CBS' Late Show With David Letterman,
Letterman remarked to Donnie Osmond how the Jackson 5 were kind
of like the black version of the Osmonds. Letterman is one of my
favorite entertainers, but his more than occasional sloppy
interview prep often leaves me gasping, as this did. A singing
religious family, similar to the Jacksons, the Osmonds had
indeed been singing as a family group a lot longer than had the
Jacksons, but MGM Records recruited the Osmonds specifically in
response to the success of the Jackson 5, in an effort to do
what white entertainers had historically done: exploit ideas and
even the intellectual property of blacks. Record producer Rick
Hall crafted an extremely J5 sound at the famous Muscle Shoals
studios in Alabama, the studio that launched the careers of
Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, and the Staple Singers among
others. Every black kid in America knew what Donnie and the
Osmonds were about the minute "One Bad Apple" hit the charts in
1971—this was a declaration of war against the Jackson 5 and,
specifically, young Michael. From all appearances it seemed the
"rivalry" between the two groups was largely fabricated for the
teen magazines, and while the Osmonds indeed enjoyed great
success initially at the Jackson 5's expense, the Osmonds soon
moved more toward rock and roll and then television variety. The
Osmonds factored very little in the continuing meteoric rise of
the Jacksons. As talented a kid as Donnie was, Michael Jackson
wasn't merely a good singer and dancer. His was a gift that
defied description and duplication. Instincts and dynamics that
went far beyond Donnie Osmond's echo of those gifts.
However, Michael's eccentricities soon began to overshadow those gifts. Ever since Eddie Murphy broke the taboo—it was virtually against the law to make fun of Michael before Murphy’s 1983 Delirious HBO special—Michael Jackson has been a favorite butt of cruel jokes. Michael was always looked upon as a kind of saint. A harmless, devoutly religious, strange young man who may or may not have been a special needs person and thus well beyond the scrutiny of conventional social norms. He was a big, shy kid whose ruthlessness was only apparent onstage or in very sharp business decisions like beating his close friend Paul McCartney to the punch in purchasing the Beatles’ music catalog. We thought nothing, nothing at all, of Jackson’s shy flirtations with America’s Virgin Brooke Shields, and it never once occurred to us that it was pint-sized Emmanuel Lewis, rather than Shields, who may have been the object of Jackson’s affections.
The guy was so famous we certainly considered it possible (and for those of us who were at least marginally closer to actually knowing him—a friend of a friend sort of thing—considered it probable) that Jackson’s sleepovers with young boys were, to varying degrees, at least as harmless as he suggested. That he rarely, if ever, invited little girls to his bed suggested an odd sense of propriety reinforcing Jackson's claims that the sleepovers were harmless. The sheer inappropriateness of the notion of underage girls in his bed could make Jackson blush. He considered himself a boy, and boys play was, he maintained, all that was happening behind closed and locked and alarmed doors. And we at least partially bought it—that’s how famous the guy was. He was so famous that, for years, he likely molested and abused young boys right in front of us and we turned our head.