life or death

Life mask of Michael Jackson made during the production of the Thriller video. 1983.

I’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson a lot lately. When Michael was alive I always imagined what kind of insane stories would come out about him after his death but here it is more than 3 years after that event and I’m not sure that one even half-way decent biography has emerged—trashy or otherwise. So without much alternative I read one called Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story, 1958-2009. The edition I got (from my local library) was published in July 2009, less than a month after Michael’s death, which must have given its author only a few days to update it (it had been out in various forms since 1991) and is consequently a mess with grammatical tense issues and ends in mid-air during Michael’s 2003 molestation trial only to pick back up (in a different font weight) after his death. The author is a (or was a—now I’m having tense issues) sometimes Jackson family insider who seemed to tread softly on certain aspects of his subject’s life just in case he could one day find himself in the financially advantageous position of being again useful to Michael. I have no idea how accurate the material in this book was for a number of reasons—mostly because the book’s subject was Michael Jackson, and who would put anything past him, and because the endnotes cite too many supermarket tabloids to be considered fully on the up and up.

Regardless of the quality of the book, I was still able to trace the general arc of Michael Jackson’s life and it goes from adorable to astonishing to frustrating to monstrous. The supporting cast features cameos or lengthy appearances by more stars than there are in the heavens in situations one more mind-boggling than the next. Michael chilling on the New Hampshire set of On Golden Pond with Katharine Hepburn and Jane and Henry Fonda; having dinner with Diana Ross and her then-boyfriend Gene Simmons; a 13 year-old Michael discovering a peephole in a backstage dressing room that allows him and his brother Marlon to peep in on Carol Channing undressing; Michael as Liza Minnelli‘s date to a party thrown by Swifty Lazar whose other guests that evening included Orson Welles, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Johnny Carson, Joan Collins and Jacqueline Bisset; Liza leaving that party to take Michael to meet her father; Don King being brought in by Michael’s father to promote the disaster that was the Jacksons’ Victory Tour; Michael being directed by world class movie directors Francis Ford Coppola, Sidney Lumet and Martin Scorcese in projects that range from the indulgent to the idiotic; Michael befriending Paul and Linda McCartney before Michael sort of screwed Paul over on a business deal and then befriending Yoko and Sean Ono after he did; Michael essentially demanding an audience with President Reagan and then supposedly acting the damn fool once he gets to the White House; Michael marrying Elvis’s weirdo daughter (the groom’s best man was some random 8 year-old boy) and freaking out his mother-in-law when Priscilla turned up unannounced at Neverland to find Michael in the living room playing with a dozen babies and so on and so on.

Like I said, the mind boggles. The story has almost an unwieldy amount of villans too: Notoriously awful father Joe Jackson, unscrupulous businessman Berry Gordy, Grade A slimeball Evan Chandler, snake-in-the-grass Martin Bashir, that weird Janet Arvizo woman and her weird J.C.Penney story, that disgusting swill Pepsi Cola (I’m a Coke drinker myself) and, of course, Michael Jackson himself, he with the incredible, alien song and dance talent who mutilated his face and spent the second half of his life and career whining about his lost childhood and acting like a creep—and we all saw Michael Jackson’s childhood and from an outsider’s point of view, it didn’t really look all that bad.

So after digesting all of this I decided that we should have, like, 2 global holidays commemorating Michael Jackson’s life. One where we celebrate the Michael Jackson who sang I Want You Back and did Thriller and Off the Wall. And a second one where were all just sit around and dwell on how profoundly weird Michael Jackson was.

Oh, Happy Halloween everyone.

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