We headed up to New Hampshire for a short vacation starting last Wednesday and on the way up I pulled up the Jam's Sound Affects on my iPod.
Perhaps because I once read a quote from Paul Weller in which he claimed Sound Affects was intended to sound like a cross between The Beatles' Revolver and Michael Jackson's Off The Wall, I started thinking about Jackson. I said to my wife something to the effect of "someday we're going to find out all the weird stuff that has been going on with Jackson the over past 10+ years, and it won't be pretty." I didn't realize it at the time, but I was talking about what would happen when Jackson died, which coincidentally happened the next day.
Because we were staying in a motel, I had access to cable news (no cable at home), and its weird world of wall-to-wall coverage of major and not-so-major events. It was strange hearing the different takes on Jackson. Depending on who you believe, Michael Jackson was either the closest thing the world has ever seen to a perfect human being (a child-like, innocent and kind humanitarian who only thought of others) or history's greatest monster (a master manipulator, with bizarre, twisted and seemingly insatiable appetites). Of all the people I heard voicing their opinion on Jackson on CNN, MSNBC and Fox, no one outside of Deepak Chopra offered anything close to a nuanced opinion on the man and his personal life. (Chopra clearly had great affection for Jackson as a person, but also seemed intensely aware of his flaws.)
Personally, I do not have any special insight into Michael Jackson, other than to fall back on cliches like "the truth probably lies somewhere in between," which, given the wide chasm between the two camps of opinion, hardly seems adequate either. In any case, the world doesn't need my opinion on who Michael Jackson really was, and not only because I honestly have no idea.
Perhaps the most prescient take on Michael Jackson was offered in episode one of the third season of The Simpsons, in which Jackson lent his voice to Leon Kompowsky, a bricklayer from Patterson, NJ and mental patient laboring under the illusion that he is Michael Jackson. Though Bart is initially let down when Homer brings home a "big white guy who thinks he's the little black guy" instead of the real Michael Jackson, Kompowsky still manages to save the day by helping Bart write a song for Lisa's birthday.
In other words, maybe who Michael Jackson really was matters less than who people (his fans and detractors alike) think he was. Michael Jackson's music has brought joy to millions, and no doubt will continue to do so for many, many years. But he is also there for those of us who need monsters to demonize as well.