You could probably go to peasants working a rice patty in Cambodia, or a retirement home for centenarian Jewish immigrants in Boca Raton, or to a group of aborigones in the Outback, or the butler in a Habsburg palace somewhere in central Europe, or a cab driver in Cairo, or a Kalahari bushman in Namibia, or a former KGB operative living in Archangelsk, or a class of 10 year olds in Liverpool, or a Taliban warlord hiding north of Kabul, or an Eskimo fueling his snowmobile, etc., and- providing you speak the language- tell them “Michael Jackson is dead”, and while they may not burst out crying or feel anything emotionally, most and possibly all would know who he was. More people would recognize a picture of his face(s) than would recognize Obama’s probably- possibly more than would recognize a picture of Jesus when you move out of Christian countries.
I’m trying to think of other living artists you could do that with- Paul McCartney maybe, or Mick Jagger, that’s about it. Unlike McCartney and Mick Jagger, whose personal lives are known about to a degree but not particularly interesting (they’ve both shagged a lot of women, married some women and had a bunch of kids), Jackson’s private life was probably more famous than his music. The chimp, the kids, the surgeries, the ever changing appearance, the allegations, the children who were allegedly his and traveled the world looking like the child brides of a sultan. I knew *many *times more about him than I know about my next door neighbor.
Neverland: how many celebrities own a house that is famous? Elvis and… well, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford had one in their day but… actually, you’d probably have to go back to the silent film days to find a star as universally recognized as Michael Jackson; Valentino might would have cut it.
And to borrow the line from Inherit the Wind: “A giant once lived in that body”. He did things others couldn’t- the voice, the dancing (omg, the dancing- James Brown on his best day in his prime couldn’t touch him, he had those “humans can’t do that!” moves), and apparently still did. He was a world class lunatic who went through two trials for child molestation allegations- the suspicion of such a thing would destroy most careers, let alone a trial- yet when his London concerts were announced, 25 years after his heyday and after the scandals, they sold out instantly. If he’d added 30 more concerts the same thing would have happened.
No question that the media is having an orgy that would make Caligula blush over the whole matter, which is to be expected. On Daily Show Stewart said something to the effect of you know the world is upside down when Corey Feldman is interviewed as an expert on something; I half expect the kid who cuts his sister’s grass to be interviewed before it’s done with. But, it’s warranted.
I never bought a single album, CD, record, or piece of Michael Jackson merchandise. Not a boycott- I’m just not into pop- yet God knows how many hours of conversation I’ve had about him if you add it all up. And you somehow knew he wasn’t going to die of routine cancer at an old age.
He was a demigod, no question about it. He was something other than human, almost literally: in morality, in appearance, in lifestyle, in movement, and most of all in talent. It was as if the confines of a mortal bodily avatar were constraining to him and he didn’t know how to act. This is probably the closest you’ll be able to say you saw the funeral rites for a god.
It’s just a pity that you’ll see them 39 times a day for the next 6 months.
And that he fucked kids.