I was in the car with my wife driving along the Boulevard to pick up the mail, hoping quietly that I would find a significant contribution, when I turned on the radio to see if I could catch a few minutes with Michael Savage. What I got was a news report announcing that Michael Jackson was dead. I was surprised by the depth of my reaction, my sense of loss, when I heard the news. I was not a fan of Jackson, in the sense that I did not collect his music, never thought to attend one of his concerts, did not follow his career and so on.
But there it was, a deep sense of regret that took me by surprise. Over the last couple days I had heard about the deaths of Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, both personalities that I had spent “media” time with for many years. I accepted their passing with the usual equanimity with which we usually accept the deaths of media personalities. They are known to us, but we do not know them.
Michael Jackson being dead, all of a sudden and just like that, was another thing for me. He was a singular figure as an artist. Incomparable in the field in which he worked. His private life was a mess but I just accepted that. What can I compare it to? If only we knew how the inner life of an Elie Wiesel functions, or a Charles Manson, would we find anything less strange? With Jackson, it just all hung out there. And he could be very charming, in a pretty, boyish way, as I was reminded last night by an old television clip where his new wife, the former Ms. Presley, was being interviewed by Diane Sawyer and Jackson was horsing around with Presley like some kid and laughing beautifully.
But the image that memory returned to again and again was Jackson as a teenager playing the role, I don’t even recall the role specifically, but I think it was in a scene from the remake of the Wizard of Oz where he was tied to a post in some kind of climatic event and there, motionless, he begins to sing with a melodic purity and strength that was astonishing. It was as if a beautiful music were welling up from, from nothing. For the rest, because the television is full of it, I have seen again the old clips from his stage shows etc. and am again taken with his unique virtuosity.
Michael Hoffman has written an interesting account of Jackson and what he might represent as a contemporary American cultural icon