27 June 2009

The King is dead

Michael Jackson
King of Pop

It seems I'm not alone in being surprised to find myself affected by his passing. The night before last, when the news was fresh, a friendly madman asked me for change and expressed his mourning. The following day, as I walked to work, I passed a dozen boxes offering me the San Francisco Chronicle with an enormous picture of Jackson on the front page: a concert photograph of him in motion, exuberant and gorgeous at the height of his powers, before everything we think of now when we hear his name.

Let's not kid ourselves about the crimes. But I think we can do that at the same time as we remember the uncanny brilliance he had for a time. Momus dug up an old essay of his naming well the paradoxes that so many saw in him.

He's black yet also white. He's adult yet also a child. He's male yet also female. He's gay yet also straight. He has children, yet he's also never fucked their mothers. He's wearing a mask, yet he's also showing his real self. He's walking yet also sliding. He's guilty yet also innocent. He's American yet also global. He's sexual yet also sexless. He's immensely rich yet also bankrupt. He's Judy Garland yet also Andy Warhol. He's real yet also synthetic. He's crazy yet also sane, human yet also robot, from the present yet also from the future. He declares his songs heavensent, and yet he also constructs them himself. He's the luckiest man in the world yet the unluckiest. His work is play. He's bad, yet also good. He's blessed yet also cursed. He's alive, but only in theory.

Seeing the picture of the Michael Jackson whom I had forgotten, I had a daydream yesterday morning.

On the night of Elvis' death Michael Jackson is nineteen years old.

The King's shade comes to Michael in a dream. The world is going to need a King of Pop, Elvis tells him. He plays a single note on his guitar and for just the length of a single heartbeat the note hangs in the air and Michael can feel what it will be like, to hold perfect poise in front of an audience of a hundred thousand, their voices raised with his in joy.

The shade of Robert Johnson is there too. The Grandfather offers a secret and a warning.

I can tell you how it can be you. My legend is true, and I can teach you how I did it. But the legend is also right that there's a price. You will be mocked. You will go mad. You will hack at your own flesh. You will commit the worst crime you can imagine. You will burn.

Michael is heedless of the warning. The moment of stardom which Elvis showed him is singing in his heart.

Michael wakes at midnight. He rises, donning shoes, a coat, and gloves against the night air. He steps outside and walks down the street to the crossroads, where the Devil is waiting. The Devil offers his hand, and its grip burns away Michael's glove. Though Michael's flesh remains unharmed, the pain is real and excruciating.

Michael smiles his best on-stage smile and does not let go until the Devil confirms that the deal is done.