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Thursday, June 25, 2009

In his half-century of life Michael Jackson saw the world changing at a horrifying speed, and this left him indelible scars in his body and mind. It wasn't a cardiac arrest that killed Michael Jackson. The same way it happened with Marilyn Monroe, it was us who murdered him. Us who were entertained by him. And we crowned him King Of Pop.

Michael Joseph Jackson was, above all, an entertainer. From the beginning, he had talent, charisma, and something that appealed to all races, social levels and timezones. Michael Jackson fans in Japan would go as crazy as the crowds in the U.S. Midwest during his incredible late 80's tours.

The first burst of fame came in the late 60's with the Jackson 5, a band of brothers signed by Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Jr. and managed with an iron hand by Joe Jackson, the brutal father. The kids sounded great, in harmony, and those melodies can easily locate themselves in between your ears for hours. "I'll Be There" is one of them.

Then in 1979, at the age of 21, Michael surprised the world with a solo album that was just incredible. Off The Wall rebooted the disco craze with two cool songs: "Rock With You" and "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." On the album cover he looked young, beautiful, and mostly important, black and unaltered. He was having fun being a solo artist, and he was about to do something big: reach the top. That simple. But the top can be a lonely place if you are not prepared to face it.

We can understand the pop music evolution better by measuring it in three big events: Elvis Presley recording his first song in Sun Studios in Memphis, the Beatles performing on Sullivan, and the release of Michael Jackson's Thriller album in 1982. I remember it was all over the airwaves and it was unstoppable. MTV had recently started broadcasting and the videos of "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" were on heavy rotation. Then the "Thriller" video came and Pop music reached a higher ground. Not just because of the quality of the Quincy Jones produced music, but of the barriers Michael Jackson was tearing down. A young black singer celebrating his blackness singing for all audiences of all nationalities, colors and creed. A black man dressed "better" or more radiant than the very President of the United States. Just look at the picture, doesn't he look like the king of a different realm?

In recent years, Michael Jackson was not doing OK and all of us knew it, but we just let things happen and no one dared to tell him what he was doing wasn't right. We made fun of him after the pedophile allegations scandals started, but before that, it was like the Emperor's New Clothes fable. It might all have started after that fateful night in February 1984 when he took home nine Grammy awards for Thriller. There was something wrong with him right there. Dressed in glitter, with sunglasses at night, pretending to be above us all like a demigod. He was not being real sitting among the audience. He was either carrying a chimp or Webster. He was not exactly androgynous, but his voice was extremely high and in tune. He was creating not only a new, original act in Popular Music but in Popular Culture. We can agree, above all the Michael Jackson stories you might have heard, that he was unique.

So unique that when the Bad album came three years later and the cover couldn't be more shocking: Was he wearing make up? What happened to his nose? Is that Diana Ross? He definitely did something to his skin, bleaching and tucking it and later he blatantly lied to Oprah Winfrey and millions of viewers.

The worst was yet to come with the cancellation of the 1993 Dangerous Tour due to a child molestation scandal. It seems it kept happening through the years and nobody said or did anything to stop it. Michael was bringing kids to Neverland and having fun with them; throwing water balloons and riding carousels. Was Michael Jackson a completely naive and innocent Peter-Pan alike guy who never grew up or, hiding his true intentions behind that mask, a pedophile doing whatever he wanted with all his millions? I personally think the first. He was used and abused by people who were taking advantage of his innocence, and telling him stuff like it's OK to throw sleepover parties with 9 year old kids whose parents are willing to let them go with him. Then came the wedding with Lisa Marie Presley, which my friend Jorge Cox, the biggest Elvis fan who ever walked on earth, considered it as "another Michael Jackson purchase, along with the Elephant man's skeleton and the Beatles' catalog."

That 2003 ABC special, Living With Michael Jackson, was the icing of the cake. Michael holding hands with a 13-year old kid, claiming he sleeps with him regularly. A 13-year old boy was being denied of his innocence. The world was watching. That was it for me. There was a horrible Cat-and-Mouse game going on between Michael and the tabloids. And both sides were at fault.

Michael, by dying, brought us together for a few moments again. We are buying his records again, and record stores are thriving. Right now, as you read this, he's becoming a legend. People will remember him for his good music, specially for Thriller and Off The Wall. He is already in the Pop Culture hall of fame for the Moonwalk, for that hat and white, diamond-incrusted glove. But I personally, will remember him as a guy who didn't know how to be average, and that did cost him everything.


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