Knowing What Can Destroy a Dream: Blackwolf on the Jackson Verdict
"I was there at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in March, 1983 when Michael Jackson first showed the world his Moonwalk. It was electrifying.
"He moved with such flair that the next morning, I called up one of his managers to make sure that this was not some kind of trick. A conveyor belt, perhaps, set into the stage?
"The trick, of course, was not in the dancing. It was in fact within the man, a one-time child star on the threshold of an amazing second act in which he would journey from awkward adolescence into global superstardom. That night, in the midst of his former Motown colleagues --- including such legendary artists as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, and especially Diana Ross, all whom were on hand to record their segments for the now-classic NBC special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, Jackson dared exude such confidence that there seemed to be no limit to either his talent or his imagination. It is that moment that I pinpoint now as his unofficial coronation, at the age of 24, as the King of Pop.
"Within months, this man would change the way people saw and heard pop music, uleashing in his wake an influence that rivaled that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He revolutionized pop music videos by infusing them with the ambition and craft of heretofore mere short films --- and he made rhtyhm and blues so sensual and irresistible that, even after its eventual partnering with hip-hop, it displaced rock n' roll per se as THE dominat sound in modern American pop.
"It's easy to forget now, looking at the freakish spectacle that Jackson has since become, that there was a time when he was once the most commanding figure in all of pop music. Yet, even at the height of his moonwalking triumph, there were hints of the destructive obsession that ultimately would derail his career. Suddenly, he had become more captivated by the constant pursuit of celebrity than he would have been by artistic innovation.
"A year after the taping of Motown 25, I spent time with Jackson during his "Victory" tour, during which he had hoped to organize a family photo book that he wanted to do for Doubleday, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as the project's editor. As it turned out, my involvement with the book was short-lived, but the experience allowed me to observe one of pop's most fascinating figures at unusually close range.
"At the time, Jackson was still living at his parents' home, behind a massive gate on a busy street just off of Ventura Boulevard in Encino. One day, he invited me over and led me to a cabinet in his upstairs room, which was filled with dolls and life-sized mannequins. Here was his personal fairy-tale land. He then pulled out a piece of paper upon which he had written what he called his Ten Rules of Stardom.
"I don't remember them all, but one of these Ten Rules was 'never get married' --- a voww he was later to break --- and another was, 'never give interviews.' As he described his list, Jackson went on and on and on about the importance of mystery and secrecy. Elvis never did interviews, he somberly explained to me. And folks were fascinated by Howard Hughes, he continued, because Hughes likewise kept much of his life a secret.
"Perhaps the greatest irony of the Jackson story is how this man who valued privacy above all else --- and for whom simply controlling his image had somehow been transmogrified into an art form --- found himself in recent months at the epicenter of probably the most privacy-invading spectacle imaginable, complete with law enforcement officials combing through every nook and cranny of his estate, including his bedroom; and several key witnesses offering sometimes graphically explicit testimony.
"When I was with him during the 1980's, I was struck by just how much he seemed to be literally living out his own showbiz fantasies, most notably the famous opening chase sequence in the Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night. We spent an hour one afternoon in a nearly deserted bookstore in Hollywood, going through the section of books on the movies. Jackson kept looking around to see if there was anyone noticing him. When someone did look in his direction, he began giggling in delight. By the time we got outside, he suddnly started running around the corner to the car. 'They were gonna come after us, I could tell,' he said. The two teens had vaguely looked in his direction and simply continued on their way.
"There was another time when Jackson had arranged for a library in Philadelphia to stay open late so that he could go through its entertainment shelves. He called everyone over to see what he'd found: a book about Fred Astaire, or pictures of, say, James Brown or Katherine Hepburn. He felt that it was his destiny to stand alongside them, having studied their breakthroughs and failures. And though none may yet know the real story behind his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley, what better move for somebody who wanted to become the most famous pop star of all time than to marry the daughter of the one singer who was even more famous? And by the same token, what could cement Jackson's fame-for-the-ages dreams more than being best friends with such stars for the ages as Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando?
"I've always suspected that Michael Jackson tended to encourage many of the tales of his eccentricity --- from the one about sleeping in an oxygen tank to the quest for the Elephant Man's bones. He bought so heavily into the mystique of Howard Huighes that he soon believed that the more eccentric he appeared, the greater would be the public's fascination.
"And it may have worked for a while, but it ultimately backfired once his music began losing its appeal. So driven was he by the need to outsell Thriller --- believed to be THE biggest-selling album on earth, EVER --- that he began to try to design his songs to fit various demographics and radio formats. He increasingly equated greatness with sales, and in such moments, you could sense that he was beginning to artistically lose his way.
"When his follow-up album, Bad, didn't even come close to outselling Thriller, he seemed to become even more desperate. Rather than making great music, he attempted to make more commercial music, and in the process rendered himself as becoming completely unlistenable. At the music got even worse, the eccentricities became more and more laughable. And before long, Michael Jackson had gone from figure of mystery to object of ridicule.
"And through it all, there were the children. Their interaction, from what I saw, looked innocent, but ultimately had poignant emotional overtones.
"I'll never forget a party he threw at a downtown hotel after his 1984 Dodger Stadium concert with his brothers. Brooke Shields, who had been, incredibly enough, linked to him as a romantic partner, showed up but had to cool her heels in the suite entryway for nearly an hour. As Shields waited, I looked through the open door leading to his bedroom and saw Jackson on the bed having a pillow fight with several youngsters. He looked as though he were having the time of his life!
"Yesterday, in what was surely a far greater turning point than his moonwalking debut 22 years ago, Michael Jackson won his freedom in a Santa Maria courtroom. Others may speculate on what that means in terms of whether the public will continue to accept him as a performer. As a critic, I must wonder whether the turmoil of these last few months could jolt him into reconnecting with that part of him which of old was more in love with the music than with the celebrity.
"Is it possible to ask for a third act? That's a verdict still to come."
I, frankly, can make that verdict happen sooner as opposed to later. That said, know that your Dragonmaster senses that, regardless of this acquittal, there is practically no chance that Michael Jackson's career will be resurrected any time soon. His obsessions and over-reliance on the power of eccentricity have proven instrumental in his undoing. It will, I believe, be some time before Michael Jackson can again earn the public trust. In that knowledge, I can only say that his only hope now is to purge himself of his demons once and for all. Unless he can do so, his reputation will be irrevocably tarnished, if it has not been thus already. It will only be a matter of time...........