Reaction Jackson

By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  July 6, 2009

Ten years after a young Michael sang "whatever it takes I'm willing to do" on Soul Train, he was altering the lyrics of "Billie Jean" to jazz up the Pepsi Generation. Then his hair caught fire. It was then, at the age of eight, that I felt my understanding of Michael Jackson split into the two distinct halves I'd maintain until now, when neither remains. There was the living, breathing, singing, spinning physical Michael whom I last spotted in white lounging across the panels of my Thriller cassette's sleeve. And there was the image, the idea, the commodity, the malleable likeness and willful spectacle of Jackson. We surrendered to the former; he surrendered to the latter.

Given that the last half of his life was increasingly characterized by his surreal removal from a musical culture largely grown from his gifts, it's not surprising that he's often most fully present when realized through others. Jeff Koons found humanity in his alien extravagance. The impersonator protagonist of Harmony Korine's Mister Lonely found sustenance in his image. Pepsi found lots of money just by casting crowds to chase him.

Real stars burn out long before they actually disappear, and when they do, it's not for us to replace them — rather we have to redraw our constellations. On behalf of the media, I'd like to apologize for how badly we handled his life and hope that we can be better custodians of his future as a memory. Jackson had an unknowable power within him, but even he couldn't ruin a life so big all by himself. This drag was a team effort: us, him, and human nature.

Click here for more on Michael Jackson from the Phoenix archives.

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