By Carter B. Horsley
Michael Jackson was the quintessential
"pop" star of America and of the world whose talent
was magical and whose life was mysterious and very, very fascinating.
He fused a deliciously sweet,
almost child-like personality with the almost frightening authority
of a disco deity barking lyrics that evoked love but also invoked
He was the ultimate "transformative"
Not only was he a wonderful
singer who delivered hit after hit for decades, but he was also
the greatest dancer since Fred Astaire. Not a two-trick genius,
Jackson was also a sensational, explosive force in fashion who
was exceedingly comfortably in sleek and shiny red leather jackets,
military epaulets, glittery gloves, medium-brimmed hats, dark
glasses, sequin suits, white socks and pants that never covered
his freedom-seeking ankles and gold lamé fit for a pharoah.
The public trappings of the
man were as mythical as his private life was agonizing with serious
medical problems that substantially changed the appearance of
his face more than once and with difficult charges about his personal
conduct and his financial responsibility.
The purported negativity of
some aspects of personal life, however, did not crucify him for
the billions of people in the world who were awed by him and loved
him: he wrote the "We Are The World" anthem whose lines
of lyrics were sung by different great singers in the video that
anchored Bob Geldorf's remarkable, memorable and very great 24-hour
Live Aid concert in 1985 that was the dawn of instant world-wide
communication and common purpose. In a later video, Jackson included
a photograph of Geldorf along with ones of Gandhi, Martin Luther
King, John F. Kennedy and Mother Teresa.
One of his life-long girlfriends
was Elizabeth Taylor, the great actress and beauty and many major
entertainers appeared briefly in some of his videos. Marlon Brando,
for example, never looked happier than in a very brief appearance
in one of the videos.
Jackson was a member of the
Jackson Five and quickly became the group's lead singer in the
1960s and 1970s produced a long list of very popular and excellent
songs. Some child stars do not fade away in the movies but it
is very rare in music. Indeed, child stars are very rare in popular
music. His long and successful run as the group's lead singer
was quite remarkable in an age of one-song diddies oddled by I-don't-remember-the-name-and-I-can't-distinguish-the-lyrics.
Jackson made almost everybody
want their MTV as he became the network's first major black video
performer who just happened to "light" the fire that
set off the greatest cultural revolution in history as music videos
not only by Jackson but almost 50 other singers and their groups
blended movies and theater and choreography and photography and
music into the ultimate art form that not only made theater seem
primitive but also heralded the true complexity and potential
of the modern, multi-tasking world. Jackson's "Thriller"
video was a 13-minute-long musical film that combined aspects
of "West Side Story" with "Night of the Living
Dead" in an extremely campy and rousing video that just knocked
the socks off all viewers with its ensemble of fabulous dancers
following Jackson's imitable lead.
The "Thriller" album remains the biggest seller of all
time and the title track combines Jackson's incredible Janus-like
personality of dazzling, tender smiles and a horrific ferocity
that is hard to reconcile with his otherwise passive demeanor.
At the very end of the video he turns around to face the viewers
and smiles but a smile that could belong to a lover or a villain.
The "Superman" quality
of Jackson is even more startling that Demi Moore's bold and voluptuous
stripper. The intensity with which he spurted his lyrics was almost
unimaginable: he became a veritable major force and source of
vitality that was undeniable and unstoppable.
Jackson had an electrifying
authority that was stupendous. A glance from him could galvanize
his gang or halt a pharoah's army.
Madonna is the only other contemporary
singer who could also dance and her "Vogue" video is
almost as good as some of the best of Jackson's as was Peter Gabriel's
fabulous and haunting "Shock the Monkey."
Jackson quite simply shocked
the world with his dancing and in the heyday of the early 80s
when he stood on his toes in "Billie Jean" and showed
the world his "moonwalk" on a program celebrating the
25th anniversary of Motown Records it was very easy to almost
be casual about his dancing: the blur of a few knee sweeps and
his whirling spinning combined with superfast, and very slick,
editing made it appear almost easy, yet amazing.
Last night as I scanned cable
television for images to accompany the article on him I felt I
had to write I luckily came on the BET channel that was running
a "Michael Marathon." I stayed up most of the night
watching in awe as there were many Jackson videos that I had never
seen because I had long ago stopped watching MTV because I can't
stand hip-hop and rap music that overtook the once great network.
The latter videos were a revelation. In "Earth Song"
Jackson does not appear on screen but the video images are a magnificent
appeal to save the environment. In "They Don't Care About
Us," which was directed by Spike Lee, the images of human
suffering are indelible and very, very moving. In "Smooth
Criminal" and "Blood on the Dance Floor" Jackson
dances divinely as a blur. In "Stranger in Moscow" the
photography is only black and white but of a quality that is spellbinding
and the cinematography of rain drops and people mesmerizing. In
"Scream" he and his sister Janet Jackson burn up the
screen in black and white with white-hot dancing and singing and
In these latter videos we can
see that Jackson's dancing prowess was not a millisecond marvel
and that he was always experimenting and creating, often in very
subtle and sophisticated ways.
Jackson's very, very, very
thin legs were made for angularity and whipsaw kicking and mid-air
halts and hesitations and twists. Fred Astaire always insisted
that he be filmed "full-body" because he wanted to make
sure people could see his footwork as well as his overall grace.
For a while the world was obsessed with Jackson's moonwalk. It
will take many more years of watching to fully appreciate Jackson's
equally expressive and all-encompassing armwork.
He has been quoted as saying
that he enjoyed working on the movie "The Wiz" in which
he portrayed "Scarecrow."
Jackson was a scarecrow whose
spindly body arose out of and churned the fields of dreck and
Up until this early morning,
I have always felt for the last four or five decades that Miles
Davis was God.
Tonight I feel that Miles would
very much have liked to have accompanied Michael who "Never
Can Say Goodbye..."
The fine lead editorial
in the Daily News June 27, 2009 was entitled "Wild and Wonderful"
and it maintained that "we shared the planet for half a century
with an impossible man," adding that "His voice could
be mocked by the worst comedian but couldn't be rivaled by the
best singer....He was a sex symbol, at least for a while, but
no one seemed more sexless. From age 11 on, he caught the spotlight
as a magnifying glass catches the sun, focusing it and shooting
itg out as concentrated heat and light...." (6/27/09)