Sunday, November 08, 2009

This is It

I haven't had much positive to say about MJ over the past decade or so. He was so, well, strange, and whenever it seemed like he might finally fade into the background and raise his kids, he would do something creepy or bizarre that confirmed how troubled he was and that he was passing that trouble along to his children. And as much as I love to dance around my living room to Beat It, all the available evidence suggested that the plastic surgery and the financial and legal problems and the rumored drug use had combined to sap his health and his talent. I wasn't even that sad when he died because the part of him I loved, his magic, appeared to have evaporated years ago.

But I did love him once upon a time, and I'd heard "This is It" was worth seeing. So I saw it.

And it made me sad and happy. It was the closest I'll ever get to seeing a Michael Jackson concert. It reminded what a genius he was. It made me question the news reports about his health. It made me think of him as a man and a professional, not just an over-the-hill singer who had had way too much plastic surgery and dangled his baby over a balcony.

If Michael Jackson had allowed the world a glimpse of his life like the one I saw in "This is It," things might have been different for him. He seemed capable, physically healthy, in tune, and professional. I've read that he wished he could live his whole life onstage, and I can see why. He was skinny and his nose looked weird, but he knew exactly how to act up there, and exactly what he wanted, and he was humble but directive. He danced and sang like a gracefully aging pop star, not like the slightly crippled and over-dubbed skeleton he seemed in the press. It's true, he couldn't move like he did in 1983, but neither can I, and neither can Madonna.

Unfortunately it seems like he was incapable of living a happy or normal offstage life. He hated the press so he became a recluse, which only made him seem incapacitated and strange. He made his kids wear masks and he left the country and then held cryptic press conferences. He spent a lot of time with "spiritual advisors" who then sold their stories to the tabloids. His relationships with women were, well, inexplicable, and his relationships with young children were, at the very least, suspicious. His family and his upbringing were probably partially to blame.

But it seems to me that he had one main problem, which was also his gift: he was simply a vessel for his art, and outside that art, he absolutely couldn't figure out how to function. (Bear with me here for the artsy fartsy section. I just can't think of this in any other way.) Michael Jackson's body and his life offstage were seriously flawed, but his art was close to perfect. And when I say his art, I mean the whole package - the songwriting, the charisma, the singing, and of course the dancing. The film makes clear that it was all of a piece for him. He didn't write a song, then learn to sing it, then choreograph a dance. It all came to him at one time, and when he sang, it appeared that he had to move; he couldn't imagine music without song, without dance. And I can only imagine if he lived his whole life knowing the perfection of that feeling, he was flummoxed by the imperfection of every other aspect of his existence.

I wonder if that's why he was enamored with the innocence of children, and why he kept searching for spiritual fulfillment, and why he took drugs to help him sleep, and why he couldn't stop shaving off parts of his nose.

No comments: