The King Has Popped

I was more surprised than saddened when I heard Michael Jackson had died. It’s not like I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about him, or even listening to his music, so to be suddenly deprived of his existence wasn’t a huge loss. But the fact of it happening, coming as the media was gearing up its Farrah Fawcett tributes and forcing them to shuffle her to the back page, that was a little surprising. And maybe a little more than it should have been.

I mean, can anybody honestly say they looked at Jackson in the last ten years or so and thought, “Yeah, he’s making it to sixty”? He seemed to treat his body as a fixer-upper opportunity, what with all the work he put into it. But for someone who seemed to spend so much time in hospitals, he sure didn’t look healthy. It was almost as if his fame and celebrity leached years out of him.

People were comparing his death to John Lennon’s, which I just can’t get behind. A guy dying from heart failure that may have been brought on by his own abuse of his body doesn’t strike me as tragic as a guy getting shot by some loon on the way home to see his wife and kid. Neither Lennon nor Jackson were saints, but I guess I can buy into the pop deification of Lennon a little easier because Lennon seemed to actually stand for something beyond facial reconstruction and personal amusement parks.

And then there’s the whole kid thing. Whether you think his relationships with children crossed into the inappropriate or not, there was still something unsettling about them. As if he never really grew up. As if his early fame never really allowed him to.

The saddest thing is that he seemed more a celebrity for his weirdness than for his talent. People called him the King of Pop, in imitation of Elvis’ King of Rock and Roll. And both ended up as sort of parodies of themselves in the end, their crowns still shining with the gems that earned them, but resting on brows that maybe didn’t merit the title any longer.

But that didn’t stop the ghouls from descending on the hospital and on Neverland Ranch. People who probably didn’t even own a Michael Jackson album were doing the Sad Shocked routine on TV, called out by some need to be where the hip happening was, or to be able to tell their grandkids they were there when Jackson died. They came not to celebrate his life, but to attach themselves to his death.

I guess it makes sense for the death of a guy who had a pet chimp to turn into a circus.


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