Thursday, February 25, 2010


While travelling on the long flight to Sydney, I decided to turn on Kenny Ortega's homage to Michael Jackson, This Is It.

People who know me are aware of my intense, varied feelings for Michael. The first album I ever became obsessed with was Thriller. My family and I took a campervan trip through Europe in 1984, and I must have listened to that cassette (anyone who doesn't know what a cassette is can stop reading now) a hundred times as we crossed the continent. From there, it was a love affair, from Bad (terrible title track- the rest of the album is amazing), then Dangerous and even onto the woefully self-indulgent but still brilliant History album (anyone who questions that should revisit songs like World Song, Scream, Tabloid Junkie and They Don't Care About Us, for starters).

I know all the words. Can do all the moves. Okay, that last statement was a complete lie. But you get the picture. I was a fan.

Alas, it all fell apart. I have no idea if the man molested children, although my gut tells me something strange went on. What I do know is that the man's ego and insecurity flew way out of control and for many years he ceased to be the artist we had come to take for granted. I saw Jackson in 1997, immersed in a sea of 50,000 adoring fans. The bloated opening to the show featured an inane video gamish projection, ending with an actual rocket ship appearing on stage. I was almost asleep by the time Michael finally appeared in his shiny jump suit. He did his first spin.

And almost fell over.

I couldn't believe it. And yet I could. This was the same entertainment empire disguised as a
human being who'd had a massive inflatable likeness of himself shipped out on a boat onto Sydney Harbour. I was starting to suspect that Michael had become more enamoured of being the biggest, best, most sold, biggest-profit-made guy than an actual creative artist. The concert ended up confirming all those suspicions and more. It was a tragic, hollow rehash of all his hits, with absolutely nothing done to them to make them relevant and contemporary. Michael looked bored. And so was I.

I then had to suffer through the indignity of his 2002 "tribute" special. This was neither a tribute to anyone nor special. It was a farce. Whitney's cracked-out ribcage was CGI'd out by the show's producers, as was Michael's devastated face, starting to dissolve under the torrents of sweat, no doubt due to his complete lack of conditioning and practice. The man clearly hadn't been doing
much dancing or singing before the show. Even worse were the shots of him sitting with Macaulay Culkin and Elizabeth Taylor while the other performers were paying their respects. My god, the man looked positively off his face. The pill-popping had begun.

So, to cut a long story slightly shorter, I was burnt. My feelings were hurt. The guy had nothing left. I had watched the ABC documentary on him with that annoying English reporter and my scathing opinion was only strengthened by the vain, immature, self-centered display that Michael put on. I was stunned to hear he was "shocked" by the "spin" the documentary's producers put on the whole fiasco. Really, Michael?

Now here we were, all these years later. I walk in, CNN's playing and Michael Jackson is dead. Right before he was due to resume his career with a sold-out world tour. Bingo, I think. He couldn't go through with it, I say to myself. He wasn't ready to face the humiliation. Think of it: he couldn't get through four numbers on a tribute show- how was he going to do 50 in London? Of course he decided to check out.

Four months after that, I hear that there's going to be a movie of the rehearsal of his tour. Everyone from the director, Kenny Ortega, to the singers and dancers who were part of it are coming out saying how great Jacko was, how ready he was, how "on fire" he'd been from day one. Michael was back!!!, they were proclaiming. I, on the other hand, was scoffing like a madman.
These people were just being the same sycophantic, dishonest idiots that so many others had been in the preceding decade. But I also was sympathetic. After all, they were fans just like me; the only difference, I assured myself, was that they didn't have the moral fortitude and emotional courage that I had (in spades) to face the truth.

Well. On that plane from Los Angeles to Sydney, I did indeed watch This Is It.

And I stand gloriously and profoundly corrected.

In the eleventh hour of his life, Michael Jackson was indeed.... back. He had finally allowed himself to evolve and work with who he was right now as an artist- not the younger, flashier and dare I say darker version of himself from all those years ago. Here was a man exploring the moment, alive to every single possibility that existed inside himself. I was blown away by the man's intensity, passion and absolute fire that was burning every second that he was on screen.

And he was working within himself! Finally... it was an inspiration to see this man allowing the spontaneity of the moment to happen just as it was, without straining for greatness or trying to resuscitate dead representations of the past. And, of course, in doing so, he once again became the supernova he'd been for so long, and I got to enjoy anew that brilliance, joy and absolute inspiration in that particular way that only Michael Jackson was capable of.

The word inspiration literally means the act of in-spiring, of instilling spirit into others. This to me is the greatest achievement of the artist, to be able to awaken the spirit in others, through the illumination of our own. Michael Jackson did this, returning to his creative source for one last glorious flash across the night sky. This, without a doubt, was it.

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