So farewell then, Michael Jackson.
White-gloved, twinkle-toed Peter Pan of pop.
You were untouchable until the 1990s.
Since then you’ve been far too touching.
Seriously though, we can all snigger at the jokes, but we shouldn’t let the wisecracks – or the meaningless 24hr news channels that are still dredging up the archive footage and enlisting bandwagonesque talking heads on an hourly basis – obscure the fact that yesterday marked the biggest celebrity death of the last 30 years. Michael Jackson was the biggest, some might say only, pop icon left.
He was a living mystery, completely shrouded in controversy and falsities, some self-inflicted, some cooked up by the whirlwind of hysteria that never deserted him. And let’s not beat about the bush: he acted inappropriately with minors. There’s no doubting that, and there’s no excusing it either.
But as much as Jackson was a culprit, he was also a victim of his unique, extraordinary circumstances. A star from the age of 11, he was forcibly denied the chance of a career or a life on his own terms.
Despite, or perhaps because of the back-breaking commercial pressures exerted on him from such an age, he became the most exciting pop performer in the world. Ever.
Listen to (almost) any of the hits from 1979’s ‘Don’t Stop til You Get Enough’ to 1988’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and you are hearing pop in its purest, finest distillation: devastating rhythm, effortless vocals, supreme production.
As a child of the Eighties I grew up with his music almost subconsciously, and my early favourite was ‘Beat It’, because of that Van Halen guitar solo and the whole bad-boy edge it seemed to have. [This was also one of my first introductions to the star’s music.]
Of course Jackson’s downfall from the early Nineties onwards was embarrassing to watch. If you hadn’t liked him from the beginning then you surely took some pleasure in it all – and my own admiration for him nosedived along with the rest of the world – but the freakshow was tinged with real sadness whenever you heard those sensational songs on the radio.
Clinical as it sounds, death is probably the best thing for Michael Jackson. As long as he fucked up his appearance, dangled babies and accepted awards not meant for him, he was threatening to ruin his legacy as an artist forever.
But now there will be a new wave of Jacko appreciation. Much like Elvis, his songs will take the charts by storm again, and there will be a whole, cynical industry which will probably mop up more money than he ever made.
Personally I think he should be remembered for this fact: if you ever DJ a flat party and you play ‘Don’t Stop til You Get Enough’, you will be surrounded by flailing limbs by the first drumkick. Guaranteed.