By David Bidini
Maybe it’s just as well. Lots of pain suffered. Lots of pain inflicted. With the late King of Pop, that shopworn cliche about finding peace in death is probably one that applies.
For the first thirty years of his life, Michael Jackson didn’t stop moving. For the last 20, he hardly moved at all. He devoured the world of popular music with three, possibly four, voracious recordings — Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad, and, maybe, Dangerous — but, afterwards, he was bled of all sunshine, trailing dark shadows in every aspect of his strange and troubled life.
In the end, he suffered like a lot of child genuises whose comet tail absorbs them like a lit fuse, his astounding fame and success eclipsing whatever effort he made to approximate normalcy in his life. But Michael’s version of normal was always pretty different than most: jungle animals as pets, children from indeterminate sources, a fantasyland as homestead, and a coterie of ageing Hollywood stars that he relied on as friends.
As a young boy, he toured the chitlin circuit as a singing member of the Jackson family. Tommy Chong performed alongside them and remembers Michael doing a naughty bit where he lifted up women’s skirts while singing, trading in the joy and folly of an eight-year-old’s life for some abusive nightclub shtick.
Michael was on the road a lot, gigging hard under the glowering auspices of Joe Jackson, his dad, who wanted more than anything for the world to rest at his brilliant son’s feet. And that it did. When he danced – heck, even when he walked to the point on Dinah Shore or Mike Douglas or Johnny Carson’s stage where he was about to dance – he moved as if other-worldly, bones clicking together in a pose before, micro-seconds later, unhinging to create another. And his voice: as high and shimmering and innocent-sounding as the girl who sings lead in her high school production of Fame, yet, in some cases, as visceral and manly as Otis Redding or James Brown.
There was a kind of aural androgyny to MJ’s voice that allowed everyone to hear themselves in equal quantities. The vocal recording of his most famous song, “Billie Jean,” is a 48 track-plus tour de voice, a mosaic of breathing, panting, yelping, shouting, screaming, tweeing, oooohing, crooning and hollering. It’s a supernova of vocal genius landed on the head of a pin by Quincy Jones’ crystalline production. The rest of the album only gets better, and more interesting.
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