Michael Jackson – musical genius, eccentric (and disturbed?) individual

Disclaimer: The following content is based solely on my own thoughts, opinions, experiences and memories of Michael Jackson. I did not reference any specific material to check facts, so there may be slight errors, which I will happily correct if they are pointed out.

As a kid who had almost zero access to radio – and pop music in particular - until I was around eight or nine, I was not a fan of Michael Jackson. As I got older and pushed at the boundaries set by my parents, I did become a fan and appreciated his clear giftedness as a musician. What he may or may not have done as a person - the molestation allegations and other incidents that have made him such a controversial figure - is, to me, separate from him as a musician. While I wouldn’t necessarily send him for a visit to Neverland Ranch while Michael Jackson was still living, I sincerely hope that my son is a fan of the music and videos that Michael Jackson created. They are classics and, just as my parents played Neil Diamond, Simon and Garfunkel, Peter, Paul and Mary, The Kingston Trio and others for me, I play the music my generation grew up with, including Michael Jackson, for my son.

I’ve been reading many outraged comments wondering why people are mourning the loss of this man who they view as a predator of children and how anyone can claim that Michael Jackson's music changed their life. As a musician and lover of music, I can understand why music from one individual or another might be influential in changing one's life. We associate songs with many different stages and events in our lives, creating an emotional impact, no matter what the artist does in their personal life. Does that music have less impact 10-20 years later when the musician does something stupid or unconscionable? For some, it may, but for many, that association will never weaken.

We all have the capacity to do things that are deemed irresponsible or stupid and I hope that when I die I am remembered for more than just those negative things. I'm not saying I don't think he was wrong, but some of the comments I've seen about his death are so crude and unsettling that I feel very bad for his family who (at least publicly) loved and supported him through every controversy and allegation. He's a son and a brother and a father who lived in the limelight and made lots of mistakes. The rest of us enjoy a nice, quiet anonymity when we screw up in life. Most of us get to choose the path we want to take in life; Michael Jackson and the rest of his siblings were pushed into it. As it turns out, he was probably pushed into the right business, whether he wanted it for himself or not.

All of the media attention being given to his death and legal arrangements and memorial has caused quite an uproar; Michael Jackson is undoubtedly just as controversial in death as he was in life. There is a wide range of feelings being expressed about his death, from a congressman who is upset that so much attention is being taken away from soldiers serving in Afghanistan and put on a "low-life pervert”, to accusations that he wanted to be white and therefore bleached his skin (didn’t he have a disease?), to discussions about who has custody/who is challenging custody of his children, to support for his artistry, his charitable activities, etc. There is also coverage about his family and how they are dealing with his loss. It’s gotten overwhelming to hear Michael Jackson’s name in the last couple of weeks.

On some places on the Internet, there is a general resentment that someone who did something so terrible (child molestation) could receive such accolades in death. My gut response to that is that he was never convicted (except in the court of public opinion, which is not always reliable). The prosecution had two chances with two different cases, twelve years apart and after all that time and effort, they couldn’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m personally undecided as to whether he was guilty or not, primarily because I don’t know all of the evidence. It’s extremely hard to prove that type of case and while I think it’s possible he did it, I find it hard to believe that there were only two boys in all the children who came and went from his home. Michael Jackson was also a very wealthy man, one who would be an easy target for false claims or extortion. I’m truly undecided, though, and I think that the determination of his innocence or guilt is forever going to be in doubt now that he is deceased.

That said, he was at the very least eccentric, and one could probably go so far as to say that he was disturbed. He had an unconventional childhood, getting into singing with the Jackson 5 at a very young age. In his late teens/early 20s, he broke out on his own and launched a remarkable career that earned him the “King of Pop” designation. He sold hundreds of millions of records – a feat that very few artists attain and, with the digital age of music in full swing, the likelihood that future artists can sell at that level will decrease. (Artists may sell songs and albums, but I suspect album sales metrics will be emphasized in a different way eventually, hopefully leading to better quality music!)

To those who are upset at the attention that Michael Jackson’s death has gotten, I don’t understand the surprise. He was followed relentlessly by the press for most of his life. His influence on the music industry was international and he was an artist who sold out shows in record times whenever he toured for years. That kind of following will garner rabid and (I think) undignified attention from our current media. When the people who subscribe to these media outlets stop putting so much importance on these types of stories, then the media outlets will stop delivering them.

Yeah…I don’t see that happening anytime soon, either.

Regardless of what you may think about him as a person, Michael Jackson truly earned his place in history. But I really hope the circus ends soon.