Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Thriller at 51 ... Thanks, Michael

Michael Jackson would have been 51 today, which doesn’t seem old when you know his life expectancy should have been 70-something. But for a generation of people, Michael Jackson, the cute kid who fronted The Jackson Five, will be forever young.

To think now of Jackson, whose death last month has been ruled a homicide, is to remember that skinny, boyish entertainer whose falsetto voice displayed uncommon range. He was, a legion of music lovers will attest, the most gifted performer of his era, an artist with a velvety voice that made girls weep and whose dazzling footwork would have made "Mr. Bojangles" jealous. 

The scope of his career touched all aspects of life in America, aside from politics. Jackson was a celebrity who fascinated us, even if the man often confounded us.

He was an entertainer we knew all too well, and he was a man we knew not at all.

For he closed that part of himself to the prying eyes of the public, holing up on an expansive estate he named “Neverland.” Out of nowhere, he’d re-emerge, talking about one project or another, preparing for a concert tour that, more often than not, didn’t take flight.

But when he did perform, when he did put on his dancing shoes, take center stage and sing the songs that spoke to Baby Boomers, Jackson reclaimed the throne he had abdicated.

“The King of Pop” was back, and we regretted he had been away. His absence cheated those who didn’t care about his personal life; they cared about his wonderful music and his performances.

When Jackson did perform, what entertainer was better?

He was a showstopper – period. Who but Michael Jackson could trump the Super Bowl itself, as the man did Jan. 31, 1993, in the most brilliant halftime performance the signature sports event of our time has ever witnessed.

Back in '93, he was 34. He was still the “Thriller,” proving it to the worldwide audience of millions as he moonwalked across a makeshift stage. His life looked full of promise. Michael Jackson seemed to have even higher heights to scale if that’s what he wanted for himself.

We never found out if he did.

For Jackson soon turned inward, closing himself off from his legion of fans and their adulation. He become, as the tabloids called him, “Wacko Jacko,” the man’s whose grotesques feature repulsed us.

Yet we never forgot Jackson the entertainer even as he hid, and we don’t forget him now in death. We do wonder why a man with so much used so little of it.

Perhaps he gave us all he could give, and when he spent all those gifts, maybe Jackson felt he had nothing us to thrill us with.

Maybe dying was his way of easing on down the road. But Jackson shouldn’t have left without first hearing our acknowledgment of him. In his work, he brought so much joy too so many.   

For that, the man deserves our thanks, although they come his way posthumously: “Happy birthday, Michael!”


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