Friday, 26 June 2009

Michael Jackson - A Heretic's View

My editor at the Daily Mail is on holiday and her stand in is ignoring me, so this is the piece which I wrote for them today and which I am now assuming that they won't use. Enjoy:

First, a word of warning. This article contains a number of small heresies, all of which relate to dead people. If you don’t want to be offended, look away now. Go and make a hot drink, then return for the final paragraph. It’s the internet equivalent of hiding behind the sofa.

You see, I never liked Michael Jackson. I didn’t like his music, it meant nothing to me. I didn’t like the obviously fake public persona. I didn’t like the way he would have no compulsion about shafting his friends if it suited him to do so. And I certainly didn’t like the way he surrounded himself with children – although not for the reasons which you might think.

Let us begin with the music. Jackson’s contribution to his own sound was far less than many people believe. His music was shaped by the demands of his family during the early years, then by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones and the shamefully unheralded Rod Temperton. Once he abandoned them and began to rely more upon his own songwriting, his recording career began to decline rapidly. As a singer and dancer, Jackson was one of the finest of his generation. No-one could put more emotion into a mawkishly over-sentimental ballad such as “She’s Out Of My Life” without utterly destroying it and you have to respect the care and craftsmanship that goes into it. But the song itself, like virtually all of his output, is meaningless nonsense.

The public persona? Come on, surely you don’t seriously believe that a grown man, over 6 feet tall, speaks in that soft, childlike voice all the time? Online, you can easily find an interview which Jackson gave with Oprah Winfrey, where he talks about the abuse which he received at the hands of his father. You can also find his press conference, where he announced the dates for his shows at the O2 arena. Go and listen to them. It is as if there are two different people talking. Why? Because as you get older, you lose the ability to force your voice to hit high notes. If that childlike voice was real, it wouldn’t decay. The voice, the surgical mask, the umbrella, the whole thing was an act that the world fell for, hook line and sinker.

Two other heresies now. I don’t believe that he was a child abuser and I don’t believe that he had his skin whitened. I am quite prepared to accept that the skin thing was a medical condition. Frankly, why would you not do so. If someone tells you they have cancer, you don’t disbelieve them, do you? Moreover, has any celebrity ever had so much cosmetic surgery carried out so badly as Michael Jackson did? Why would a skin whitening treatment be the only one to work?

The child abuse allegations always polarise opinion. The fans do not believe that he did anything, the detractors won’t believe he didn’t. Yet one of the few things we know about the man is that he liked the company of children, and children liked him. Children of the age Jackson surrounded himself with were of an age where kids are typically very unjudgmental and love anyone who will shower them with affection and toys. Once they started to question the relationship, the cruellest thing that he did to them was to cut them off. He was too astute a businessman to actually do anything wrong, but too in love with his own image to cut himself off from a very risky situation. It is unsurprising that, once or twice, he almost fell off that tightrope.

Michael Jackson was a fine singer and a superb dancer. But he was also a sad, lonely and incredibly vain man who exploited those around him no matter who they were and how old they were. If you look past the rumours and publicity machine, there really wasn’t very much to commend him at all.

Yesterday, a million people died. Among them were Farrah Fawcett, after a long battle with cancer, Seonnai Gordon, a mother who lost her battle against TB, and we also learned of the death of one of the finest journalists of modern times, Steven Wells. All of them and all of their families are at least, if not more, deserving of our sympathy than Michael Jackson, yet the legacies of all of them are in danger of being lost amid the eulogising of a man who, in my opinion, couldn’t hold a candle to any of them.