‘Dusk in your skin,
Flesh, blood and poetry in your dance,
Deep cry, frantic rhymes in your songs,
A river born in the rhythm of your burning, melting,
[Lines from my poem ‘Spirit Dance’, dedicated to the loving memory of my childhood hero, the invincible Michael Jackson (August 1958-June 2009).]
Remember the chartbusters of the 80’s and 90’s, “Just beat it, beat it, beat it”, “Billy Jean is not my lover”, “You are Not Alone”, “Thriller”, among countless others that went on to achieve cult status worldwide? Remember the man in flashy attire, in taut blackness (that turned pale white in his later years) and a blushing smile, inviting the whole world to join in the crazy rhythm of his Moonwalk in a convulsive dance, while the music broke open in spurts? Remember Michael Jackson, the child prodigy who went on to become the undisputed King of Pop, breaking many a glass ceiling in a racist, white-dominated America? The eternal dreamer Jackson, the honoured recipient of 13 Grammy awards, one of the greatest entertainers in the history of music, who built his own enchanted kingdom named ‘Neverland’ in a secluded nook of the Santa Barbara County, California. A cult icon in the field of music, dance and fashion, daring to dream impossible dreams and live life in his own terms, embracing a free spirit, controversy and stardust!
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, best described as a raw, elemental force of nature, didn’t have any of it easy. Gaining stardom at a very early age at the price of losing his idyllic childhood, living with a controlling, domineering father, living with vitiligo and other skin conditions, anorexia nervosa, causing a stupendous weight loss and the psychological distresses that followed, he went on creating sensations in every album he produced, while silently tearing himself to shreds all the way. His numerous controversial cosmetic surgeries that became fodder for the tabloids of the ’80s and ’90s because of the evident change of his physical appearance, the loneliness and painful episodes in his personal life bore testimony to the fact that beneath the façade of his cult status, the eternal dreamer in him was bruised and ravaged in every way, with music being his only redeeming friend, his confidante.
Michael Jackson, the hero, the dreamer:
This week, as the social media globally celebrates the bounty of music and its soul-nourishing impact on human lives on the occasion of World Music Day, Michael Jackson remains the name of a lovelorn soul, the name of a joyous celebration of life in dance and music in spite of the never-ending chaos, excruciating pain and the pangs of betrayal lurking around the corner. In June 2020, 11 years after his sudden and untimely demise in June 2009, doesn’t the essence of his music, the drumbeats of his frantic dance moves still hold us, his ardent fans in their sway amid all the pandemonium around us? The legacy of the King of pop, after a decade of his unexpected farewell, lies in the inherent humanity of his music which remains a constant feature of his music compositions and his inimitable choreography.
As his admirers, we tend to also associate him with his feisty image, shunning many conventional norms, and also with his unique brand of spirituality, which to me, is akin to the Sufi school of music and art, which emphasizes on the essence of Godliness in unique, free-spirited manifestations.
“For me the form God takes is not the most important thing. What’s most important is the essence. My songs and dances are outlines for him to come and fill. I hold out the form. She puts in the sweetness.” Michael Jackson had famously quoted, and today his fans worldwide embrace his soulful words about his identity as an artiste as his enduring legacy.
What would we remember Michael Jackson for, his media image in the harrowing last years of his life, or his purity as an artiste and entertainer par excellence?
Notwithstanding the larger-than-life image of the King of Pop, the phenomenal success of his musical albums and his concerts globally which later also took a toll on his health, the later years of his life, shrouded in one controversy after the other, made him more vulnerable to trolls by the media. After all these years following his demise, as fans still continue to mourn his death, we have to ask ourselves: what remains as his legacy, and how best we can celebrate Jackson’s life and his inimitable creations, even as we take the media reports of his alleged child molestation cases, his alleged addiction to drugs and surgeries with a pinch of salt. Aren’t all artistes like him, battered by the sick voyeurism of the media and paparazzi, crushed under the heavy burden of glory and fame, shoved to a world of extreme loneliness and dismay, to the point of no return? Many will argue that this was a world that he himself had signed up for, propelled by his lust for being in the news always, propelled by his flamboyant spirit, propelled by the fake, manipulative world that he had trusted. However, one cannot deny that he had the soul of a free-spirited bird, and the moments of the revolution he created by his transformational music were certainty greater than the transient bubbles of controversy surrounding his life.
His legacy of music lies in the way he impacted the youth of his own times and much beyond with his characteristic style, his inimitable fashion, oomph and musical versatility. Till date, his unforgettable ‘moonwalk’, his stunning dance moves have been a beacon of hope and grandeur in our minds, as we remember the recurrent themes of his music—his language of protest against social injustice, racial discrimination and abuse of our environment. His legacy of humanitarianism against all odds is still alive, through the numerous philanthropic acts he carried out in his lifetime, of which his friend, confidante Elizabeth Taylor commented:
“What makes Michael more unique may be the fact that all of his accomplishments, his rewards, have not altered his sensitivity and concern for the welfare of others, or his intense caring and love for his family and friends, and especially all the children of the world over.” (Taylor in the liner notes for HIStory: Past Present and Future, Book 1, which turned 25 recently).
On June 10, 2009, the fateful day when the news of Jackson’s death flooded the anxious media and shook his fans worldwide with deep tremors, the controversy of his drug overdose, the role of his physician Conrad Murray and the investigation that followed became the subject of public scrutiny yet again. It wasn’t sure the kind of finale that Jackson had perhaps dreamt of. However, today, after a decade of his demise, he remains a legend with 4 posthumous awards, a total of 26 American Music Awards (including the Grammy Legend and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award), and a record of albums sold posthumously. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, his spirit shines bright, continuing to influence artistes of all genres, races and nationalities.
(MICHAEL JACKSON EARTH SONG LIVE AT WORLD MUSIC AWARDS 1996)