In 2009, when the hyper-American entertainer, Michael Jackson, died, I thought: sunlight has finally hit the vampire.
An innocent (and great talent) in 1970, when his voice was all over the sounds coming out of my red transistor radio, Jackson died as a human, and a musician, c. 1976, while eking out a mid-level career doing pleasure-cruise disco. The “world” (the Anglo-American sphere) barely noticed his first quiet death as the world was distracted, at the time, either by Boston’s More Than A Feeling or The Sex Pistol’s Anarchy in the UK. In 1976 I hated almost everything on the mainstream radio, FM or AM, but my disappointment was focused primarily on Jethro Tull’s dull and self-pitying Too Old To Rock ‘N Roll: Too Young To Die and Yes’ dwindling momentum after the magisterial Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer albums. These albums were my Sgt Pepper’s (as was Sgt. Pepper’s). Hall and Oates’ (sp?) radio supremacy in 1976 made me want to commit arson; the first sad death of Michael Jackson was just not on my radar.
The first four Jackson 5 number ones (1970) seemed like the beginning of something in much the same way the first four Beatles singles, almost a decade before, had heralded an exciting shift in the culture; a new, cooler norm; but the Jackson 5 soon faded into the charts as ordinary occasional hit-makers by 1972, eclipsed, in fact, among others, by soft rock acts and singer/songwriters who’d been influenced by The Beatles. Michael Jackson’s 1972 hit “Ben” (a love song to a rat), was #19 on a Billboard chart dominated by Gilbert O’Sullivan, Don McLean, Neil Young and Apple recording artist Harry Nilsson, et al. The Beatles chart-topping cultural dominance lasted roughly six years (Let It Be making it to number 2 in 1970; The Ballad of John and Yoko at number 1 in 1969; their very first Beatles number 1, From Me To You, starting it all, in the US, in ’63). The Beatles ruled for the entirety of my childhood. The Jackson 5’s streak (I Want You Back, I’ll Be There, ABC, The Love You Save) lasted from January 31st, 1970 until June 27th, 1970. Not terribly long, as talented as they were.
Any student of America’s national psychology (as it interacts with the country’s lurid history, its twisted self-perception and subliminal agendas ) can see that part of the Jackson 5’s inability to be the Black Beatles lay largely in the fact that they were, well, Black.
Any chance of being the Black Beatles could only have crowned the wavy-haired heads of a talented four-piece of mulattoes: the hair, tint and facial features determined, broadly, what the mainstream audience minded, or didn’t mind, for most of American history, letting singers force them to think about for the duration of a pop song. Elvis appeared on Sullivan and whether or not the cameraman showed his hillbilly pelvis at work, the implications were clear and sanctioned (as long as certain rules of comportment were observed) by The State: you could show Elvis, then cut to White virgins screaming their cherries red, and complete the video syllogism by cutting back to Elvis.
Do the same thing with Marvin Gaye, in 1966, and there’d be trouble.
Have a look at this clip of James Brown, performing I Feel Good, and note that although the audio-cliché of screaming girls is dutifully included (it had become a major part of video grammar after The Beatles), the screaming is strangely abstract, in that there are only a few close-up cutaways… and these are to a cool White couple, a couple of Brothers and a slightly-excited dark-haired White male:
Compare that to the seminal video-trope (you’ve seen it all your life) of the melting Blonde girl, in a Beatles audience, weeping in a wall of Bacchae-wails, mouthing “George!” or “John!” with a lust so profound that it sucks the photons out of the camera pointing at her.
The Beatles, pale and British and disguised as girls, slipped so far into the Ids and Libidos of Mainstream America that it was very, very hard to yank (no pun intended) them out again. Black pop stars (The Supremes, Temptations, James Brown) could only tip toe into most White Pop Minds on the permission of a kind of apartheid day pass… as cheerfully asexual Pop domestics with work to do.
There’s a reason that light-skinned, straight-haired Rosa Parks was chosen over a dark-skinned, kinkier-haired Sister (Claudette Colvin) to embody the boycott that kickstarted the Civil Rights movement, though Ms. Colvin refused to give up her comfy seat, on a segregated bus, fully nine months before Ms. Parks did. There’s a reason Adam Clayton Powell (a dead-ringer for Walt Disney) and Julian Bond (who resembled a Jewish Harry Belafonte) were two of the most prominent elected Black political figures of the 1960s.
The closest that America came to producing Black Beatles were probably The Ronettes (about whom Google gives us a clue: search “The Ronettes” and the question “what race were the Ronettes?” pops up), sabotaged by management. Even if the Jackson 5 had written their own material, and done so as craftily as Lennon/McCartney, they couldn’t have been (or wouldn’t have been allowed to be) as iconic/ pervasive/ culture-steering and as openly lodged in the sexual hallucinations of chunks of the country as Elvis or The Beatles were. And that’s where all the big money is.
Whoever reanimated Michael Jackson’s jumpsuit-wearing corpse in the early ’80s did so with all that in mind. When he returned from the dead, in 1982, with Thriller, I remember noticing, first of all, in ads for the album, his cheekbones. Where did he get those? Were his eyes always so big? I, as big a sucker as everyone else in 1982, tried to think back, over the years, wondering if Michael Jackson had always been so… pretty. Catching various glimpses of him between ’82 and ’87, I began to catch on.
By the time of 1991’s ironic, morphing (so many meta layers!) promotional video for “Black or White,” I felt that either I, or the world, had lost a mind: this guy was clearly chemically lightening his skin and straightening his hair and surgically altering his facial features/ bone structure in a profound way… in order to sell records… and it was working… and no one was talking about it! He requested a White kid to portray the young Michael in some video or other and no one was talking about it! He used some White guy’s sperm to impregnate some White gal(s) and called the resulting kids his biological own and nobody was talking about it! His nose fell off, his wig looked weird, his whiskers bristled through pancake, he spent nights as a 40-year-old man with little boys in his bed…
Michael Jackson was never allowed to be a member of any Black Beatles but I can’t think of a single figure in living memory that embodied America’s schizoid, venal, dissembling, nigger-obsessed, delusions-amplifying, excess-devouring, meaning-inverting, distraction-addicted, gender-confused, glitter-shitting Global (para-military, new world order) Persona more than Michael Jackson at his tabloid-haunting peak. When he died a second death (with what stake through his heart? The Reality of his body’s limits?) the ensuing hysterical “mourning,” and hyperbolic eulogizing, were as grotesque as anything his deranged avatar had presided over in “Life”. Not counting the issue of the little boys, the (alleged) wine, the (alleged) Vaseline and sleep-overs.
In fact, I thought to write all of this after reading the here-linked article (first we deconstruct and dismantle the pop stars, then we take on the politicians).
Below, the original piece I wrote on the occasion of Jackson’s second (though not final) death, in June of 2009. His third and final death will arrive (finally) if allegations mentioned in the linked article are accepted (finally?) by the general public.
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Kong of Pap: 1
1. Is the overwhelming over-production of cookie-cutter encomia in the wake of a famous song-and-dance man’s death a sure sign of… ?
-a. the triviality of encomia
-b. the triviality of life
-c. the power of consumerist brainwashing
2. If The Subject (in his quasi-military uniforms, aviator sunglasses, security phalanxes and exotic-animal-stocked mega-compound of remorselessly bad taste) effectively impersonated the African “strong man” dictator archetype, why? Because:
-a. the African “strong man” dictator archetype meme is ever-present
-b. the African “strong man” dictator archetype meme is a racist stereotype best confronted via infiltration, co-optation and subversion
-c. he who can, will
3. Would The Subject’s apparent thing for little boys have been marginally less cringe-worthy if… ?
-a. society were more tolerant of alternative lifestyles
-b. The Subject’s affectation of pre-adolescent enthusiasms didn’t read like a blatant trap
-c. at least some of the little boys had been black
4. Which motto would best sum up the oxymoronic core of The Subject’s presentation?
-a. inspiration by intimidation
-b. protective predation
-c. the red-herring of so-called blackness
True or False
1. Ludwig van Beethoven was a genius = John Lennon was too intelligent to be a genius = The Subject was too talented to be intelligent. T/F
2. Paradox: after 50 years of being saturated in Mass Media’s radiation, the populace is not less naive/credulous about its machinations but infinitely moreso. T/F
Is it cheaper to bleach black skin or remove it?
Can we pity what we envy?
Are the popular prodigies the easiest type of prodigy to come by? (ie, a child who can do surprisingly well what many adults can do considerably better; eg, a four-year-old who can perform rudimentary algebraic proofs, impressing the masses as being a manifestation of genius on a par with Einstein’s, though the four-year-old’s work, submitted anonymously to an over-worked junior high school teacher with credit problems, might earn an unceremonious “B”)
Did Rock-n-Roll itself morph from being a gifted black youngster to a banal white hag in roughly the same amount of time it took The Subject to make the journey?
Kong of Pap: 2
Folks, I’m goin’ down to St. James Infirmary,
See my baby there;
She’s stretched out on a long, white table,
She’s so sweet, so cold, so fair.
When I went down to Old Joe’s barroom
On the corner by the Square
The drinks we all served as usual
And the usual crowd was there
Up to the bar I saw Big Joe beginning
With these eyes bloodshoting red
Gather round and now all you seen us
I’m gonna tell you just what Big Joe said
Now, when I die, bury me in my straight-leg britches,
Put on a box-back coat and a stetson hat,
Put a twenty-dollar gold piece on my watch chain,
So you can let all the boys know I died standing pat.