I came in to see the rolling news message was that MJ was rumoured to have died, and then, at about midnight, that he had. So I will know exactly where I was when I heard he died, as I did with JFK, RFK, Elvis, John Lennon and Princess Di. Watching the TV news, as with the latter. I wonder how long it will take before the first biography hits the stands. A week, two? Before the conspiracy theories surface: a day, two?
Jackson is the first big figure of my children’s generation to vanish. A cursory search of the database of my records (you didn’t think I didn’t have one, did you?) reveals that I only really have one record by him as a solo artist – ‘Billie Jean’, a twelve-inch. But each of my children, born respectively in 1982 and 1991, have been huge fans, and I suppose his arrival, at least as a solo artist, marks the start of the MTV generation to which I don’t belong. Still, a quarter of a billion album buyers can’t all be wrong. I can recall taking my son to see ‘Moonwalker’ – in Teignmouth of all places, in a cinema which was so collapsible that the film actually broke halfway through – at his request, and buying him a Michael Jackson rubber toy when he was about four.
I wonder if, as with Elvis, he will become a constant icon, recycled and reproduced for years to come. It is an oddity that he was 50. He seems to have succeeded in maintaining his constantly peculiar presence as an aspiring Peter Pan, even if financial catastrophe overtook his possession of ‘Neverland’ some years ago.
The oddest thing about him was that he had a spurious Exeter connection. At a time when the local football club was going seriously down the tubes, he was persuaded by Uri Geller and David Blaine to make a personal appearance at the pretty down-at-heel ground, and my son took my daughter to catch a glimpse of him, hidden behind dark glasses under an umbrella, or whisked away by a limousine after his tour of the ground. Exeter football club was not doing well at the time, and, after the celebrity visit, vanished entirely from the football league, almost as if there was a bit of cause-and-effect. (It has since been reincarnated.)
What a sad, rich and hermetically sealed life he had. It seemed to consist of a sequence of trophies – trophy video, trophy wife (daughter of Elvis), trophy dance-steps, trophy shopping sprees, trophy mansion, trophy ego, trophy collecton of songs (the back catalogue of The Beatles), and trophy scream. But a sense of reality about as convincing as if he had been made out of an artificial material: there was a strong sense of Pinocchio about him. He had a great record producer, Quincy Jones, and enough sense of his own enigma to keep producing his own music (as someone has already said, he was the black artist who appealed to white audiences) long after his sell-by-date – although he had of course just sold out more than fifty concerts over here, which no-one believed would happen, not really.
That he died of a heart attack was perhaps the first normal thing that happened in his life. But a whole generation did his slither-steps on a dance floor, shouted ‘Owww’, and still says ‘bad’ for ‘good’ – he was the most successful proponent of one piece of street slang there’s ever been. And oddly, that he chose to imitate astronauts is of a piece with the impending anniversary (of which, more tomorrow). It’s quite bewildering, which is probably as it should be. His problems are the kind that no journalist is ever going to solve.
But boy, will they start trying.