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Friday, June 26, 2009
 
DON'T LET IT GET YOU DOWN
Michael Jackson
1973
Farewell My Summer Love
Motown : 1984
[Out of Print]

Not much to say, because there's so much to say. And if you said everything, would it still be enough? Hard to say.

Does anyone remember the first time they heard Michael Jackson? No one does. He was always there for all of us.

Does everyone remember trying to be Michael Jackson? Everyone under fifty does. Leather jackets with superfluous zippers were donned, often indoors. Moonwalks were practiced. High screams were imitated. Few people bothered with the glove. There was such a thing as going too far. But more people tried to be Michael Jackson than tried to be Bruce Springsteen, or Madonna, or Prince, and with less reason to believe that it could ever be possible. No one was like Michael Jackson, and no one could be, because no one had that life: a star as a child, an even bigger star as an adult, talented beyond compare, denied normalcy at every turn, driven mad by fame and ambition and personal demons, gentle but incapable of self-protection, brilliant, beloved, misused, dead.

The video for "Leave Me Alone," a bonus track from the CD version of Bad, will probably be the defining moment in his career, no matter that it will rarely be shown in the next week's countless retrospectives. In it, Jackson piles into a bullet-shaped craft and goes on a funhouse ride through the various rumors about his life: that he proposed marriage to Elizabeth Taylor,that he bought the elephant man's bones, that he slept in a hyperbaric chamber. Anyone with even a little extension into public life knows how painful it can be to be misunderstood or reviled, and how much worse that pain can be when it alternates with periods of unconditional adulation. So somewhere along the way, for reasons of his own -- and they were reasons only of his own, in the loneliest sense -- he started to try to undo it all. He undid part of his race, undid part of his gender, tried to undo the love that the world felt for him. He fell largely silent as a musician. He stopped performing. Almost no one really believed that he'd honor his commitment to play fifty shows in London beginning next month, or that he'd survive the run if he did.

Three pop icons were born in 1958, within months of each other: Prince, Madonna, Michael Jackson. For a few years there, particularly around the time of Purple Rain, Prince and Michael Jackson enjoyed a rivalry. Both were sexually ambiguous, or at least projected that image. Both were racially mixed, or at least projected that image. Both were prodigiously gifted. Both were rich. Both were famous. But even then, if you looked closely, it was clear that the one who was acting crazier was perfectly sane, and the one who was desperately trying to act normal was unravelling inside. In "I Would Die 4 U," Prince sang, "I'm not a woman / I'm not a man / I am something that you'll never understand." Was he talking about Michael Jackson? All three major points were on target. And, now, the fourth: the title.

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