The ambiguity of Michael Jackson
Over the last few days, I have been thinking about how Michael Jackson touched my life. I was a pretty typical jackson-button wearing Michael Jackson enthusiast as a kid, high school and college came to mean discovering Jackson Five, moving further away from the artist as a currently existing figure and instead reveling in the camp appeal of his earlier hits.
Having been in something of a Jackson funk these past few days, I have come to think that the appeal or fascination that Michael Jackson had for us extended well beyond his obvious talents for performing and pitch-perfect voice, and impeccable sense of rhythm. What was truly fascinating about Michael Jackson for me, upon retrospection, was his persona--riddled with a mesmerizing personal and sexual ambiguity. It was a hard thing to miss with Jackson, how his face came to increasingly resemble the feminine lines of a woman's face, all the while grabbing his crotch in military-junta garb, while singing in a voice that would make the St. Michael's choir sound like a group of Don LaFontaines (and, of course, wearing a sparkly white glove).
It was equally palpable from interviews and the nature of his song lyrics that Michael Jackson seemed to possess a strongly regressive tendency--a fetishizing of perhaps a missed childhood, to the point that he held a very complicated relationship with his sexuality; his masculinity was, at the very least, an ambivalent thing to perform. And as the public eye watched this play out with typical scrutiny, literally, along the lines of his sculpted eyebrows, and tattooed eyeliner, and increasingly disturbing aquline nose, in some respects he became something of a freak--a wacko jacko--yet, at the same moment, he became perhaps dearer to all of us even in his tragic inability to remain in control of his appearance or to gauge how his eccentricities were resonating (or not) with the public. None of us really understood his marriages, which seemed to have a frailty to them, a somewhat unbelievable quality, a 'never never' aspect. The pain and tension seemed to always tremble just below the surface of his voice, which always came out as something of a mix between a falsetto growl and a cry of personal pain. What was fascinating was how simplistic the topics of his songs were, once he was given full reign over his artistry. I think of lyrics spanning from such early career cringe-worthy childlike zingers as 'hey pretty baby with the high heels on', or, from his hit earth song, 'what about the elephants, have we lost their trust?'
Yet, what was so disconcerting about Jackson's singing was the intensity of that VOICE behind these infantile lyrics. The voice seemed to be completely disconnected from these brittle and childlike notions, it was something which intensely emoted a personal pain, and often relayed the overwhelming sort of desperation and pent-up emotion, that he could express without even so much as articulating a word. I think this is one of the great things about Jackson's music that we unconsciously cathected to--there was also those amazing hips and legs, which seemed to be disconnected from the rest of his body, and which seemed to echo in some way, his complicated and compartmentalized artistic persona. He will be missed, and he was tragic, but somehow, I feel that in his tragic and public inability to grapple with so many issues, his confusion about adulthood, about his sexuality, he touched us too--in ways that perhaps we too have yet to fully recognize.