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Contemplating Michael Jackson

Scott Jagow Jun 26, 2009

I felt a particular and familiar emotion when I heard about Jackson’s death. It was a mixture of sad resignation and the distant pleasure of childhood memories. I say familiar because I’ve had that feeling before. Maybe you have too.

When you’re young, you don’t know all those things that, later in life, will make you pity or loathe someone like Jackson. You’re just a 12-year-old engulfed by headphones, listening to an amazing new record. You’re just a teenager hanging out, watching MTV, waiting for Martha Quinn or Nina Blackwood to play the full version of Thriller one more time, in case you missed something the first 50 times.

Then you grow up and forget about those moments until something brings you back to them. Sometimes it’s as joyful as a song on the radio. Sometimes, it’s a tragedy or something hideous. It can be jarring.

Growing up a Buffalo Bills fan, one of my boyhood idols was OJ Simpson. Talk about jarring. Even as a adult, I had a hard time comprehending that one. But that feeling of sad resignation sinks in and eventually overwhelms the distant pleasure of the childhood memories. I’ve learned, though, to separate the person from their gifts. Jackson was a one-of-a-kind performer. I may have stopped listening to his music many years ago. I’m sure I called him a freak. But I still appreciate what he was as an artist. OJ Simpson remains one of the best running backs I’ve ever seen.

The story of Jackson will continue to unfold. I don’t know if it was financial stress that killed him, but it certainly could’ve been a contributing factor. The Wall Street Journal had this story:

A profligate lifestyle and his massive legal fees had also left the singer with $500 million in debt, and he defaulted on a $24.5 million loan backed by Neverland. However, Mr. Jackson had made a few key business decisions early on that kept him afloat through the tabloid-fodder madness that eventually engulfed him. By acquiring and holding lucrative music-publishing he assets, including the rights to many Beatles songs, he was able to maintain a modicum of financial stability.

Nevertheless, by early 2009, Mr. Jackson was so overextended financially that he was in a panic about money, people close to him said.

One of his debt solutions was to go back on tour. When tickets went on sale in March, 750,000 of them sold in five hours. It sounds like the tour was going to be a typical Michael Jackson, Neverland-ish affair. From CNN Money:

Swarovski, the crystal-maker, had prepared a new suit for Jackson to perform in encompassing 300,000 crystal elements that is reportedly worth 1 million pounds. Jackson’s comeback was to include a concert DVD, video game, and the release of the singer’s first new singles in years. And the London dates were just the beginning of a tour that, if it all panned, out, might have earned Jackson more than $400 million and even spawned a “Thriller” casino in Macau…

I’m hoping Jackson is not Elvis-ed, for lack a better term. I hope there are no Jackson theme parks or video games or sightings. I hope he can rest in peace.

It sounds like he didn’t live with any. It’s hard to put some of the heinous and pathetic images of Jackson’s life out of my mind. But when he did his thing, he was brilliant.

I’d rather spend a few minutes wading into those distant childhood memories.

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