Michael Jackson: Have You Seen My Childhood?

Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage; courtesy of Life.com

Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage; courtesy of Life.com

I’m sad, but not that sad, about Michael Jackson’s death. To me, it seemed like he’d passed from us a long time ago. The Kane of Pop had long since retreated into his isolated Xanadu, a bubble that not even massive debt, legal ordeals, and endless tabloid scandal could penetrate. His chart-topping years as the world’s favorite entertainer had long since segued into self-inflicted freakishness and cultural irrelevance. When he announced in March a long-running comeback engagement in London scheduled to start in July, his reappearance seemed that of a vampire or a ghost, hovering on the fringes of fame, hoping to drain one last bit of energy from a pop world that he had helped create but which had long since abandoned him to the wax museum.

But, oh, to think of him back then, back when he was remaking both music and television in his image, via the singles and videos from Thriller. The man’s ubiquity was rivaled only by that of the Beatles and his one-time father-in-law Elvis in their day. Lots of mourners have referred to Jackson’s music as the soundtrack of their youth, but in his case, it’s not a metaphor. For about two years in the early ’80s, you couldn’t turn on a radio anywhere in the world without hearing a snippet of a single from Thriller. (How cruel that Farrah Fawcett should die on the same day; if Jackson’s music was the soundtrack to our youth, Fawcett’s poster was the wallpaper.) It was a rare moment of cultural unity, one of the last ones before cable TV, the Internet, and the culture wars fragmented us into a billion different niche audiences. As Lester Bangs noted when Elvis died, what we’re mourning is not really the loss of the man or the artist (like the King of Pop, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had long since become a reclusive travesty of his former self by the time of his early death), but rather, the loss of our childhood, and the loss of our connection to each other.

With regard to Jackson, that loss is one I felt more profoundly about four years ago, when I was covering his 2005 molestation trial for Entertainment Weekly. The whole experience was thoroughly depressing, and I knew, even as the acquittal came down, that his career was all but over. I didn’t know whether what he’d done was monstrous and criminal or just horribly inappropriate, only that a boy’s life was ruined, but so was Jackson’s. For a long time after that, I couldn’t help but be moved to tears whenever I heard once innocuous-sounding Jackson 5 songs like “I Want You Back” or “ABC.” What had become of the brilliant child (pictured, in 1974), his voice full of joy and uncanny maturity, who had sung those songs? How had he managed to squander lifetimes of talent to become the wreck he was now, a fall so epic it had taken untold innocent bystanders along with him? What a waste of artistry and good will.

Today, everyone seems to feel that way about the horror of Jackson’s final years, tempered with admiration for the sheer elation he once provided. Soon, we’ll have the autopsy and toxicology reports, and soon the legal battles will begin over what’s left of his fortune, and soon his children will be thrust unwillingly into the spotlight as forces beyond their control decide their futures. And the arguments will begin again over what kind of man he really was and what his legacy really is. But for now, we’re all awestruck fans again, marveling once more at his unearthly gifts. In our grief over his lost youth, his lost potential (and over our own), Jackson has united us once again, perhaps for the last time. So, to paraphrase Bangs, I will not say goodbye to Michael Jackson (especially since, like Elvis, he’s never really going to relinquish the stage). Instead, I will say goodbye to you.

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15 Comments

Filed under In Memoriam, Music, TV

15 responses to “Michael Jackson: Have You Seen My Childhood?

  1. I regret the loss of the King of Pop Michael Jackson! Jacko is a legend. Its my idol – I miss u. I hope he gets where he is now, finally in peace.
    Leave also your last greeting at Michael Jackson on our site, thanks.
    a big and now sad fan

  2. We feel that Michael Jackson has left us so early, with just his music and our memories. Our prayers go out to his family. I love you so much, and never got the chance to go to a concert. I honestly think you

  3. Su

    MJ will rule our hearts forever. Nice Blog

  4. John Thompson

    Nice work Gary.

  5. Scott

    Enjoyed your blog; I imagine you said what a lot of us who grew up with the Jackson 5 were thinking … “All in the Family”, Michael Jackson, Madonna, MTV, New Wave and one’s youth… gone except for the video stashed in a vault and flickering in our minds…

  6. Happy

    I was 14 years old then when I saw the King of Pop with my very own eyes. I watched his concert here in the Manila. At a young age, I knew in my heart that I need to be at his concert which was 13 years ago. Have you seen my Childhood- is the song that introduces who really Michael Jackson is to me. I was crying the first time I heard this song and even up to now by just remembering the lyrics I am still heartbroken. But now I know, he already found missing part of his life.

  7. Michla

    very well written article…seems to truly sum up MJ for what he was, is and will always be….thank you!~

  8. jackson sir,with due respect i tell u ….u were a wonderful person on this earth….i hope thers no one like you , so loving ,socaring,and good at heart…your songs are just so..so.fabulous ….your songs such as you are not alone, heal the world,and have you seen my childhood is just remarkable….it made cry badly….and now i feel so incomplete without your presence …you,ll always be here in my heart…………….and my prayers and the millions of prayers will always be with you ……you are truely a legend , a treaure to the music land……….we,lll missssssss you alottttttttt sir,,,,
    may ur soul rest in peace

  9. Janann

    Its such a shame that we can see so much after MJ’s death when we should have seen it so plainly before he died. He was an entertainment genius, it was all he knew. He was truly robbed of his childhood, while we can recall our childhood and remember his music he was a child himself and had no childhood. It is like in order for us to have a childhood he had to sacrifice his. From the time he was a kid to 50 years old, he had not seen the inside of a grocery store, could not go to a movie theater, could not go to a sleep over, could not go to school with other children. That is hard to imagine. If you watch his performances he got off on it, he was in his element, he was brilliant and that was all he ever knew how to do. Can anyone imagine what was ,going on in his head? He probably could not turn it off, the energy he displayed was mind boggling. The downside was the man could not sleep!!! Loss of sleep makes you crazy, combine that with no childhood, trying to fit in and be “normal”. I am sure none of us have a clue what he was going through. His genius was misunderstood, it is so plain and simple when you think about it. He was very much like a special education kid, his disability was recognized but there was no answer to resolve his issues. In the end all the money in the world could not get him what he wanted and needed most, his childhood. I believe he was not using drugs to get high, he was TRYING TO GO TO SLEEP. Fifty years is a long time to live with that kind of life. Hopefully in the end I hope that he gets to be the child he so badly wanted for eternity.

    • JoannaUK

      A well written piece about MJ. He was loved and will always be remembered too. I think a lot of people at times understood him more than those who misunderstood him.
      The media can make or break a person.

      Jannan – you summed it up nicely!

  10. Steve

    Wonderful blog, Gary. I thoroughly enjoyed all your postings, with your well-informed, articulate, flowing prose. I’ll continue to be your biggest fan, notwithstanding that your infatuation with the Left should have withered somewhat in the first decade or so after Harvard College. Usually, it take some exposure to the Real World of business budgets, meeting a payroll, being practical, and relegating the Group Sing of Kumbaya to the idealism of youth. It is wonderful to “fight for the little guy,” when often that is just a political slogan — the actual, effective implemention of which requires some hard-headed facing of the reality of How our Economy Works and the truism of governments: It’s easy to spend other people’s money. Keep up this wonderful blog!

  11. Pingback: Elizabeth Taylor and the American Century | Pop Culture Warrior

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