Michael Jackson

June 25, 2009

"Never Can Say Goodbye..."

Photographs by Carter B. Horsley taken off "Michael Marathon" on Black Entertainment Television 6/25/09

By Carter B. Horsley

Michael Jackson was the quintessential "pop" star of America and of the world whose talent was magical and whose life was mysterious and very, very fascinating.

He fused a deliciously sweet, almost child-like personality with the almost frightening authority of a disco deity barking lyrics that evoked love but also invoked responsibility.

He was the ultimate "transformative" man.

Not only was he a wonderful singer who delivered hit after hit for decades, but he was also the greatest dancer since Fred Astaire. Not a two-trick genius, Jackson was also a sensational, explosive force in fashion who was exceedingly comfortably in sleek and shiny red leather jackets, military epaulets, glittery gloves, medium-brimmed hats, dark glasses, sequin suits, white socks and pants that never covered his freedom-seeking ankles and gold lamé fit for a pharoah.

The public trappings of the man were as mythical as his private life was agonizing with serious medical problems that substantially changed the appearance of his face more than once and with difficult charges about his personal conduct and his financial responsibility.

The purported negativity of some aspects of personal life, however, did not crucify him for the billions of people in the world who were awed by him and loved him: he wrote the "We Are The World" anthem whose lines of lyrics were sung by different great singers in the video that anchored Bob Geldorf's remarkable, memorable and very great 24-hour Live Aid concert in 1985 that was the dawn of instant world-wide communication and common purpose. In a later video, Jackson included a photograph of Geldorf along with ones of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Mother Teresa.

One of his life-long girlfriends was Elizabeth Taylor, the great actress and beauty and many major entertainers appeared briefly in some of his videos. Marlon Brando, for example, never looked happier than in a very brief appearance in one of the videos.

Jackson was a member of the Jackson Five and quickly became the group's lead singer in the 1960s and 1970s produced a long list of very popular and excellent songs. Some child stars do not fade away in the movies but it is very rare in music. Indeed, child stars are very rare in popular music. His long and successful run as the group's lead singer was quite remarkable in an age of one-song diddies oddled by I-don't-remember-the-name-and-I-can't-distinguish-the-lyrics.

Jackson made almost everybody want their MTV as he became the network's first major black video performer who just happened to "light" the fire that set off the greatest cultural revolution in history as music videos not only by Jackson but almost 50 other singers and their groups blended movies and theater and choreography and photography and music into the ultimate art form that not only made theater seem primitive but also heralded the true complexity and potential of the modern, multi-tasking world. Jackson's "Thriller" video was a 13-minute-long musical film that combined aspects of "West Side Story" with "Night of the Living Dead" in an extremely campy and rousing video that just knocked the socks off all viewers with its ensemble of fabulous dancers following Jackson's imitable lead.

The "Thriller" album remains the biggest seller of all time and the title track combines Jackson's incredible Janus-like personality of dazzling, tender smiles and a horrific ferocity that is hard to reconcile with his otherwise passive demeanor. At the very end of the video he turns around to face the viewers and smiles but a smile that could belong to a lover or a villain.

The "Superman" quality of Jackson is even more startling that Demi Moore's bold and voluptuous stripper. The intensity with which he spurted his lyrics was almost unimaginable: he became a veritable major force and source of vitality that was undeniable and unstoppable.

Jackson had an electrifying authority that was stupendous. A glance from him could galvanize his gang or halt a pharoah's army.

Madonna is the only other contemporary singer who could also dance and her "Vogue" video is almost as good as some of the best of Jackson's as was Peter Gabriel's fabulous and haunting "Shock the Monkey."

Jackson quite simply shocked the world with his dancing and in the heyday of the early 80s when he stood on his toes in "Billie Jean" and showed the world his "moonwalk" on a program celebrating the 25th anniversary of Motown Records it was very easy to almost be casual about his dancing: the blur of a few knee sweeps and his whirling spinning combined with superfast, and very slick, editing made it appear almost easy, yet amazing.

Last night as I scanned cable television for images to accompany the article on him I felt I had to write I luckily came on the BET channel that was running a "Michael Marathon." I stayed up most of the night watching in awe as there were many Jackson videos that I had never seen because I had long ago stopped watching MTV because I can't stand hip-hop and rap music that overtook the once great network. The latter videos were a revelation. In "Earth Song" Jackson does not appear on screen but the video images are a magnificent appeal to save the environment. In "They Don't Care About Us," which was directed by Spike Lee, the images of human suffering are indelible and very, very moving. In "Smooth Criminal" and "Blood on the Dance Floor" Jackson dances divinely as a blur. In "Stranger in Moscow" the photography is only black and white but of a quality that is spellbinding and the cinematography of rain drops and people mesmerizing. In "Scream" he and his sister Janet Jackson burn up the screen in black and white with white-hot dancing and singing and special effects.

In these latter videos we can see that Jackson's dancing prowess was not a millisecond marvel and that he was always experimenting and creating, often in very subtle and sophisticated ways.

Jackson's very, very, very thin legs were made for angularity and whipsaw kicking and mid-air halts and hesitations and twists. Fred Astaire always insisted that he be filmed "full-body" because he wanted to make sure people could see his footwork as well as his overall grace. For a while the world was obsessed with Jackson's moonwalk. It will take many more years of watching to fully appreciate Jackson's equally expressive and all-encompassing armwork.

He has been quoted as saying that he enjoyed working on the movie "The Wiz" in which he portrayed "Scarecrow."

Jackson was a scarecrow whose spindly body arose out of and churned the fields of dreck and disco.

Up until this early morning, I have always felt for the last four or five decades that Miles Davis was God.

Tonight I feel that Miles would very much have liked to have accompanied Michael who "Never Can Say Goodbye..."

The fine lead editorial in the Daily News June 27, 2009 was entitled "Wild and Wonderful" and it maintained that "we shared the planet for half a century with an impossible man," adding that "His voice could be mocked by the worst comedian but couldn't be rivaled by the best singer....He was a sex symbol, at least for a while, but no one seemed more sexless. From age 11 on, he caught the spotlight as a magnifying glass catches the sun, focusing it and shooting itg out as concentrated heat and light...." (6/27/09)

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