Sunday, June 28, 2009

Wendi C. Thomas: Pieces Of Jackson Fading For Years...

By Wendi C. Thomas

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson, the king of pop, perhaps the greatest musical influence on my generation, is gone.

He died Thursday, at the young age of 50.

But in this tragicomedy, Michael has been disappearing in pieces for decades.

His nose. Most of his melanin.

A good deal of his good sense (remember when he dangled his son over that Berlin balcony?).

His afro turned into a limp mess, dyed an unreal shade of black.

A cute black boy forced into a grueling career only an adult could withstand became an effeminate adult caricature, determined to be a child, complete with his own Neverland fantasy ranch and world.

To live as a child and sleep in a bed with young boys who were not his sons. Accusations of molestation followed him. Even though he was never found guilty, the out-of-court settlements cost him dearly, and not just the money.

But what remained -- that voice, those moves -- reminded his fans they were in the presence of genius, even though he hadn't released an album in eight years.

So those of us who grew up listening to the Jackson 5, then Michael solo and in his purest form, we compromised.

We shook our head in shame at Michael's naive confessions of sleepovers with pubescent boys on that infamous 2003 televised interview with Martin Bashir, but still listened to his music -- as if the man who tucked boys into his bed and the moonwalker were not the same.

It had to be two different people, because if not, we would be forced to make a choice. Either condone, or at the least decline to repudiate a pattern that suggested pedophilia or pretend the accusations didn't exist.

The choice I made was perhaps a cowardly one, but I conveniently segmented Jackson in my mind -- pre-perv and post-perv. I would not and could not abandon the man who supplied the pop soundtrack to my childhood.

To turn my back on the Dr. Jekyll side of the artist -- what would it do to my love of his music and childhood memories of when I first heard "P.Y.T.," "Working Day and Night," "Billie Jean" or "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'"? For me, those memories were dancing with friends and siblings in the playroom at a friend's house.

We'd practice the latest dances to 45s, and at home my siblings and I would sneak and watch the forbidden MTV, hoping for a glimpse of the "Thriller" video.

Last week, I saw the video for the first time in years, and compared to what's out there now, it seems tame.

But when it aired in 1984, it was the scariest thing my baby sister, then 5, had ever seen. She could be in another room, hear the music and just about lose it.

The notion that someone could disguise himself as a nice guy but be a demon on the inside -- as the video's final scene revealed in Michael's alien-yellow eyes as he consoled his terrified love interest -- that frightened my sister beyond belief.

The duality that exists in all of us -- but exposed so publicly for so long in Michael -- the battle between our ego and id, the part that would do good and the part that never quite can, it's enough to unsettle even the most centered soul.

Centered, Michael never was.

In life, he was a tortured, torn soul, in perpetual search of himself and elusive peace.

I pray he has found it.

Contact Wendi C. Thomas at 901-529-5896 or e-mail

© 2009 Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

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