Dr. Rhythm blinked repeatedly. "Chisa, what the Hell am I looking at?"
"Don't you start," I said, adjusting the volume on the store stereo, which I had jerry-rigged into my laptop along with the advertising monitor from the lottery machine. "This is one of the greatest pieces of cinema ever made, and anyone who speaks ill of it will require a crowbar to extract my foot from their asshole." The screen, facing outwards towards the customers, was awash with colorful rainbow sparkles over footage of an adoring throng.
Kupo walked in, fresh from the plane trip, and grinned like a maniac as soon as he saw the screen. "Holy shit," he said, "where did you get a copy of this?"
"Had the missus torrent it for me," I replied. "Welcome to Tucson."
A regular customer, one of the hip kids that works at the local video store, came in behind Kupo, pausing and gawking as his eyes fell on the images. "I haven't seen this in ages!"
"Blame this guy," I said, pointing at Kupo. "He came all the way down from Baltimore to drive back with Dr. Rhythm. I figured the least I could do was make him feel at home."
"I do love me some Michael Jackson," said Kupo, still grinning.
We watched Moonwalker. It is, to put it mildly, an unusual work. The first third of the film is a retrospective of Jackson's early years, leading up through Thriller and Bad. At the second third, it becomes a compilation, with a new video remix of "Bad", the Claymation rendered "Speed Demon" and the collage art cum social critique of "Leave Me Alone." But it's the final third of the film that most people remember: a ridiculous, cinematographic epic wherein a mythological MJ archetype fights a Joe Pesci led laser-armed drug cartel by transforming into a panther, a car, a huge robot and finally a spaceship. And then he performs a cover of the Beatles' "Come Together" in a raunchy nightclub and Ladysmith Black Mambazo sings over the credits.
A large number of people cite this movie as the exact point that Michael Jackson lost his damned mind.
A recent article from BBC News cites scientific proof that there is a correlation between genius and schizophrenia. I hold all scientific studies in contempt as a general rule. Often the declarations should simply read: Study confirms that funder of study was correct; could be more correct with more money, say scientists. As I've noted at length elsewhere on this blog: if you want to change reality, paying for it is the easiest method.
Not all geniuses are insane, and not all insane people are geniuses -- unless you're willing to make the counterarguments that John Wayne Gacy was some sort of artistic visionary or that Stephen Hawking ought to be confined to a rubber room for his crazy-ass ideas about aliens and time travel. (Full disclosure: I actually do believe the latter one.) Nature doles out benefits as she may. Sometimes you get to be a genius; sometimes you die in childbirth. It's not fair, but we insist that it be, somehow, to salve our psychological inability to deal with existentialism. I'm pretty sure this is the evolutionary reason we have religion, too, but that's a subject for another time.
What is a subject for now, however, is the belief that Michael Jackson was a child molester. First of all -- let's not mince any words here -- no one, absolutely no one has made that charge stick. If we are a nation that believes in and even prides itself on the fairness of our justice system, then we shall not have the luxury of perjurious scandal in the wake of its verdicts. If anything, the lingering doubt we hold in regards to Jackson shows how vile and sordid we prefer our bias to be, damn the facts to the contrary.
We crave sensationalism and the breaking of scruples for the same reason we need mad geniuses: we, the public, are quite simply unable to take anything at face value. Consider the hoax that surrounded Fred Rogers during his life. Nefarious rumors spread that he always wore long-sleeved sweaters to hide the tattoos he got as a Navy SEAL sniper in Vietnam. Nevermind that Rogers, a nigh saintly man by all accounts, never served in the military in any capacity. We need Fred Rogers to be a bloodthirsty killing machine, because if there's one thing we can't stand, it's someone who doesn't have any vices.
That's why we need Michael to be a child fucker, too, but it goes deeper than that for Michael. He gets away with all the things we wish we could. He's weird, and cool, and effortless all at once. His innocence appeals to the child in us and his sexuality seduces the animal in us; to wit, he owns a zoo for the latter and an amusement park for the former. He's rich -- obscenely, distastefully rich on a level that nobody else in the world gets without brutally assfucking someone or another on the way up. He breaks the rules, then rewrites them, then breaks them again. He is a god among mortals. That's why we hate him so; that's why he must be destroyed.
We're a culture of victimization. We relish our horrible fuckups like badges of honor in an arena of pain and misery, and what we despise more than anything is to be reminded that we have the capacity to be better. If Michael Jackson isn't a monster, our whole matrix of defense mechanisms gets thrown into disarray -- because we'd be monsters in his position.
You want proof? How about the entire hierarchy of the Catholic church, who cover time and again for real child molesters? How about all those news stories of tragic fools who finally win the lottery after a lifetime of playing, only to blow the whole wad on hookers and cocaine within eighteen months? People say that power corrupts, but that's just another popular delusion to allow us to shuck our responsibilities. The maxim actually only works in reverse; we are born corrupt, and it's only our lack of power that keeps us from doing far more damage than we do already.
June 25, 2009, 3:30 PM MST
I called Dr. Rhythm. "How is Kupo taking this?"
"Considering, fairly well," he answered. "He's mostly in shock. He's been crying some."
"Get him back here immediately," I ordered. "He needs to be near someone who understands."
Kupo looked drained as he stumbled in, like he'd been without sleep for days. Bleary-eyed, he gazed at me with a quiet confusion. "How did you know? How did you know to have me out to Arizona on today of all days, to show me the Moonwalker video last night... how?"
"I don't know, Steve," I admitted. "Things like this happen to me occasionally. Four years ago I had a dream I killed Hunter Thompson, and he died three days later. Last year at this time I dreamed I had an argument with George Carlin that was so vicious I made him cry, and he died two days later. Synchronicity uses me as a focal point; I don't know why."
The answer seemed to satisfy him; he nodded simply, and sat down in the easy chair to watch the coverage on CNN. Dr. Rhythm, unsure of how to proceed, looked on apologetically.
Two things are interesting about Jacksons' death date. First, it happened on the date of the 25th anniversary of Purple Rain. I can only imagine Prince waking up to that on Thursday morning.
More interesting is the second coincidence: June 25th would be on the opposite side of the calendar from Christmas. Is it possible Jackson was the realization of the Second Coming? He exhibited many of the same characteristics as Christ. His flagrant defiance of gravity certainly made it appear that he could walk on water. Jackson implored us to look at the Man in the Mirror; Christ told us to take the logs out of our own eyes before criticizing the specks in others'. Obvious jokes aside, Michael did suffer the little children to come unto him. And both were men of peace whom you would never want to get into a brawl with, particularly if you happened to be a banker.
Some of Jesus's last words were "I will return as a thief in the night." You have to admit, when asked to envision what a robber looks like, most Americans would probably think of a black man.
I owe at least two things to Michael Jackson. First, he made it okay for me to want to collect mannequins. "I imagine talking to them," he revealed to a Rolling Stone interviewer in 1982, describing the planned room in his new house that would be filled with showroom dummies. "I think I'm accompanying myself with friends I never had." The eccentric often compensates for a longing in the real world, a missing element that, for whatever reason, they are unable to adapt to socially. Even with millions of dollars and the respect and admiration of everyone from Andy Warhol to Ronald Reagan, Michael had to invent his best friends.
I could certainly relate as a child. I was no social butterfly; I preferred Encyclopedia Brown books and typing long, arduous lists of esoteric text into a new machine known as an "Apple IIe". I took apart tape recorders and tried to figure out how they worked, and recorded sounds backwards. I was fascinated by the birthing artform of rap music, and one of my most vivid childhood memories is my first attempt to "scratch" using my mother's copy of Thriller on my measly Fisher Price turntable.
That brings me to the second thing I owe Michael: he made it okay to want to be an artist. President Obama would have our children believe that thankless hard work and sucking up to the boss are the preferred methods of spending your time on Planet Earth. Michael, like Fred Rogers before him, told me that I was okay just the way I was. If I wanted to spend my days pecking out computer programs that made weird, bleepy noises, that wasn't merely not wrong; I was compelled to do so. Who I am and what I do are not separate entities.
If we take nothing else from Michael Jackson's life, let us for God's sake take that: it is your world. If it's miserable, you have no one to blame but you.
Today marks the one year anniversary of Jackson's death. I've been poking at this post since then, trying to get the words right, trying to explain how a man I never met could have such a profound impact on my small and measured life. The words do not come easy. As with many things esoteric, reason is only the beginning of wisdom; that which goes beyond is not explainable, not definable, not recordable.
But do I even need to? You were there in 1982; you wanted one of those damn ridiculous red zipper jackets so bad, because we all did. We wanted a piece of Michael because Michael was a piece of us; the unapologetic, empowered part we'd learned to push down so we could get through the day at school without being sent to the principal's office.
Don't push it down, said Michael. Let go of it. Let it run wild and free and touch the world with its beauty and joy. Let it shine like a beacon to the shore, showing the way to others who've become lost in the vast gray seas of mediocrity and hopelessness. Let them come to you and share in the joy; you are not alone; you are not alone.
If you look around
The whole world is coming together now
Feel it in the air
The wind is taking it everywhere
Can you feel it
Can you feel it
Can you feel it
Yes, God, yes, I can feel it. I can see inside the light that burns with the heat of a thousand suns. I see the grace and the beauty stirring, emanating from the deepest cockle of my breast, from the vantage point of my homunculus, and I will live in the light, I will know the light, and it will shine in glory for all the worlds.
I can feel it. I can hear the sound rumbling under the materia, the deepest bass of earthquakes and microwave bursts from quasars. I can hear the sound of the stars and the galaxies vibrating and spinning in their places like a giant watch, like the transmission of a humongous engine, and the sound comes bursting out of me.
I can feel it. I can feel the intense and all-pervading sincerity of compassion, of nonjudgmental caring, and it swarms over me like a sandstorm, like a hurricane of locusts. I can feel the warm winds of the scirocco eroding away the sarcasm and malice, time's steadfast chisel whittling away the impurities. I can feel the heat of the athenor, the alchemical furnace of searing light, burning away the hatred and the rage, reducing this bloated, sluggish body in fire and empathy like succulent broth from the blood of ruminants, until only the most beautiful, the most elegant parts remain, so forged in the blazes of love's relentless fire to serve forever, to offer myself for any and all uses, without precondition or complaint, to be one with the will of all, of every person, until I am nothing but an extension of every man and woman and child, until I have become all of their dreams, until I dissolve into the void of the universe, the fifth ring of Miyamoto Musashi, to see the Void as the Way, to see the Way as the Void.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.
I can feel it.