My mom called him “filth” and he hadn’t even done anything yet (at least, as far as we know). It was all that badassery and ‘hip gyrating’; too much for the wholesome family vibe baby-boomers were attempting to construct back in the 80s and 90s. Whatevs. I became a ‘metal-head’ anyway…BUT even double bass, corpulent riffs and screaming has a little room for MJ. So I became a fan out of context; after They Don’t Care About Us, Black or White, Money, Jam, Scream – all those great 90s protest songs.
That’s not it though – the appeal. I mean; I appreciate the guy’s obvious talent (he can’t read music and barely plays an instrument and yet he dreamed up some of the most prolific songs in history) and I love that he challenged societal lethargy with his music and lyrics but honestly, his jams are just groovy. I feel ’em, even though the man himself makes no freaking sense!
Here’s a guy who sang “It don’t matter if you’re black or white” and then had his skin bleached, and “We can’t go on pretending day by day” (We are the World …the children), and seemed to spend a whole stack of time pretending. How can so many poignant, socially conscious songs come from someone who seemed to exemplify the complete antithesis of what he was trying to say? None of these questions are new; can you listen to MJ in good conscience, knowing he is a likely paedophile and apparent hypocrite? Well…I can. For me, the music transcends the man. But here’s a question; what about my kids?
My boos (8, 6 and 4 – almost) are totally into MJ at the mo; I played a ‘best of’ CD in the car one day and they just took to him – Thriller, Bad, They Don’t Care About Us, Beat It, Black or White…they can’t get enough! Like me, they’ve loved MJ entirely out of context. His songs appeal at a base, emotional, physical level – the lyrics are nothing other than song fillers. My kids have no sense of the anarchy or burlesque attached to the music.
They’ve watched videos and have not noticed a change in appearance, only MJ’s killer moves. It’s pretty great actually! I’ve explained the words of the songs to them (seeing as they are singing them!) – that sometimes the government or people in positions of power abuse their authority by marginalising those they are required to serve and protect, so MJ is sings out against this injustice (They Don’t Care About Us); that it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, it’s the inside that counts (They Don’t Care About Us). They don’t get the irony.
And I don’t want them to. Art is a funny thing. It is imbued with the personality and ethic of its creator but it also exists apart from the context of its birth. Once released into the world, art becomes something else; something other. Something so entirely subjective to the listener, viewer or perceiver. To the individual. One day my children will find out about Michael Jackson and they’ll work out how they feel about him and his songs. But for now his jams are groovy. I’m cool with that.