The news that Michael Jackson had collapsed and died has shocked the world in the past couple of days. He was an icon who shaped contemporary pop music and culture in both positive and negative ways for better than four decades. He was indisputably a musical genius, a prodigy with an ability to write a memorable pop hook unlike anybody else in a generation.
He was also a walking contradiction, whose creatively reinvented images, gentle persona and generous spirit clashed with his extravagant lifestyle, bizarre behavior, androgynous sexuality, suspected pedophilia and other things to keep us off balance.
Because of that and more, it’s easy to dismiss Jackson as “wacko Jacko”.
But here’s the thing. Before any of those things, Michael Jackson was a creation of God—“fearfully and wonderfully made”, with God-given dignity and God-planned purpose. If I look at him in that light, this death strikes me as indescribably sad.
This was a soft and gentle soul, who from all reports experienced verbal and emotional abuse from his father at an early age. He talked of belt beatings when dance steps were missed and of throwing up from the pressure to perform. You have to wonder if the whole Neverland thing was an attempt to recapture a carefree childhood that was lost in the rush to celebrity. Sad.
Another by-product of that upbringing was the longing to prove himself and be accepted. By all accounts, Michael’s heart was deaf to all the success and worldwide acclaim. He wanted everybody to know he wasn’t a fluke or just a child star who hung on for awhile. That was the driving motivation behind the run of 50 sold-out concerts in London that were set to start in a few weeks. It was as if he wanted to scream, “Don’t forget me! Don’t forget I’m great! Keep loving me, world!” Sad.
Where do you start with his outer image? He often appeared in military suits compete with epaulets and nameless medals for some fantasy act of heroism pinned to his chest. But more evident was the constant plastic surgery and face-whitening that completely reshaped his look over the past 20 years or so. Question: what sort of self-loathing to do have to feel when you look in the mirror and want to make that person disappear? Sad.
By all accounts, for all his money and entertainment connections and family, Michael Jackson was a desperately lonely man. He lived behind gates, in a controlled, tightly monitored world. There was a long time when his closest companion was a chimp named Bubbles. When things got crazy here after financial setbacks and one of the trials, he moved to Bahrain to live in isolation with a member of the royal family. For every call from Elizabeth Taylor or Uri Geller, every visit with Deepok Chopra or Quincy Jones, or even visits with his kids, there were hours alone. The 911 call apparently came from an assistant, who was there with a doctor. Sad.
Joy. Satisfaction. Acceptance. Meaning. Grace. Michael Jackson frantically pursued them all for a lifetime, with an almost superhuman force. Lisa Marie Presley was married to Michael for almost 2 years. On her MySpace page yesterday, she wrote, “I wanted to ‘save him’. I wanted to save him from the inevitable which is what has just happened. His family and his loved ones also wanted to save him from this as well but didn’t know how….”
None of them could save Michael from Michael and help him gain the things he so desperately wanted. Only Jesus could do that. And unless I’m missing something, Michael never encountered the love of Jesus and the gospel that would have changed everything. Was there no one around him, in all those recording sessions, among all the business associates or people who serviced his lifestyle, who could introduce him to Jesus? To help Michael know the Jesus who made Michael, who loved Michael as he was and not for his performances, and who gave everything for him to experience an abundant life that would make all the glitz fade and exchange Neverland for the “land of the living’ bustling with the forever joy of King Jesus.
I wish somebody could have told him. Or that he would have listened. And now it’s too late.
And that’s sad.
Update: An LA music critic writes about “Michael Jackson: The Wounds, the Broken Heart”