The King is dead


The story ends here. What began in poverty ends in unknowable wealth. What began in a crowded, working class home in a crowded, working class city ends in a vacuum of isolation. What began in tragedy ends in tragedy.

In the pantheon of popular culture, Michael Jackson's spot is singular. There can be no comparison made to anyone that came before him, nor to anyone that came after. No performer so totally dominated the consciousness of his time. No performer rose as high, nor fell so far.

Jackson's life was a thing of grotesque beauty. He was a figure who seemed crafted by the Greek tragedians, a man who's every talent was instrumental in his own undoing.

As a diminutive, cherubic boy, at a time when most children were preoccupied by childish things, Jackson was a media star-- a boy with an unerring vocal range that could stop you in your tracks. He could dance. He was affable. He was handsome. By the time he was 23 years old, he was responsible for two of the greatest records in the history of pop music, "Off The Wall" and "Thriller," and had achieved a level of global celebrity previously unknown. Fans were so moved by his presence that ambulances and stretchers had to be readied by the dozens at his concerts to cart away those who passed out at the mere sight of him.

But the ecstasy soon turned to bewilderment-- as scrutiny on him increased, so too did the depth of his eccentricities. What at first seemed to be the jubilence of a child began to be something more unnerving-- the stasis of arrested development. Through the 80s, as Jackson's skin paled to the point of pallor, as rumors and whispers piled upon him, as his face began to show the ravages of  disastrous plastic surgery, and as devastating sex scandals forced him into exile, bewilderment became horror-- Jackson, who had once been the beaming face of a powerful mainstream, was now a creature warped by a lifetime of examination, a man twisted by the very public of which he was at once master and slave.

We all have it-- the favorite Jackson moment. Perhaps you practiced the moonwalk on a hardwood floor. Or you have a cassette copy of "Bad" that hasn't left your car in over a decade. Or "Thriller" was the first vinyl record you ever bought with your own money. Or you watched him perform "Billie Jean" live on television and burst into tears, for you had never seen or heard anything so beautiful.

To summarize him is preposterous. To praise him is needless. To pardon him is impossible. The only way to memorialize Jackson is to stand in private awe of him. That one life could have been so beautiful, so troubled, so productive, and so horrific is nearly beyond the grasp of rational thought, and is certainly beyond words in these immediate hours. In a sense, Jackson was the great example of humanity-- in one man, as in few before him, the very best and the very worst of the species existed for us to observe, to see, to love, to hear, and to fear. A man ruined by his own greatness, and by our insatiable need for it. A man who, despite innumerable frailties both physical and mental, seemed, somehow, invincible.

There will be more said about Jackson in the next days and weeks-- a deluge of commentary, of lionization, of condemnation, of fond remembrance and of analysis. But when the din ebbs, what remains will be Jackson's life, and the works he left behind, and to look on it is to look on the face of a mountain. It is elemental, and impossible to ever fully understand, fearsome, and heartbreakingly beautiful.