Friday, June 26, 2009

Revisionist History: What We All Seem To Be Forgetting About Michael Jackson

50 seems about appropriate.

Contrary to what the suddenly gushing press and bloggers seem to be saying, I don't truly believe that Michael Jackson had another comeback in him. I think he could still sell out arenas, yes, but not in a good way.

Michael Jackson touring past 50 years old would have been an inglorious train wreck, featuring a pop culture carnival with PT Barnum on lead guitar and the Elephant Man dancing back-up. Thinking Michael Jackson had one more in him would be like suggesting that Mark McGwire still had at least 100 more home runs in him.

Honestly. Take a step back for a moment. Can you really see an aging Michael Jackson and whatever was left of his face try to carry on with the swagger of Mick Jagger or the grace of Tina Turner?


Simply put, too much damage, permanent and irreversable, had been done too many years ago, and Michael Jackson was too old and too much of a freakshow to make any lasting musical comeback seem like anything other than a novelty act. Maybe Jackson would have been put on some great shows, and maybe he would impressed the media to an extent, but then again, so did Axl Rose with all of his recent performances and Chinese Democracy still went over about as well as a fart in church with the public.

And that was no accident. Similarly, Rose wasted two whole decades as a troubled hermit before he decided to try and become relevant again. His bout with relevance was met with indifference, and not because he wasn't talented. He was and is. And not because Chinese Democracy sucked. It didn't.

But what so many critics failed to realize was that the performances can only be so great. The albums can only be so important. But once the public gets past a certain point, the most important things cannot be forgiven.

The constant controversy involving children. The battered women.

The constantly changing face. The constantly changing time for the concert to start.

The behavior that likened Howard Hughes. The behavior that likened J.D. Salinger.

The undeniable talent forever shrouded by what they had done, and what they had failed to do, not by what they had truly accomplished.

I can't help but think that a 50-year-old, a 60-year-old, a 70-year-old Michael Jackson performing would have had all the impact of Mike Tyson in The Hangover.

Amusing? Yes. Occasionally brilliant? Perhaps. Slightly more than pathetic? Absolutely.

One night a few years ago at a bar in Downtown Austin, Brad and I were going to play bocce ball and have a few drinks when one of the TVs stuck on ESPN Classic started replaying old fights of a young Mike Tyson. We were mesmerized. We abandoned our company, quit talking to women and simply watched Tyson kick ass and dominate for close to an hour.

He was young, in his prime and nobody had ever come along and dominated quite the way he did in the late 1980s. Not Ali, not Lewis, not Foreman. Tonight, I watched a young Michael Jackson in his prime on YouTube, and I can honestly say nobody had ever come along and dominated quite the way he did in the early 1980s. Not The Beatles, not Elvis, not Zeppelin.

But just like Tyson, Jackson had become a sad, cliched punchline. Always good for a laugh, and a constant reminder of eccentricity gone horribly wrong. I don't think anybody would enjoy seeing a 50-year-old Michael Jackson trying to dominate the way he did when he was 20 any moreso than watching a 50-year-old Tyson, a 50-year-old Rose, a 50-year-old McGwire try to recapture a glory that had been tainted so long ago by unforgivable sins, and a public that can no longer embrace, but has chosen to make fun of them.

Perhaps on Friday morning and throughout the weekend, nobody will be here talk about the past. Perhaps most people will simply choose to forget and forgive Michael Jackson now that he's dead. Artistically, it's always the more convenient choice.

But I will talk about the past. And it was the past that dictated how so many people truly felt about Michael Jackson up until today.