Sunday, March 07, 2010

It was what, exactly?

Michael Jackson in concert by Pants

This is the 'it' that never had a hope of being realised. The concert to end all concerts was supposedly going to prove to the world that the erstwhile King of Pop was still worthy of the title. In the promo for the fifty-concert THIS IS IT London O2 residency filmed shortly before his death, Michael Jackson looked like something Tim Burton had created out of crepe paper and neglected to write a script for.

A DVD chronicling the rehearsals for the gig that never was is released in Australia today. Everywhere else in the world it seems to have been out since 26th January. According to the official Michael Jackson website, the film had a two-week cinema release back in October last year. It didn't make it to Larrikin's End.

The website's Australian page hasn't been updated since 11 January. That's an odd approach for an organisation about to launch a major product in a market hungry for consumables. And it's not the only odd thing about it. Looking at the last post, an ad for a Michael Jackson Opus Box "Unboxing" Video, I notice there are two comments, one of which is a flame about non-delivery. I suspect the Jackson family have more pressing issues to deal with at the moment to do with actual in-family 'boxing' and possible stun-gunning.

A film of Jackson's final television appearance was shown here last year shortly after his death. It was remarkable for the few times you actually got a glimpse of him. His face seemed perpetually covered with a hand or hat, washed out by pyrotechnics or secreted in shadow. His movements were economical and strategic, designed to suggest signature dances without having to engage in the exhaustive work of executing them. It was sad and embarrassing to watch and certain proof that Jackson didn't have a butterfly's chance of breathing through fifty gigs.

Yesterday, we were treated to a half-hour TV documentary on the making of the DVD. It contained a scant few glimpses of MJ whispering instructions about his need for 'simmering' time and weakly exuding unconditional love for all humanity. He looked like a candidate for life support. Rather more prevalent was the testimony of producers musing on 'what might have been'. I can't think anyone could really have believed there was a consequential 'it' in any of this. Some of the claims made by producers were plainly absurd. He was an early and passionate champion of environmental issues? This is hard to square with his obsessive compulsive, narcissistic purchasing and gargantuan energy consumption.

There is almost nothing of Michael Jackson in the documentary. It seems the producers were saving it all for the film. I looked up a few reviews and the consensus is that rather more performance is in evidence in the film than was revealed in the TV documentary but that Jackson still looks like a dead man moonwalking. I admit to being a bit behind the times - I'm still listening to Lily Allen - but the lack of MJ diverted my attention to guitarist Orianthi Panagaris. She's 24. She's Australian. She's virtuosic. She's alive. She will be a star. Standing next to her, Jackson looked dead already.

We continue to refer to him as the King of Pop despite the pitiful enfeeblement that dogged his career for the last decade of his life, probably because there was no one else to claim the crown. Prince had inexplicably abdicated his claim in the 90s. Who else was there? Justin Timberlake? P Diddy? Bono? It was a throne as ghostily occupied as that of George III or Edward VIII. Sadly, it maintained Jackson in his delusion that he was sent to earth to somehow gift us all with the benefit of his love and wisdom. Who could believe a man had the capacity to love the whole world if he couldn't manage to even acknowledge the existence of the mothers of his children? Who could admire a man who was so incapable of physically departing childhood that he simply diverted his vast earnings to the task of making adult responsibility go away?

I can't help but think that his tenure as King of Pop served multiple purposes. Barack Obama's presidency has cast timely illumination on just how complicated America's relationship is with black people in top rank. Even liberals in America will openly say that Obama's lighter skin tone made him acceptable as a candidate. An impotent black man who is aspirationally white and incapable of a uttering a single sensible thing is surely the perfect dupe as a pop icon. He was hot in the 80s but by the mid-nineties he'd become the Chauncey Gardiner of the pop world. It just couldn't have gone on. His death was a convenient resolution.

The silver lining in the vast wastage of hype and costumery is Orianthi. The King of Pop is dead, God bless the Queen of Rock...