The Dancing Sleepwalker

Life was often larger than he was, but his music was always larger than life. Michael Jackson was one of those people to whom art gave birth and who can only be described in fairytale terms. He was a sojourner between dream and reality, a sleepwalker on rooftops in the moonlight.

The King of Pop is dead, far too early at just 50 years of age, but he and his times had always faced one another like enemies. Jackson as a pensioner? Impossible to imagine. Now he’s takes his place among the others in the gallery of those prematurely torn from life: Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Elvis Presley, Freddy Mercury. “Only the Good Die Young.”

Those who wander through life like pennies from heaven are either saved or despised. Jackson was both. His enemies didn’t make it easy for him. They dragged him before the courts; they reviled him as a mentally disturbed man who regularly took young boys into his bed; a man who surrounded himself in a fantasy world full of toys, candy and merry-go-rounds. In an impossible desire to remain forever young, he underwent many facial surgeries that eventually transformed him completely. His enemies accused him of not just being outwardly eccentric, but also of fulfilling his pedophilic fantasies at his Neverland Ranch.

Pallid, sallow, zombie, nutcase, extraterrestrial, bizarre, paranoid, profligate, naïve, cunning: Jackson was often labeled with contradictory terms. Sometimes he couldn’t comprehend the burdens that were heaped upon him. He seemed like a child in whose mind fairies and princes danced through castles at the same time he had to learn to properly sit up at the dinner table. Jackson lived in his own reality. His life seldom overlapped the lives of other inhabitants of this world.

Sensitive, highly talented, quaint, generous, honest: that’s how his fans perceived him. They called out to him, “You’ll never be alone!”, always concerned that he was incapable of defending himself from the world. To call him a “superstar” isn’t enough; it’s a term too feeble and overused to apply to him. And so the tag “Megastar” was invented for him. The megastar wore a silver glove, danced the moonwalk and the robot. Music, body and dance melted together in him to form a completely different and fascinating being. He earned over $750 million with that persona, but in the end he died broke. A combination of false friends, enormous risks, pay-offs,and a loss of control took their toll. Art, fairytales and money: the combination seldom ends up well for anyone.

In the year 2000, the Guinness Book of World Records listed him as the largest contributor to charitable organizations. A man-child whose generous heart was misused by others? A modern-day Jesus – suffer the little children to come unto me – misunderstood, despised and dragged in front of Pontius Pilate? An angel sent to walk among us? No other artist ever attracted so many myths.

Jackson, above all, defined the culture of the 1980s. His album “Thriller” debuted during the blossoming of the music video age. He was a pioneer in that movement as well. “Thriller” sold more than 100 million copies. It became the best selling album of all time and it’s likely to retain that title forever. His greatest hits came about during a time of rapid mass communications advances that sent his music far beyond the western world. Jackson goes into the books as one of the first truly global stars.

But that was all a long time ago.

At the end, Jackson was planning a comeback. He seemed to already be in physical decline and those who had always worshiped him now sympathized with him. The advance ticket sales for his comeback concerts were nothing short of phenomenal. Sold out, sold out, sold out and the concert dates would have to be postponed over and over. “I’ll see you all in July and I love you all, really I do, from the bottom of my heart,” he said at the press conference held to announce his comeback tour.

That said it all: You’re not alone, Michael.

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