I'm in no position to judge his talent. I do not have much of an ear for music, though from a broadly cultural point of view I can understand that he ranks somewhere up there with Elvis Presley as a pop icon. Was Beatlemania any different, I wonder, from the Presley worship that verges on idolatry? My sense is that even John Lennon, whose assassination was a tragic reminder of the insanity of gun violence in this country, has not been sanctified in quite the same way as Elvis. Michael Jackson, though, seems headed in that direction.
It's not just a matter of hero-worship. We do need heroes, especially in a world where each one of us risks being lost in the crush of humanity around us. We like to have heroes with feet of clay, and Jackson's--to put it nicely--oddities with regard to his physical appearance, his racial and sexual ambiguity, his unhealthy predilection for the company of children lent his life story a drama that was an endlessly fascinating source of public controversy. He needed, and attracted, those who would rush passionately to his defense.
He also cultivated the image of himself as a Peter Pan, a child who did not wish, or was not allowed to grow up. As such, perhaps, he spoke to the child in his fans--the child in each of us--in a world where the gap between the innocent dreams of childhood and our experience of life as adults gives rise to so much dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Those who loved him with such intensity were surely seeing some part of themselves in him--the part that dreams of wild success, universal love and admiration, along with unimaginable wealth and the illusion of freedom that accompanies it.
And yet the illusory nature of this pop idol's success became sadly evident in his obsessive habits, including an apparent inability to nourish himself properly, his dependence on powerful drugs to kill the pain, his isolation and reported paranoia and his erratic behavior patterns--all suggest a man whose life was far from a fulfilling one. Perhaps his death and the surrounding hoopla will serve, at some deep level of consciousness, to make us all aware of the discrepancy between the illusion of celebrity and the reality of a profoundly unhappy life cut short by self-destruction; and remind us of the need to look for true happiness elsewhere.
If I believed in an afterlife, I would wish Michael Jackson a far happier existence than the one he was given to experience this time around.