Sunday, June 28, 2009
Walking on the Moon
Seeing the TV shots of thousands of fans collecting for their mourn-ins for Michael Jackson in different parts of the world was a reminder that in the Internet age people will gather for a rave or a funeral, equally voraciously, driven by mobile phones, blogs and social networking. Twittering hype transcends any real depth of emotion as style drowns substance. Warhol’s fifteen minutes thesis is screwed a thread deeper as people submerge themselves in untold weeping minutes of fame-by-identification. The reality of their relationship with the pop star seems nothing but a hysterical projection. All the while Jackson’s images flit across Plato’s cave wall. Michael Jackson dancing like a wayward sprite. Michael Jackson singing – from the early years’ voice of a wayward angel fronting his elder brothers – to the man with the tonsils of a bi-polar castrato. The man who would be white. blanching his features and feminising them, step by step, as though no-one would detect the transformation. The man in the hospital mask. The man who went out in a wheelchair to malls dressed as an old lady. The man who slept with children. The man who pretended to nearly drop his baby from a great height. Now the man who would be king, now dead.
Outpourings of sorrow in this age seem proportionate to the dimensionality of the celebrities that are being grieved over. The realer the person the realer the grief. The more the person exists as a simulacrum constructed by mirrors, smoke and lanterns, the more the crowd will vent a momentary bathetic despondency before attaching itself to the next white or black hope for immortality.
Having entered my teenage years with pre-vinyl platters of hard bakelite, as rock and roll, itself, arrived, I have, like all my contemporaries and those that followed us, become fixated with this star or that, this band or that. What mattered always for me was an identification with the words and tunes and how authentically they were delivered. And did they speak for me? Thus it is that perhaps only one fragment of a rock star’s oeuvre may have appealed. One tune only.
So, probably already too old when Michael Jackson came along, I respected the dancing feet, the timing in the unique voice and the images but never at any time did I identify with the sad creature at the heart of it. Rilke’s poem, The Unicorn, suggests that the charmed, horned horse existed because people wanted it to. Similarly with Michael Jackson.
Bob Dylan has a great personal take on this phenomenon. People trying to get to the heart of Bob Dylan, the man, are rebuffed because, as the man himself has said, ‘he’s not there’.