Back in the eighties, I was working the front, retail, lines of the record business, managing a record department in the back of a book store in Middlebury, Vermont, home to Middlebury College. I was a long haired jazzer, whose musical boat had departed the mainstream currents in the early seventies. Even then, I marveled at how easily mobs of college kids marched to the beat of the mass culture drums.
I more than witnessed the Michael Jackson phenomena as it first broke in 1979, and crested with Thriller in 1982. What I know of his music came from incidental exposure. At the peak of his musical popularity, his music was not considered hip. However, even then, his artistry was praiseworthy even in my aficionado’s biased terms simply because it was Jacko who seemingly single-handedly turned back soul music’s disco infection.
In many respects, Jackson’s musical revolution was exhausted by 1987, the year of his LP/CD Bad. By then he was the most successful entertainer in the world. He wasn’t finished entertaining, but his second career of serial re-creation and lurid lifestylin’ eventually overwhelmed his musical bona fides as the centering force of his persona. He became cultural cannon fodder; his genius reduced to ferocious chapters of topping the previous chapter of strange.
It is the distressing norm should any celebrated figure morph into iconic stature, that its basis is the hook for massive magical participation of both fan and anti-fan, of sympathy and antipathy. There is no right mind able to support willfully doing this consciously. So, when it is said that the icon reflects something of this participation, it would be most accurate to say that the icon reflects cultural unconsciousness without any mercy whatsoever. Alas, in such a phenomenology of ‘cultural activity’ the evident whipsaw cuts both way, and never to a satisfying, terminal, abreaction for the iconic subject or his or her minions.
And minions is the right term: the king of pop mightily favored his loyal subjects. To unglue the cultural mass from Jackson simply brings into relief shared symptoms. It seems no episodic detail of his life was not a comment on symptoms writ large: in the bubble, neverlands, shapeshifting, carving away bodily features, dangling infants, comforting sleep partners, unlimited discretionary income, and, forcing a family out of surrogates and sexual compulsion. It matters not that Jackson’s own compulsions were chaste, its the compulsion. Above all there was our golden wish: to turn back the clock and never grow old.
When asked what I thought, last week I said, “Michael Jackson was one of the strangest people ever peopled,” (to use Alan Watt’s trope.) I have credible people I can ask, but no one has nailed where Jackson’s psychological makeup vectors in any armchair diagnostic take.
Given my archetypal prejudices, it is certainly obvious that no conventional or generic character-logical version of the psychology of the Puer Aeturnus fits Jackson very well. Except, it must fit someway!
Nevertheless, the Puer facets offer clues. It’s easy enough to place provisionality in the terrain of his complex. This feature is always a hallmark of persons who strive, and sometimes realize, their own world. It’s never a perfect world, yet its a better world. But, this world can scarcely be inhabited. It, then, also may be the case that the ‘other’ world fortune and magnification buys is a solitary, barren, and finally, tiny world.
We don’t really wish to be left alone on throne or cross or couch. I read today that Michael deeply wished to be royalty. How revealing. For what is the King but the loneliest creature in the kingdom? Our culture, with its harsh and fickle and always unconscious loyalties, only appoints figure heads–only crowns with a thorny embrace the gilded imago personified by charismatic celebrity. Short of royalty, those so elevated are our figure heads, literally left alone but to our own cruel devices. In the austere mythologem, the consequence of christological aspiration in this context of our collective complex is necessarily tragic.
Then it struck me: the last narrative chapter of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.
Beside the well there was the ruin of an old stone wall. When I came back
from my work, the next evening, I saw from some distance away my little price
sitting on top of a wall, with his feet dangling. And I heard him say:
“Then you don’t remember. This is not the exact spot.”
Another voice must have answered him, for he replied to it:
“Yes, yes! It is the right day, but this is not the place.”
I continued my walk toward the wall. At no time did I see or hear anyone. The
little prince, however, replied once again:
“–Exactly. You will see where my track begins, in the sand. You have nothing
to do but wait for me there. I shall be there tonight.”
I was only twenty metres from the wall, and I still saw nothing.
After a silence the little prince spoke again:
“You have good poison? You are sure that it will not make me suffer too
I stopped in my tracks, my heart torn asunder; but still I did not understand.
“Now go away,” said the little prince. “I want to get down from the wall.”