The Times of London columnist Janice Turner wrote a fantastic opinion piece for the Saturday, June 27th edition of The Times in which she opined that the intense idolatry of Michael Jackson’s fans played a role in his death. She opened the column as follows:
Outside UCLA hospital they gather with their candles and their teddies, spooky lookalikes in full Thriller garb, wan teenagers wearing a single lace glove. They sway and sing I’ll Be There with sad faces to disguise the serotonin buzz from their frenzied collective mourn-in. Fans cry now for Michael Jackson, but they killed him. They always do.
Turner also discussed the price that fame exacted on 1970s teen idol David Cassidy:
The most troubled person I ever met was David Cassidy, the teen idol of Jackson’s era, unhinged long ago by his fans. For five years girls slept outside his house, followed him everywhere, ripped his clothing, forced him into isolation, made his life empty and lonely. And then, abruptly, when he was no longer the pretty boy du jour they deserted him. Now, two divorces later, he loathes meeting old fans, because they will say, with no regard for his feelings, how old he looks — though they are mostly portly matrons themselves — or get drunk and take a grab at him. To them, he isn’t a man, just an odd manifestation of their teenage years: they own him and they let him know it.
Turner’s piece was the best thing I’ve ever read about the dark side of fame. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in pop culture. To read Turner’s piece, which is titled “The fans killed their idol. They always do,” from the Saturday June 27th edition of The Times of London, click here.
After reading Turner’s piece, I started to think about my own fandom and how it affects my life. I am quite a fan of music. I wouldn’t be writing for Powerline A.D. if that weren’t the case. I like the art of music, but that’s as far as it goes. I will never understand those super-obsessive fans that latch on to one artist. Michael Jackson, to his great misfortune, seemed to be saddled with many of those types of fans.
Since Jackson’s death on Thursday, video from Jackson’s March press conference in London to announce the 50 concerts there has been played many times on various TV news programs. Watching the video is quite disturbing. And I’m not talking about Jackson’s gaunt appearance in the video. When the camera panned to the fans present for the press conference, they looked absolutely rabid. I don’t know if they were playing up to the cameras or what was going on there, but the looks on their faces were downright scary. They appeared to be in absolute ecstasy just to be in the same room as Jackson. Let’s not forget that fan is short for fanatic, and those present at the press conference were the living embodiment of the word.
Looking back on my limited interactions with some of my favorite musicians, I believe that I treated them respectfully. I’ve been a big fan of The Who for nearly 30 years, and I met the late John Entwistle once, in November 1987, after a solo show that he did at the now-defunct club The Bottom Line in New York City’s Greenwich Village. There were only a few of us out on the sidewalk in front of the club when Entwistle suddenly walked out of the club’s front door. I wasn’t waiting for him; I was just having a conversation with several of the fans who had also been at the show. Entwistle was gracious and spoke to us for about ten minutes before hailing a cab and heading off into the New York night. Everyone was respectful to Entwistle, and he came off to us as a regular guy, a working musician who enjoyed playing live.
Michael Jackson was one of the music personalities that I’ve been aware of since I first understood what music was. The Jackson 5 broke through when I was three years old and Jackson was the 10-year-old lead singer of his band of brothers. With the Jackson 5, Michael Jackson played a role in creating some great pop singles. Hell, the Jackson 5’s “ABC” is probably one of the most perfect pop singles ever released. I still remember a great appearance that the Jackson 5 made on a children’s program called Wonderama that aired on Sunday mornings on New York City’s Channel 5 in the early 1970s. The thing that I remember most about that appearance is the way the girls in the audience screamed for Michael. They loved him.
The Jackson 5 appealed to me at the time because I was a kid and they were a band that was led by a kid. By the mid 70s, I was discovering other music and left the Jackson 5 behind as I did many other of my childhood things. When Michael Jackson released his multiplatinum Off The Wall album in 1979, I couldn’t have cared less. I was listening to Cheap Trick and Gary Numan by that time.
After Jackson’s landmark Thriller album, there seemed to be a change in the way he was perceived by the public. It became more about image and less about the music. Eventually, after all the plastic surgeries and embarrassing public spectacles, it appeared as if that incredibly talented little kid who burst onto the music scene in the late 1960s was nowhere to be found in the fortysomething Michael Jackson.
Watching the spectacle being made over Jackson’s passing reminds me of the scenes made after the deaths of Elvis Presley and John Lennon, in which it became more about the fans and their reactions to the death and less about the legacy and talent of those artists who had passed on. Since I haven’t really been interested in Michael Jackson’s music since the mid 1970s, I can’t really claim to be a fan. The Michael Jackson whose music I admired went away a long time ago.
The saddest part of this whole thing is not that millions of fans have lost somebody who they worshipped to the point where they drove him insane and into isolation. No.
The saddest part of this story is that there are three children who have lost the only father that they have ever known. Whatever you think of Jackson, whether you thought him to be the King of Pop or a sad and lonely freak, consider those three kids. Wherever they end up, I hope that they are able to have a normal life and do not emulate the life that their father led. If Jackson was the King of Pop in life, it appears that, at the end, his crown was one made of thorns.