Trying To Get To You

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

James's One Time Heir

I was flying home Saturday on Jet Blue, watching one of those little TVs they have in the seats and I came across live coverage of James Brown's funeral in Augusta, GA. A few minutes into watching it, Michael Jackson appeared and made a short speech. His arrival sparked a roar from the crowd; it was a warm and welcoming welcome. Michael made a brief speech acknowledging his love for James and the inspiration that he found in his music. In the early 80's, Michael acknowledged the influence: "He gets so out of himself. I just love him. I do. I'd be there in the wings when I was like six and seven. I'd sit there and watch for hours and forget where I was."

I mention this because at one time, Michael Jackson was the obvious heir to James Brown; the African-American male performer as everything - singer, songwriter, producer, dancer, idol, icon and entrepreneur. It's been just about twenty years now that Michael as spectacle has overtaken his immense artistry, and the crushing weight of that hit me as I watched him speak at James's funeral. It's a tragedy of Elvis-like proportions. It's been a long time since I've thought of Michael Jackson as an artist in the present tense. Rather, I've come to contemplate him as a living and breathing tragedy, a man of immense gifts laid low, disconnected from reality itself and existing for the world as a freak show.

will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas says that he's working on the next Michael record. I can't imagine the record being any good, because I can't imagine Michael saying anything that will resonate. Does Michael Jackson have anything real to say to his listeners in 2007? Or is this the attempt of a man, soon to be 50, who is trying desperately re-establish a title for himself that he long ago lost? I hope for the former, I expect the likelihood of the latter.

Download: The Jacksons "Walk Right Now"
Download: Chris Rock "Jacksons Gone Wild"

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