Talking books with Michael Jackson

Walking down the hill to the train station this morning, I passed a line of cars waiting for the traffic light to change. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” was blasting from one car window. A few vehicles down, “I Want You Back” took over the available airspace. It wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if “ABC” or “The Love You Save” had been playing a little further down the hill, but the light changed and so we’ll never know if Michael Jackson was on the verge of scoring a posthumous hat trick on Raritan Avenue.

My reaction to Michael Jackson’s death was about the same as my reaction to Elvis Presley’s death — pretty much nonexistent. It had been roughly the same amount of time since either man had released music that caught my attention, and at the time of their respective deaths each man was the center of a celebrity freakshow in which it as hard to tell which side was more grotesque — the fans or their object of adoration.

I don’t know if Michael Jackson was as bizarre as he was made out to be. He lived in the Marabar media cave, where all ideas, emotions and tragedies are converted into meaningless noise, and his death only upped the volume. As a child of an abusive household, growing up in an environment where cultish religion and show business were the dominant factors, spending his childhood as a cog in the Motown music machine and his later years simultaneously courting and cursing the public’s attention, Jackson would have needed superhuman strength and luck to turn out as anything approaching normal, to the extent that term has any meaning. I don’t know. I never met the man, and all I “know” comes from the pseudo-journalism of celebrity infotainment news, which invariably tips toward the morbid and the creepy. Celebrity culture sucks. It started out sick and it gets unhealthier by the minute.

The only time in my life I ever thought it might have been interesting to meet Jackson was earlier this week, when I came across this GalleyCat item about the former owners of a bookstore the superstar used to visit. Apparently Jackson was very well read in psychology and history, and his taste in poetry might have surprised a lot of people. Talking about books with Michael Jackson — now there’s something that would have been interesting.

Since that’s never going to happen, I’m happy to leave my reaction at this: he died too young, and I remain fond of his music. What I heard going down the hill this morning is the essence of the story, and you can revisit that anytime you like.

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