A Rose for Michael
Its not hard to see Michael Jacksons life as a cautionary tale of what money, fame, an abusive father, and a racist and homophobic society can get you: bleached skin, a discolored penis and now an official charge of child molestation. The world awaits Michaels next move, and as if we are on a death watch, we want him to stand trial in a court of law, confess or even, for a melodramatic end, to kill himself. Then the story of his fall will be finished.
But while we wait breathlessly for Michaels comeuppance, I cant help wondering if he has read William Faulkners short story A Rose for Emily, that cheesy masterpiece of thwarted sexuality. Michael calls to mind Emilys plight: Obviously she was mad, and probably as much victim as perpetrator. The tension and pleasure in A Rose for Emily is in the unraveling of the depths of perversity. In the end we learn, with the discovery of an iron-grey hair found in the indentation in a pillow, that Rose slept for years next to the lover she had killed.
Top that for sick!
I bet not even the sheer spectacle of Michaels slow and tedious fall can provide such a satisfactorily, ghoulish conclusion, but maybe well be surprised.
And while I may enjoy ghoulish conclusions as much as the next media consumer, Michael, at one time, meant something to me. His success represented inclusion, unlimited possibility and potential.
Everybody liked Michael. He was bigger than the Beatles, even bought the Beatles songbook. Like Cosby, Michael was emblematic of the brilliant mainstream success of the 1980s that black folks had achieved for the first time, and we reveled in it even if we were suspicious.
How could we not be seduced by Michaels success? He had arrived after coming a far ways, and we had made that journey with him.
I can see myself holding up a wall at a house party, red-light illumination, watching seventh graders maneuver through the cha-cha while I cursed myself for not being able to keep the beat to Texas Hop. But when someone threw on the 45 of Never Can Say Goodbye, I hated myself for not having the courage to ask a girl to slow dance. I hated Michael for making me long for girls Id never have, who wouldnt dance with me even if I could overcome my shyness.
By the time I reached high school, Michaels Afro and his lanky style and dance moves convinced me that I should never dance, at least not around black folks, though I could grow my own Afro. Michaels relevance diminished because he couldnt speak to the brutality of the streets as bands like War did, or to the need of an inclusive spirituality that Earth, Wind and Fire satisfied.
But by the time I was a senior in college, Michael had begun his ascension to otherworldly superstardom. At the AKAs sorority dances, young black women did amazing dance steps to Off the Wall, particularly Workin Day and Night. I never cared for Thriller as a song it just seemed silly to me but Thriller the short movie, which I saw in a packed theater with my girlfriend, was a weird kind of revelation.
Michael seemingly had perfected himself in a surgically cosmetic way, his Jheri curl was state of the art, and he exulted in the torturing of the beautiful Ola Ray. Oddly enough, now a decade and a half later, Michael resembles more the zombie monster of Thriller than he does that pretty brown-skinned young man with the slenderized nose.
Soon, I imagine, hell be convicted of child molestation, and that will be that, though I suspect hell never make it to prison.
Whatever conclusion comes of this mess, I suspect that itll resemble something more in the vein of A Rose for Emily rather than Michael in an orange-colored, government-issue prison jump suit.
Then Michael will belong to the academics as they dissect his meaning and his pathology. Those of us who still have a bit of affection for him will mourn him and his fall and wonder about the depths and breadth of his delusion and self-loathing. And that might be a job for a lifetime.
Jervey Tervalons current novel is Lita, and his forthcoming novel, Serving Monster, will be the story of the personal chef of an infamous celebrity.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.