On Michael Jackson

Illustration for article titled On Michael Jackson

As many of us wrap our heads around the life and death of Michael Jackson, I investigated what books might offer additional insight, because I'm kind of at a loss. I know I feel sad, but my emotions don't help much to sift through the hype, allegations, talent, grandeur and problems stemming from the King of Pop.


Surprisingly, there weren't tons of books written about the icon, considering how big he was. And many of those were generic biographies or attempts suited for a middle school library.

However, this selection doesn't include 2006's "On Michael Jackson" by Margo Jefferson. The Pulitzer-winning journalist took Michael seriously through all the bizarreness and examined some of the hows and whys—such as his childhood, meteoritic rise in show business, his identity politics, and his own humanity—that contributed to him being both cultural phenomenon and deeply wounded/disturbed individual. Which, I’m sure you can imagine, is no easy or clean feat.

Here's an excerpt from the book:

Every mind is a clutter of memories, images, inventions and age-old repetitions. It can be a ghetto, too, if a ghetto is a sealed-off, confined place. Or a sanctuary, where one is free to dream and think whatever one wants. For most of us it's both-and a lot more complicated. A ghetto can be a place of vitality; a sanctuary can become a prison. Michael Jackson escaped the ghetto of Gary, Indiana, and built the sanctuary of Neverland. It's become a circuslike prison, emblematic of the mind of Michael Jackson.

Think of his mind as a funhouse, and look at some of the exhibits on display: P. T. Barnum, maestro of wonders and humbuggery; Walt Disney, who invented the world's mightiest fantasy-technology complex; Peter Pan ("He escaped from being human when he was seven days old"2); a haggard Edgar Allan Poe (he was the only character besides Peter Pan that Michael Jackson planned to play in a movie); the romping, ever-combustible Three Stooges; a friendly chimpanzee named Bubbles who has his own wardrobe of clothes; and a python lying coiled between placid white llamas.

Tears roll down the gnarled lizard cheeks of E.T. as he dreams of home; Charlie Chaplin sits alone on a stoop, his Little Tramp chin in his hands. A knife gleams in a darkened alley; a panther stalks through and disappears; ghouls and werewolves dance in a crumbling mansion; Captain Eo wears silver when he comes down from outer space to save children from the evils of our planet. Now lines of song-and-dance men kick, strut and turn in perfect unison. Children of all nations float happily through the night sky like Wynken, Blynken and Nod, then come down to earth and sing of peace in high, sweet voices; a colossal statue of Michael Jackson himself in military dress bestrides the world to the rapturous attack chords of "Carmina Burana."


Here is Elvis Presley, who is one of himselves; Diana Ross, who is one of himselves; Elizabeth Taylor, who is one of himselves; wee, nut-brown Emmanuel Lewis and pert, milky-white Macaulay Culkin, both parts of himself; Joseph Jackson, the father who believes in whippings but not beatings; Katherine Jackson, the mother who is always supportive and always elusive. See photos from childhood onward and videos of Michael; they are mirrors reflecting each stage of his life.

Let's begin our tour. Read the rest of the excerpt.

Michael Jackson—person and persona—deserves the type of complicated analysis that Jefferson's book provides. I wish there were more examinations like it.


Other journalists/authors on Michael:

Jeff Chang, author of "Can't Stop Won't Stop," is looking at Morning's End.

Mark Anthony Neal, author of "New Black Man," is Conjuring Michael.

Veteran music journalist Michael Gonzales is Remembering the Times.

The Root's own Teresa Wiltz is Chasing Michael Jackson.

is a writer, speaker, author of books for adults and youth, and the book columnist for The Root. Her most recent book is \"The Message: 100 Life Lessons from Hip-Hop’s Greatest Songs.\" Visit her at feliciapride.com.