Very strange man dies


Truth be told, Michael Jackson never really did it for me. I do like some of the old Motown-era Jackson Five material, but his solo work I can take or leave alone. On the other hand, I can well understand the reaction from people who were seriously into him. When Warren Zevon died, I was so upset I could barely listen to his records for months afterwards.

So I’m not going to get into the whys and wherefores of Wacko himself. His musical work should be assessed by someone who’s got more of an interest in that sort of thing. All I know is that he was enormously successful, and he influenced lots of people who have also been successful, even if I have no real interest in them. I mean, I wouldn’t claim to be an expert on the oeuvre of Justin Timberlake, but I can tell a Michael Jackson tribute act when I see one. And as for his bizarre life story and Howard Hughes-style eccentricities, one can only hope he gets the biographer he deserves.

No, I just wanted to do a briefish rumination on the media and the fans. There is of course hardly any escaping him in the broadcast media today, and if you think the telly is bad you really should have been involuntarily exposed to Cool FM for several hours. We’ve had a good illustration of talk expanding to fill the available space, even when there weren’t any solid facts. The rampant speculation on the rolling news last night was one thing. And even then, you could spot two conflicting instincts – one to pay tribute to an iconic figure with many millions of zealous fans, the other cognisant of the fact that, now he’s dead, there are no legal restrictions on what you can say about him.

But this morning was even better. I knew you could rely on GMTV to always go for the lowest common denominator, and sure enough, a show that’s parodically celeb-centric at the best of times was on jawdropping form. One would have though the Queen had died, or a couple of planes had hit the World Trade Center. When I switched on over my porridge, it was going very roughly like this:

Carla Romano: And as you join us, the celebrity tributes are pouring in. Here’s one from Madonna. Here’s one from Liza Minelli. Here’s one from TV’s Ray Stubbs. Here’s one from Linsey Dawn McKenzie. And of course, there have been loads of texts and emails from you little people, and you can see them scrolling across the ticker at the bottom.

Ben Shepard: The autopsy won’t be taking place for several hours, so we don’t really have any gory details about the cause of death. But here’s Dr Hilary to fill up five minutes with some speculation.

Dr Hilary (for it is he): Well, Ben, I really don’t know the details of his medical history…

Shepard: Oh, come on.

Dr Hilary: …cardiac arrest blah blah blah prescription drugs yada yada yada doctors will have questions to answer.

Shepard: We’ll have more after these messages.

[Footage of young Jackson singing “Ben”. Then some chirpy ads, contrasting just a bit with the apocalyptic tone. Then we’re back, to footage of Jackson singing “Beat It”.]

Romano: Now let’s go to Ross King in LA. Ross, what have you heard?

King: The word on the street is blah blah blah…

Romano: Really? Because when I was in LA, people were saying yada yada yada…

Shepard (with disturbing glint in eye): But I really want to hear more about this autopsy…

God love the British media. And by the way, while I can understand why Barack O’Bama would issue a statement, why in the name of perdition do we need to hear Gordon Brown and Rankin’ Dave Cameron give their thoughts on the matter? [Hat tip: Dave] It’s all a bit reminiscent of Mr Tony Blair’s creepy tribute to Frank Sinatra.

Now, as for the fans. To my mind, a great songwriter is one who you feel an almost psychic connection to, as if they’re expressing what you would say if you were articulate enough. I’ve enough experience of that eerie sensation that Warren or Leonard or Kate was inside my head to know exactly what the feeling is like. Very often, fans will form an intense attachment to their favourite artist, such that you have to keep remembering that “fan” is a contraction of “fanatic”. And the late Mr Jackson, massively successful artist as he was, has left behind an army of millions of fanatics.

What always strikes me about Michael Jackson fans is that there’s an appreciable subset thereof whose fanaticism goes well beyond the intense connection you’d expect from a much-loved artist. You know the type – the people who, once they get over their grief, might be digging out the pitchforks and flaming torches and going out to hunt down Martin Bashir, Jarvis Cocker and Weird Al Yankovic. A few of these guys, in my humble opinion, need their heads felt.

But my mind went back to that Bashir documentary, and I can’t get one image out of my head. That was a painting on the wall, this pastiche of The Last Supper:


You may think this just evidence of megalomania, but it’s plain that there are people who considered him a Christ-like figure, persecuted by the forces of darkness. And that he played up to the messianic expectations heaped on him. For some people, he came to fill a space in their lives that in another generation would have been filled by religion. Indeed, looking at these pranksters, how long can it be before someone does the same thing with serious intent?

Hail, farewell and cha’mone!

More on this subject, well, everywhere, but you might enjoy this and this.


  1. johng said,

    June 27, 2009 at 2:41 am

    • laporsha said,

      November 12, 2009 at 7:05 pm

      if you dont know micheal you shouldnt have the right to talk about him. i dont know him personally but i can tell by looking at him that he was a great man. I grew up with his music and it brought to my attention that he loved children. i dont belive that he would hurt any child. he may have made mistakes we all do. That doesnt give anybody the right to call him wacko or crazy or anything that is not like him. What if someone called you out your name? Would you be deffensive? Would you like it? no you wouldnt. So leave him alone. let him rest in peace.

  2. hidflect said,

    June 27, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Is that Gery Glitter in the right of the painting? How appropriate..

  3. hidflect said,

    June 27, 2009 at 5:16 am

    Gary.. nor Gery..

  4. Charlene said,

    June 27, 2009 at 7:49 am

    Glad to come across another Warren Zevon customer (the work h preferred – always an honest man!). When Warren died, it took me a couple of days to be able to listen through a single song. I was terrified that I’d lost his music, too. BTW, if you’re interested in any DVDs of Warrren’s performances, etc., (free) come by the WZBB (link is on the official Web site) and post a request.

  5. Phil said,

    June 27, 2009 at 9:19 am


    Never really into Zevon, but I was moved and horrified to realise that he wrote “Shit’s fucked up” before he got the diagnosis – and that he didn’t get the diagnosis until quite late on, because he was terrified of going to the doctor, because of what the doctor might tell him. Abyss? Right here.

    Leonard, yes, and Joni; Robyn Hitchcock, Peter Blegvad – seeing any one of them go is going to cost me a couple of days’ work. Fortunately Bob is in fact God, so the problem won’t arise.

    Local folkie story – a rather intense young singer-songwriter, playing a songwriters’ night a couple of years back, felt he didn’t have the audience’s full attention and started getting a bit annoyed. So he casually mentioned, between songs, that he’d had the radio on in the car on the way in, and it had just been announced that Bob Dylan had died. Total silence fell – but before he could get his next song started, the MC had taken the mike and announced, choking back a sob, that the remainder of the night would be cancelled as a mark of respect. The PA started playing Knocking On Heaven’s Door, and the house lights came up on a dancefloor full of folkies sobbing on one another’s shoulders. Our man packed up his guitar and made a swift exit. I don’t think he’s been back since.

  6. ejh said,

    June 27, 2009 at 9:51 am

    As everybody knows Bob Dylan did in fact die in a motorcycle accident in the Sixties.

  7. skidmarx said,

    June 27, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I had thought he was just another paedophile with music I’d never really been impressed by, until I read
    and realised I was a counter-revolutionary fascist.

  8. ejh said,

    June 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

    Billie Jean is a marvellous pop record and it’s not the only one he made. This isn’t just a posthumous thought – a few months ago I was having breakfast in a bar in Zaragoza and it came on the radio. Christ, I thought, what he used to be capable of doing.

  9. Phil said,

    June 27, 2009 at 1:32 pm

    Bob Dylan did in fact die in a motorcycle accident in the Sixties

    Well, there you go then. If they can replace him once they can do it again. Sorted.

  10. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 27, 2009 at 2:52 pm

    Like the bloke who convinced everyone he was Peter Green?

    Kate Bush, since you’re asking. Someone else whose fans go to devotional extremes.

  11. ejh said,

    June 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    Not Peter Green

  12. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 27, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    Carla Romano “you little people”??? WTF?

    splintered that really sums up my thoughts – although the cognitive dissonance between MJ the music maker and MJ’s personal life is being dealt with by effectively soft pedalling the trickier parts of the latter.

    I’ve said it before, thank God it wasn’t Prince… or indeed, as you say Phil, Robyn Hitchcock. Although Billie Jean is pretty good. Here, perhaps some have a better handle than I on this, but 50 nights in London? Surely not. Was it a serious proposition he’d sell out the venue?

  13. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 27, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Of course I was paraphrasing. She probably said “viewers”, but I was only half watching. At seven in the morning my brain can just about process Hi-5 or Elmo’s World, never mind rolling news.

    Before his death was confirmed, there was somebody on News 24 saying that his first reaction was to think MJ had just realised he had these 50 dates coming up and was pulling a sickie. But he had sold out the dates, it was just a question of whether he had the stamina for it. A moot point now though.

  14. June 27, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    Kate Bush fans are NOT WELL. This comic strip is not exaggerated at all.

  15. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 27, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Well that’s passing strange… I’m staggered he managed it.

  16. June 27, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Also: wow, Peter Blegvad. I’ve got all Slapp Happy’s albums and I want to be Dagmar when I grow up.

  17. splinteredsunrise said,

    June 27, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    I still remember where I was when I heard about Frank Zappa. Actually, now I think of it, I was in Chelm…

  18. WorldbyStorm said,

    June 27, 2009 at 10:46 pm


  19. ejh said,

    June 28, 2009 at 8:30 am

    I can believe Michael Jackson is dead, I just can’t believe somebody said “Oh my God. I so totally couldn’t believe it.”

  20. chris y said,

    June 28, 2009 at 10:49 am

    As everybody knows Bob Dylan did in fact die in a motorcycle accident in the Sixties.

    Might as well have.

  21. ty said,

    June 28, 2009 at 1:46 pm

    So you’re a politician and someone asks you about the death of a famous person, what would you say? No comment might seem a bit churlish.

    You can of course escape the moronic coverage in the broadcast media by, er, switching it off.

    And I’m a Kate Bush fan and perfectly sane so you can fekk off. I only take a detour past her house once a week which I don’t think is excessive. I do live in Scotland though.

  22. fingerbang said,

    June 28, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    “But my mind went back to that Bashir documentary, and I can’t get one image out of my head. That was a painting on the wall, this pastiche of The Last Supper”

    As Elvis was portrayed in the famous Rock Dreams book. Though classier and with some irony.

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