Tuesday, March 16, 2010

On Michael Jackson by Margo Jefferson


I admit that I was not a huge Michael Jackson fan in my youth (hard rock musicians were the big names for my age group), but I still thought his songs were catchy and upbeat, and his talent beyond question. Watching him dance on television was like watching a master magician perform. After his sudden death last year, I became interested in reading more about him. Obviously someone like Jackson, who had been in show business since he was six years old, would not have had what most of us consider to be a normal life. What cultural forces combined to propel this child prodigy from an environment of poverty and family dysfunction to international superstardom?

I wanted to read a book on Michael Jackson that was meaty, but not necessarily juicy. Tired of all the tabloid-like media coverage, I searched for a more meaningful work that might include a message for all of us. Margo Jefferson's book, published in 2006, appealed to me with its lack of photographs and simple, unassuming white cover, devoid of the glitz and sensationalism that is usually associated with Jackson. Jefferson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, explores the life of this man with compassion and razor-sharp insight, and places his remarkable success and bizarre lifestyle within the context of our times. Some questions remain unanswered. Was he guilty of the child abuse charges that were brought against him? Easily. But could he have been innocent? Again, easily. This book presents a complex individual, full of contradictions, isolated and damaged, yet able to express intense joy through his art; a pampered, temperamental "king" who was deeply concerned about a troubled world, especially its children. And, as Jefferson eloquently points out, the world is indeed troubled when child performers are marketed, sexualized, and exploited by adults, and we as a society accept this as the norm.

Search the catalog for Margo Jefferson's book On Michael Jackson. To read more about Jackson's life in his own words, check out his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk. And then forget about trying to figure the man out and just watch him in action on the breathtaking dvds of Michael Jackson Live in Bucharest and Live in Japan. He will make you want to get up and dance!

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