Op-Ed: The King Is Dead – By Bob Lefsetz

He missed his childhood and now he’s gonna miss his old age.

How fucked up is that?

Michael Jackson never had a chance. He had to succeed for his family, his parents’ dreams were dependent upon him.

And a boy with that much pressure delivers. He works truly hard, so he will be loved. That’s all Michael Jackson was looking for, love.

He wanted to be accepted. Wanted to be so good that he couldn’t be denied. But you can’t change family history, and the public no longer treats you as human, as an equal, once you break through. People want to rip you off or tear you down, or shower you in faux love that’s more about their unfulfilled desires than yours. It gets so confusing that you retreat.

The Jackson 5 broke through at the tail end of the sixties. When both Motown and Top Forty radio were in decline. But the burst of energy known as "I Want You Back" could not be denied. And the continuous singles made Michael Jackson a star.

He sang a horror movie theme. He endured puberty. He was a faded child star. Then, suddenly, he released a dance floor epic. When disco was supposedly dead, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones concocted a synthesis of rock and beats that could not be denied. Few were paying attention when "Off The Wall" was released. But over the course of two years, word spread. This was an album that could be played endlessly, that made you feel exuberant, totally alive. We didn’t stop listening because we could never get enough.

Then came "Thriller".

There are indelible television moments. When there’s only before and after. Michael Jackson’s "Motown 25" moonwalk was one of those events. Akin to the landing of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon over a decade before. MTV was AOR. Dancing was something you saw on Broadway. Give Walter Yetnikoff credit, he forced MTV to play Michael Jackson and not only was the color barrier broken, not only did videos turn into extravaganzas, the biggest star since the Beatles was hatched, fifteen years after Michael had first gained public notoriety, years after he’d started performing. It’s "Outliers" in action. Michael Jackson made it look easy. But there were far in excess of 10,000 hours involved. When everybody was finally paying attention, no one else was close. You had newbie bands from the U.K. who could barely sing, never mind play. And you had this phenomenon prancing on screen fully realized. It was like the 1927 Yankees playing a Little League team.

And then it was over.

There was another album with Q, but it was a step down. There’s nowhere to go from the top but down. But Michael Jackson couldn’t accept this. Everything had to be bigger and better. A musician’s career can last forever. But to have those legs, you’ve got to have perspective. Existing at the center of the hurricane, unable to step outside the maelstrom, means that you have no frame of reference.

Not that you can’t buy one. Or that hucksters and shysters don’t try to give you one. You trust everyone but know you can trust no one. You’re a party of one. What means so much to everybody else means almost nothing to you. You don’t want to give up your money and fame, but they don’t buy you peace of mind, they don’t buy you love, they don’t keep you warm at night.

It’s been a sad movie that’s been unspooling. We can delineate the low points. But let’s just say it started with plastic surgery and it ended with court cases. Michael Jackson just didn’t think he was good enough. And when he tried to explain, when he showed up in court in his pajamas, we didn’t want to listen, we didn’t want to give him a break, we just wanted to make fun of him, deride him.

Michael Jackson was an entertainer until the very end.

It’s just that his latest gigs were not inside theatres, but played out on "investigative" television shows and gossip Websites. Everybody was living off Michael Jackson. He gave good ratings. He rescued the hoi polloi from a life of drudgery.

But that’s all over now.

Sony can be thrilled that the digital marketplace insures there’s endless inventory for those sitting shiva to buy. And they’re going to end up with the Beatles catalog too. But we’ve lost something with the passing of Michael Jackson. A belief that America is a good-hearted place, a supportive place, where we want everybody to have a good life and be happy.

Wonder about the price of fame? Just look at the miserable Jon & Kate. Never mind their eight children.

We did this to Michael Jackson. And there wasn’t a single person who could save him. He was too isolated.

We’ll remember where we were when we heard the news. But I’d rather remember that explosion emanating from the radio back in ‘69.

Michael, we want you back! We want to see you moonwalk one more time! We want you to sing "Billie Jean"!

Alas, that’s impossible.

As he once sang, "now it’s much too late for me to take a second look."

The king is dead.

Long live the king

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