Many years ago I got to see Michael Jackson perform in person. We, myself and daughters, got to go to my husband’s gig, playing for Michael who was soloing at a local music auditorium in the New York suburb where we lived. It wasn’t the kind of big concert tour that would come later; the room was full, but not overflowing. He must have been about twelve or thirteen, just a skinny kid with a big Afro. But could that skinny kid sing! And could he dance!
Michael was a genius, perhaps we should say, IS a genius, for his music and his videos will last as long as we have instruments to play them. Fred Astaire called him “the greatest dancer of the century,” although we hardly need anyone, even the world’s second greatest dancer, to tell us when we have the evidence of our own eyes and ears. Those long skinny legs, that perfect balance, that total embodiment of human exuberance and grace, leaping from one amazing move to another, like a great soprano reaching the final high note, a great skater doing a triple axel and landing perfectly, silently, easily, steadily, on point.
Michael wasn’t just the greatest dancer of the century, he may actually be the greatest artist of the century. With so many of the arts in the doldrums, struggling to retain a foothold in a world that no longer needs painters or sculptors to record images or poetry to memorize truths, great dance performances, which until the recording devices of today used to survive only as long as stars like Nijinsky lived, will now remain long after Jackson, Barishnikov, and Astaire are gone.
The great ones of the world, the ones we term genius, Ellen Winner defines as “creators,” men and women who not only give us great works, but bring permanent change to their domains. Michael Jackson was such a one, taking Rhythm and Blues out of the niche of Black Soul into the mainstream of American Pop, and from there to the far reaches of the globe. Despite the sad obeisance to white beauty standards that caused him to do such harm to his face, it was with his body that he helped a generation of all nationalities and races accept that Black is Beautiful, for nothing on earth could be more beautiful than Michael Jackson in motion.
With his almost violent dancing he turned rage and pain, much of it about sex, much about being born black, into great art, a feat similar to that of another genius whose instrument was his body, Bruce Lee, whose monument, like Jackson’s, is the present worldwide acceptance in the media, film and television, not only of his art, but of his race.
And what does all this have to do with the Shakespeare Authorship Question? For one thing, it’s interesting that he died the day after Midsummer’s Day in the ancient folk calendar, the end of the entertainment half of the Festival Year, and the day after Oxford’s official death date. Also, there’s the fact that entertainment geniuses have certain things in common, among them a tendency to eccentric behavior, to die in massive debt, a painful relationship to their born identities, and a very great need for privacy, which, as I keep saying, was the primary reason that Oxford hid his right from the start.
As one of the commentators said of Michael this morning, regarding how he opened the door to black entertainers on MTV, “He was just too good.” The same could be said of Oxford, who opened the publishing door to the great Court writers who followed him, Sidney, Mary Sidney, Francis Bacon, and John Donne. When Oxford first began writing back in the “drab era,” his stuff was different from everyone else’s, but once it got out into the mainstream, by getting published, it clicked. Why? Because it was “just too good.”
In saying goodbye to Michael on television, Germaine Jackson wished that his brother might rest in peace. Myself, I think he’d rather be dancing.
4 thoughts on “Michael Jackson: “He was just too good.””
Great blog post. There are probably more differences than similarities between Oxford’s life and Michael Jackson’s, but there is one aspect that they certainly share, which is a very complicated relationship with their own identity, as you point out. Oxford hid his identity so well that here we are still uncovering it hundreds of years later, and perhaps Michael Jackson would have liked to do the same, but in this age of super stardom and media scrutiny, that was not an option. So he had to hide in plain sight, sadly disfiguring himself, wearing those huge sunglasses, building a compound to shut out the world. No doubt he will be the subject of much study and interest for possibly centuries to come. He certainly will be missed and mourned by a public that he electrified and…. thrilled.
When Michael’s story has been properly told I’m sure we’ll see that his life formed and reinforced the arc of his creativity in ways that he could not possibly have planned. From getting born to the Jackson family, to Motown, to Black Pride, to the 60s and 70s, a period when popular music of all kinds was hitting a peak. This is true of all geniuses on his level (as is his terrible suffering). How much of what they do is formed by their time? How much of their time is formed by what they do? It’s a mystery. Yeats put it as only a poet could: “O chestnut tree, great-rooted blossomer, are you the leaf, the blossom, or the bole? O body swayed to music, O brightening glance. How can we know the dancer from the dance?”
Good commentary on the revolutionary who came to his art in my hometown. Michael Jackson’s dancing was certainly radically inventive and inspired many to follow his footsteps. My son, Jonah, could perform a credible moonwalk and joined with several of his grammar school mates to form a break dance group that used to perform in the plaza in Ashland for tips. The lasting effect of Michael Jackson’s life will be in the trillion moves that other dancers make when their bodies and spirits demand physical expression. I believe Barbara Ehrenreigh’s wonderful book, Dancing in the Streets, tells this story best – that we dance publically as an ancient rite (one that has been suppressed for centuries by Puritain disdain), that our ancestors once all danced on the village green and the drumming ground during the midsummer and harvest festivals. Michael Jackson will be mimed forever, which is what has happened to Shakespeare, who was himself himself the absolute master of mimesis. I love to go to Jazz Fest in NOLA to join the people dancing in the streets, just like I love to go to the Shakespeare theatre in Ashland where my eyes and ears set my mind to dancing, so great is this art. Perfect lines of poetry are the same as perfect lines of the body in motion – both are prayers in their root.
The accusations against MJ resemble one subset of the accusations against de Vere; fools and knaves are forever threatened by real talent. And consider Diana Ross in the Queen Elizabeth role, although the predation occurred about ten years earlier in the case of MJ.