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.