Jacko the Whacko
By Geoff Cottrill
November 3, 2009
OK, my last few entries have been more on the softer side. This one is going to make a few of you mad……or at least question my understanding of music and its superstars that drive its business.
I’ll never fully understand the world of music. It’s a simple business. It’s a broken business. But, music itself remains a bit of a mystery. What makes one song a monster global hit and another song just track #7 on an album that will soon be completely forgotten about…….forcing that song to sit in its place on that record, never to be played again. Millions of songs have been written. Only thousands of them any good, or at least thought of as good by the people that seem to know about these things. There are plenty of lists. These lists will tell you about the great ones. These lists will never tell you about the bad ones.
I’ve kept my mouth shut (more or less) for the last several months as the world has mourned the death of a global superstar – Michael Jackson. I never had anything against Michael Jackson. I grew up with the Jackson 5 and the Osmond Brothers. I sided with the Jacksons all the way. Michael was a born entertainer and he captured the hearts and minds of many kids in a time when racial tensions were far worse (or at least much more visible) than they are today. Michael and his brothers helped to shape my musical taste. I am grateful for the Jackson 5.
Michael Jackson. Jacko as the UK press used to love to call him. As Michael became older he became more and more isolated from the real world most of us live in. The more that time marched on, the stranger he seems to be getting. He was on TV, shopping in a store, buying every tacky thing in there all while on camera. The audience watched and thought to themselves – “this guy is nuts”.
Michael Jackson. Jacko. The same guy that held his baby over the balcony. As the press hounded him, chased him, and snapped his every move, Michael fell further and further into solitary confinement. He thought it was ok to hold his baby over the railing in order to show the world. He held the baby over the railing because he probably was sick of being chased. He held his baby over the railing so the hounds could get their picture.
He retreated into his palace in California. Neverland. He had carnival rides, a merry-go-round, and animals. I guess some would say he was living the childhood he never had. He was accused of terrible things. He was accused of things that as a father make me sick to my stomach. He was never convicted for these accusations. He was never formally found to be guilty. If the common man had been accused of these crimes he would never be able to shake it from his reputation. Never – ever.
Michael Jackson. The King of Pop. I was a sophomore or a junior in high school when Thriller was released. It was a pinnacle moment in time. Music video was still in its early stages. The “event” album was still important to the business. The video is still relevant today. The album broke every record. Everyone knows this record. This record was released long before the crazy shopping spree, the Neverland ranch sleepovers, and the holding of the baby over the railing. This record was released long before that. Before Michael Jackson changed. Before he retreated. Before he started acting in unusual ways.
Michael Jackson. Crowned by the world as a king. Michael Jackson. The same guy that caught on fire during a Pepsi commercial shoot. Michael Jackson. The same artist who had one of his manager’s call me one day while I worked for another major soft drink company. The manager said to me, “Michael has always loved Coke. He’s always been a Coke guy”. When I asked him why he did a Pepsi commercial if he was a “Coke guy” he said he did it for the money. He then went on to say that Michael wanted to personally get involved with Coke. I told the guy, “no way. We don’t take Pepsi’s old celebrities”.
He then said something to me that I will never forget. He said, “So, what you’re telling me is that YOU are going to be the guy at Coke who says NO to Michael Jackson? Are you kidding me?”. True story. I said no to Michael Jackson. The manager went on to say, “when people find out YOU were the one at Coke who said NO to Michael Jackson when his next album drops, YOU are going to get fired”. No joke, this is all true. I said, “I appreciate your perspective but my guess is that when “they” find out that I was the guy who said NO to Michael Jackson, I will probably get promoted”. I then thanked him kindly and went on my way. The Company survived my mishap if you were wondering. Michael’s record came out and we somehow still managed to sell a billion drinks a day.
But, this isn’t what this story is about.
Michael Jackson. Jacko the Whacko. The same superstar who, while on tour in Japan, had his manager call his lawyer in LA. He asked him to fly half way around the world to meet with Michael to discuss his new contract with his record label. Once the lawyer arrived he was asked to wait in the living room of Michael’s hotel suite for 4 hours while Michael did whatever he was doing. Michael then suddenly walked in, asked to see his new contract, flipped to a random section, underlined a meaningless sentence, asking the lawyer to explain it. Once the lawyer answered the question Michael abruptly stood up and walked out of the room without saying a word. The lawyer sat there for another hour before the manager came out and told him that Michael had asked him to come to Japan just to “remind you who you work for”. The lawyer flew home.
Michael Jackson. The freak show. Michael became a side show. He became fodder for the press. He helped to sell a lot of People magazines, a lot of Rolling Stone magazines, a bunch of newpapers. He helped to drive viewers to TV tabloid shows like ET, Extra! Extra!, and Inside Edition. People watched the local news to see Michael’s latest behavior. No matter what happened in the world, Jacko was always good for ratings. He did strange things and we loved to watch the freak show from the cheap seats.
Michael Jackson. The victim. Yeah, we turned him into the King of the Super-freak nation. We made him run away. We were the ones who took his childhood away. We were the ones who snapped the pictures. We were the ones who wanted to see that baby held over the railing.
Michael Jackson. The King of Pop. The same guy that wasn’t selling a lot of records the day before he died. Michael Jackson. The same superstar that most of us (if we’re really honest with ourselves) thought was a freak show. We weren’t thinking about Michael and what a wonderful humanitarian he was. We were involved with our own lives, our own problems, a broken economy, massive unemployment, government bail outs of banks, and Wall Street bankers still receiving massive bonus checks while the other 99.5% of the country is struggling. We were not thinking about Michael, his Neverland Ranch, his upcoming tour, his damaged reputation, or his obsession for privacy while at the same time a desire to be King of the world.
Nope. We weren’t thinking about any of this. The day before Michael passed away in his sleep, the day before his doctor allegedly injected him with something to help him sleep, we were not thinking about Michael. We weren’t driving in our cars listening to his music. We weren’t buying his posters or his catalog of music. We also weren’t buying his image as a humanitarian. We just weren’t buying anything he was selling.
But, then a simple twist of fate. The reclusive, obsessive, ego driven, morally questionable King of Pop sipped way from an overdose of something. Suddenly, we all cared. We dropped everything to cry for Michael. We lined the streets, filled the parks. We lit candles, left stuffed animals at make shift memorials, made signs, created thousands of Facebook tribute pages. The world stopped. The People Magazines started selling again, the people started watching programs like ET, Extra! Extra, and Inside Edition. We couldn’t get enough. Advertisers started buying time on these programs. And, for a minute, the death of a King actually helped move the economy ahead. Businesses were selling trinkets. Record companies were actually SELLING music as anything by Michael Jackson rocketed to the top of the charts. iTunes broke download records. Newspapers sold extra copies. Special magazine tributes were printed. And, we bought it all.
A movie was released. A movie that showed the behind the scenes development of his tour that never happened. It showed the “softer side” of Michael. It showed intimate moments with his band and his friends. And, we lined up all around the block and down the street – all over the world – to catch one last glimpse of the King of Pop. We just couldn’t get enough of Michael. “We love you Michael!”, people cried all over the planet.
I’m no better or worse than anyone else. I am not above others. But, I do have opinions. And in this case my question is this:
Where the hell were all of you the day before Michael Jackson died? Michael Jackson. The King of Pop. Michael Jackson. Jacko the Whacko. I’ll bet that if you’re really honest with yourself you were not as in love with Michael Jackson and all of the “good he stood for” just before he died. If we would have been thinking about him. If we genuinely cared about this King, we wouldn’t have isolated him. We wouldn’t have sent him into exile. We wouldn’t have ostracized him for the terrible things he was accused of. We must not forget the things we thought about Michael the day before he died as we morn him the day after he died. Its just not right.
So, lets be honest with ourselves. We only really care about people like the King after they are dead and gone. Just like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis, Michael Jackson will live forever. We live in a world where we worship the idea of what somebody stood for, not what the person they actually were. Its much easier to worship a dead star than a living recluse. It helps us forget abut our own problems for a while. It somehow gives us hope.
It’s a shame that Michael Jackson is gone from this world. He gave us some good music. But, I am not going to cry for him now because I must admit, I stopped caring about him long before he died. I watched from afar as he turned himself into a super freak. And, when I heard he died and stood back and watched the reaction I found myself terribly disappointed in this world we live in. Instead of focusing our energy on making this world a better place, we stood still and cried over the death of a person we didn’t care about the day before.
Its just sad….and it kind of makes me sick.
Thanks for listening…..