According to a biographer - or maybe a parasite - Michael Jackson wore fake sideburns at his wedding to Debbie Rowe.
Think about that for a moment. Fake sideburns. Did you even know that such a thing existed? Reason tells me that they must, as pieces of theatrical gear. But not until now have I been forced to conceive of fake sideburns as real objects.
Once you start reading the news stories that have begun to flow from the wound of Jackson’s death, you run the risk of drowning in the endless, insane details. He wore wigs, he took 40 Vicodin per day, he spent sixty grand per month on prescription drugs, he fell in love with a restaurant waiter, he weighed 112 pounds at his time of death. He forbade his children, of whom he was not the biological father, from looking into mirrors. He threw away his childrens' toys every night. He was gay, he was straight, he liked to fuck little boys, he liked to fuck construction workers, he was repulsed by the thought of contact with human flesh. It goes on.
Here’s another crazy detail: the best man at Jackson’s second wedding was an eight year old boy named Anthony. Jackson called him his ‘nephew’. But it’s the fake sideburns that get me. It’s the unflagging commitment to artifice, to acting as the impresario to every detail of his life, to the transformation of that life into a perpetual costume drama. But even more than that, it’s the fact that he chose sideburns. A wedding is a mature, adult moment (even though children always seem to have the most fun at weddings), so Jackson must have thought sideburns were an appropriate piece of dress-up. Like cufflinks, or a decent tie clip. It was the zenith of the natural as artificial, as decoration. I’m certain that, had the technology been available, he would have popped on a nice wedding face.
I’ve been thinking about Michael Jackson over the last week, passing through the stages of reaction to his death, from the seismic strangeness of the news to some dutiful reflections on his talent, and finally to the recollection of who Jackson really was: a pedophilic drug-addicted freak with a monstrous face and a breathing mask, a living grotesque, a sport of choice rather than nature. He had vitiligo, lupus, schizophrenia, a damaged septum, a burnt scalp, an arrested emotional state and a high sweet voice.
I remember first seeing the album at a friend’s house, one of a pack of twelve year old boys. My friend somberly unfolded the cover and we beheld Jackson’s gauzy image in white. I was never a fan of Jackson – at that point I was only a year or two away from discovering The Smiths – but Thriller was impressive, with its long-form videos and inexhaustible supply of singles. I’m pretty sure they just released another single from that album last month.
Off The Wall was a good album. Thriller was a great album, a giant rock rising out of the rapids of pop culture. Everything after Thriller was just an embarrassment, a tacky quasi-religious musical played out in five-minute installments over the next two decades. I remember the horror of seeing Jackson perform “Earth Song” at the 1996 Brit Awards, extending his arms to suffer a crowd of shuffling children to come unto him like a space-age Jesus saving his pre-pubescent Elect. Given that Jackson performed his neo-Jesus act not long after the first allegations of sexual abuse were cropping up, Earth Song came off as a singularly tasteless piece of theatre that Jackson undoubtedly regarded as vindication. See? I’m rising on a column of light above a crowd of adoring children. I can’t be a child molester! I have staged a redemptive three-minute set piece on television that clearly exonerates me!
Check out this clip of Jarvis Cocker running up on stage during Jackson's 1996 performance and graphically miming his opinion of the whole affair.
I don't even know why Cocker bothered. This is from 1996. Kurt Cobain had pretty much smashed a Fender over the skull of this kind of bombastic fantasy-addled pseudo-rock five years before. But I'm betting that Jackson probably checked out of reality somewhere around 1985.