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Michael Jackson

A surprise death? Not really reckons Andrew Cowen who reckons Michael Jackson's career already had the look of a fatal car crash.

In hindsight, it’s difficult to see how else this was going to end. The death of Michael Jackson is a shock but not a great surprise.

Jackson always had the air of someone who wasn’t going to make it into old age and his decline was documented in the increasingly bizarre photographs on the front pages of the tabloids.

He was a man who had painted himself into a corner. Profligate spending, frankly weird behaviour and a dislocation from the real world had reduced the once-majestic entertainer to a freak show. He was the ultimate car crash pop star.

We’ll have to wait for the results of the autopsy for the nitty gritty, but there’s no escaping the facts. Here was a man, well past his artistic prime, looking financial ruin in the face. His reputation was in tatters after allegations of child abuse which, although unproven, left most people deeply suspicious.

The “Wacko” tag was apt and while the pundits are today rightly celebrating his achievements, it will be his eccentricity and vices that will be talked about for years to come.

I’ll be honest. His behaviour for the past 20 years alienated me. I was angry at his acquittal on the child abuse charges, disturbed and troubled by the way he treated his kids, annoyed at the way he treated creditors with utter disrespect.

I wanted him to atone for these sins, not by dying but by facing the music. His death, for these reasons, seems a cop-out to me.

I suspect that, after all the tributes, the true story will start to emerge. Jackson was a man who made many enemies and there will be a queue of people wanting their pound of flesh.

Unlike Jackson’s hardcore fan-base, I can’t separate the man from the music. Being a genius does not give you permission to flaunt the laws of basic human decency.

Jackson crossed the line between celebrity and notoriety a long time ago and no amount of shows at the O2 Arena could have fixed that.

Now that the news has started to sink in, we’re starting to see the usual empty plaudits from his peers. The BBC News Channel is pandering to the public thirst for sentimentality. I’m tired of the sight of Uri Geller, I don’t care what a punter on Henman Hill has to say about it, I want to slap Madonna and say “stop crying, duck.”

For real insight into Jackson’s death, you need to check Twitter where the tweet, tweet, tweet of Rockin’ Robin has become the retweeting of endless tasteless but extremely funny quips.

This one event has proven that the new media is now the instant harbinger of bad news. The story broke on a showbiz website and was flashed around social networking sites in seconds. This brave new world of instant messaging and viral marketing is the new frontier of popular culture, feeding a hunger for instant hits.

These days, Andy Warhol’s fabled 15 minutes of fame seem an eternity when notoriety is now measured in trending topics and mentions. Head over to eBay and witness the inflated prices for Jackson memorabilia, look at the iTunes chart and Amazon, where Jackson is now number one, to see just how our accelerated culture has become a freewheeling unsentimental beast.

Thriller will always be the best-selling album of all time because people don’t buy albums any more. So what will Michael Jackson’s legacy be? Musically, it will hang on just two classic albums and some brilliant singles he made as a child and young man. Hardly a great strike rate for a major artist. That’s a week’s work for Prince.

Remember the derision he attracted when he christened himself The King of Pop? Jarvis Cocker certainly does. There will be a strong case made for his revolutionising the pop video format, breaking the unspoken colour bar at MTV. It’s difficult though to make see Jackson as a champion of race relations when he’s spent half his life trying to change the colour of his skin.

There’s no doubt that he got a whole generation of young people dancing. Footage of his stage shows in his prime still have the power to amaze. For a brief time he was a true force of nature.

I also hope that Jackson isn’t remembered as a victim of an unhappy childhood, an innocent cash cow sent out to work by a greedy management. He always struck me as a man in charge of his career. You don’t buy the Beatles’ back catalogue on a whim.

There’s a strong parallel to be made with the story of music’s real King, Elvis Presley, who died when punk rock was at its height. Like Jackson, Elvis had become a figure of fun, a broken freak show attraction living in a hermetically-sealed world. Elvis got the job done early in his career and the rest was pantomime. Jackson’s death may be a tragedy in the academic sense, but it’s not a loss for contemporary music.

His life seems to have been some sort of Faustian pact and for the past few years he’s been running from his pay-master.

Cold it may sound, but Jackson’s passing is probably timely. There was no way he could have fulfilled his O2 contract. He had already started to line up his ducks ready to pull out. That would have been the final blow to his addled career.

He had sunk too low, done too much damage and upset too many to ever return to the limelight he both craved and shied away from.

I have no doubt he’s in a better place now.



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