old music monday: michael jackson’s death
Nine years ago today, Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, the Emperor of Album Sales, the Potus of Party Anthems, the Senator of Singing (we’ll stop now) died.
Every generation has their own ‘where you when ____ died?’ and reader, on 25 June 2009, this girl was knee deep in Glastonbury mud, watching someone try and microlite over the fence and land during Nick Cave’s set. Technically I don’t remember that happening, but according to the Glastonbury website, it happened. And I quite liked Nick Cave ten years ago (and even more so now), so the chances are that I was there.
Nonetheless, it was a shock.
Shocking despite the fact that we all knew Michael Jackson wasn’t well -- although sightings of him were rare, and often accompanied by long and expansive conspiracy theories that he’d sent out a body double (the hands weren’t his hands, they were too small or too big, the nose wasn’t his nose, it was too made up, the adam’s apple wasn’t his, etc) -- we all took it for granted that this musical juggernaut of our youth would never vanish from our reality.
On 5 March 2009, it was announced that Michael would play ten whole nights at the O2 arena in London, under the apocalyptic title This Is It. Scheduled to start in July and end in September, the residency was extended to run for fifty live shows. The ticket sales for the initial ten nights broke several records and Jackson’s album sales increased overnight. He needed the money. 2005’s trial showed him to be spending upwards of $35m a year, while earning less than a third of that. Fiscal problems aside, the stress of being indicted for four counts of molesting a minor, four counts of intoxicating a minor in order to molest him, one count of attempted child molestation, and one count of conspiring to hold the boy and his family captive at his 2,700-acre Neverland Ranch, as well as conspiring to commit extortion and child abduction must have been beyond comprehension. Jackson denied all counts and was found not guilty.
His death, of course, made all of this resurface. The child molestation accusations, the move to Bahrain, the speculation over his kids -- hidden behind masks at all times and only revealed at his funeral. It was the first time a proper massive popstar had had a funeral that was shown on the telly -- live, from the Staples Center Los Angeles, his gold-plated casket was wheeled in. Mariah Carey sang I’ll Be There. Queen Latifah read a Maya Angelou poem. In a weird act of philanthropy, his concert promoter, AEG, gave away 17,500 free tickets in an online lottery that attracted over half a billion hits to the webpage.
Reading the newspapers in June 2009, you’d think what a strange thing it was, to have someone you feel like you’ve known all of your life be so ruthlessly ripped apart in front of you. Every detail of their life examined. Although you don’t know them, do you? You build your own narrative around a celebrity of that scale; what their relationships are like and what their songs are really about and how maybe if you met them, they’d love you too, wouldn't they? Because that kind of one-way love is never truly unrequited.
Two years and a month after Michael died, Amy Winehouse died, and then six months later, Whitney Houston died -- a rollercoaster of people you’d assume would always be there, beavering away on the periphery, or performing arena concerts, or releasing albums with or without comment, just gone. Music is brilliant because it touches emotions that you might not otherwise be able to express; that’s why live shows can be simultaneously exhilarating and and heartbreaking. And then the music’s over and the lights come up and that is it.