I received a text message from one of my sources at 3:00 pm that Michael Jackson, often called the King of Pop, was dead. This was fifteen minutes before the official declaration and by 3:30 pm the calls, text messages, and emails asking me to write something were rolling in. My initial response to all requests was that I had no intention of writing a story about Michael Jackson’s death. My reason being: that everyone was going to have something to say and that I had nothing to add. I have a passion for writing and or talking—I’m a storyteller by nature, but a good storyteller should have something unique to say or at the very least a unique viewpoint.
Over a three-day period I did follow the story. Requests for my attention to it did not cease, some coming from the most unexpected people. As these days passed my response to requests that I write about Michael Jackson’s death changed. I began to tell readers that I might write on the topic of the inconsistent through line that had become so evident in, not only the nonstop media coverage, but among the general population as well. One of downtownster’s most highly educated and respected readers was particularly intrigued by my introduction of the through line concept—and was seemingly not too sure exactly what a through line was. So let me clarify:
A through line is the spine of a story. The concept, first introduced by Constantin Stanislavski, was a way for actors to think about characterization. The idea being that it is not enough to understand what we are doing or trying to do, but rather we must understand our ultimate objective—thus creating a link from action to action that propels us to our ultimate desired outcome.
As I watched the first few hours of cable news coverage each channel and commentator had a take and in some cases several. Fox News in particular filled their time with inaccurate information that was astounding. And of course the vile Nancy Grace was already ranting about the children and custody issues. Michael Jackson in a matter of minutes was called a child molester, a music genius, the loneliest man on Earth, an adoring father, a boy trapped in a man’s body, an icon, in debt for 400 million dollars, on the verge of a comeback, worth a billion dollars, and ABC’s Martin Bashir, who did more harm to Michael Jackson’s reputation than anybody, except for Michael Jackson, made a statement that knowing Michael Jackson was one of the greatest honors of his life. This actually caused me to shake my head. I recalled him saying that Michael Jackson’s home Neverland was not safe for children. But the words genuine or honest do not come to mind at the mention of the name Marin Bashir.
The truth about Michael Jackson and the through line that is now being decided on will be two very different things. The truth about Michael Jackson with respect to his music is: Michael Jackson was a musical genius and one of the best entertainers ever. His personal life was for the first 35 years, the personal life of the rich and famous. And let me interject here that it is ridiculous to perpetuate the myth that he was somehow robbed of his childhood. Given the choice, I doubt anyone including Michael Jackson, would choose being a poor black kid in pre civil rights Indiana over being world famous and a mansion in Beverly Hills. The last 15 years of Michael Jackson’s personal life were about prescription drug addiction and plastic surgery malpractice—NOTHING MORE. All the rest of the behavior, some very strange, can be attributed to these two factors.
But there is big money involved in the business of Michael Jackson, now. So the though line will be this: Michael Jackson was a musical genius, buy everything with his name on it and take a tour of Neverland Ranch, which will become Graceland West. And to be honest—even I’ll go take that tour. Why? Because his music made life for all of us better— and now that’s really all that needs to be said.