Michael Jackson: God Remains Sovereign
by Jacob Prasch
Al Sharpton is often the subject of ridicule, portrayed as a grandstanding opportunist always playing the race card because it is the only card in his deck. He never seems to play the Jesus card or the Gospel card so much which are the cultural and spiritual pillars of traditional Black America. An advocate for the, acceptance of homosexuality, he is a left-over prop from a civil rights movement which,in the age of Barack Obama, no longer has a reason to exist in its traditional form. So it is no longer a cause but an industry upon which his position and, assumedly, his livelihood depend.
We never hear about Jesus, the Gospel, or personal morality. His role as a preacher, like that of Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright, appears simply an outward religious dressing used to package a socially and politically obsolete product as he pounds the same old drum for want of a better tune. He is not a voice of sanity like Black TV preacher Jesse Lee Peterson, or a highly articulate orator like Rev. Martin Luther King, or a biblically-oriented preacher of righteousness like Ohio Black preacher Pastor Washington. Sharpton’s is the legacy of his well-known scandals in Wilson , NY and Turkey.
Yet, when he eulogized Michael Jackson at the Staples Center, he made a statement to the deceased pop star’s children that was as true as it is false. Sharpton told them. “Your Daddy wasn’t strange; it is what he had to deal with that was strange”. To say Michael Jackson was not strange is too implausible a statement to deserve serious comment. Indeed, if he was not a pedophile , why did he pay so many millions to settle his first bout with that ugly charge? He was not convicted of the second charge of sex with a little boy with cancer despite admitting he liked sleeping in the same bed with little boys and even Jackson’s own psychiatrist testified in court that Jackson had a regressed emotional age of a ten year old.
After aggravating a judge for delaying the court proceedings by not showing up on time for the arraignment, Jackson came out of the court and climbed onto the roof of an SUV and began break dancing for the media. Jackson had bleached skin and sang, “it doesn’t matter if you are Black or White” because Jackson did not know if he himself was Black or White. Jackson was a middle-aged Black man who had himself sculptured to resemble a young White woman with a little nose. If these things are not strange in Sharpton’s mindset it is difficult to grasp what Sharpton’s understanding of the term “strange” could be. Where Sharpton was right, however, is calling what Jackson had to deal with “strange”. Indeed, he was a baby and a super-celebrity. He was never a proper child or adolescent with normal formative years so he mutated into a real-life Peter Pan who was permanently a child emotionally and mentally (at least according to his own psychiatrist and his lawyers).
Going back to Blues artist Robert Johnson whom many regard as the forerunner of rock music, R & B, soul, and pop, the popular music industry has tragically claimed the lives of its demagogues. Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, the Big Bopper, Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix , George Harrison, Frank Zappa, Jerry Garcia, John Bonham, Maurice Gibb, Elvis Presley and an endless list of lesser luminaries. Some like John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, and Sam Cook were gunned down by people who claimed to love them. Others died due to substance abuse, and others were victims of the lifestyle of life on the road. Many were personally unhappy and others who were long expected to die young have almost miraculously survived their extreme lifestyles such as Phil Specter, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, and Jerry Lee Lewis among them. There are those like Mick Jagger, Ringo Star, Paul McCartney, Brian Ferry, Elton John, Bob Dylan , and Smokey Robinson who somehow keep going, but mainly it is a business that kills. It is custom made for living fast and dying young. Even the entrepreneurs who fashioned the music machines to levels of not simply music but social phenomena such as Alan Freed, Brian Epstein, and Bill Graham do not seem to last beyond middle-age ‚ “” if they get that far.
It is of course not purely a phenomena of popular music . America particularly has a long historical roster of cultural icons who died young. JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, James Dean, Rudolph Valentino in everything from Hollywood to politics to fashion who somehow manage to check out long before what would normally be considered their time. But now have had Michael Jackson. Jackson. however. was in one way unique. He could indeed dance better than Fred Astaire, Bill Robinson, the Nichols Brothers, Donald O’Connor, Gregory Heinz, or Gene Kelly. But his talent alone was not what made him unique.
Pop Stars have often created caricatures of themselves: an iconic image that the public, press, and hangers on demanded they continually cultivate, re-invent, and live up to on stage or off. The Beatles had Sgt. Pepper, Billy Shears, and the Walrus , and Mick Jagger had “Jumping Jack Flash”. It was David Bowie, however, who created a list of fantasy characters that reflected an emerging social reality of change, post-existential consciousness, and blurred identities such as Ziggy Stardust, Alladine Sane, and “Diamond Dog”.
The creatures of Bowie’s imagination which he placed on album covers were androgynous beyond any fixed category by which we would conventionally categorize people. They anthropomorphize space aliens, or half-human/half-animal creatures alluding to the direction bio-genetic engineering would one day take man. These were invented characters beyond definition attempting to make a socially prophetic statement. But that is all they were, invented characters for record covers. Michael Jackson, however, was not make-believe like John Lennon’s Walrus or Ziggy Stardust or Bob Dylan’s imposed self-image onto a John Wesley Harding. Michael Jackson was a real person; not a pop culture clone of Peter Pan, but a real Peter Pan who tried to fly with his incredible feet.
Jackson did not seem to know if he was Black or White, male or female, or an adult or a child, and many say homosexual or heterosexual. As his wife Lisa Marie Presley said, “He is an artist and he can be anything he wants to be.” Neither, however, did he know his beliefs. He was brought up as a member of the Jehovah’s Witness cult by a father the public and press would later scorn for appearing to wanting to cash in on his son’s death while his fans mourned. At various times Michael Jackson gravitated into cabbalistic Judaism, Pantheistic New Age spirituality, and Islam while living in the Persian Gulf. Weeks before his death he was asking his brother Jermaine about his conversion to Islam and also asking Gospel singer Andre Crouch about Evangelical Christianity.
Someone’s age, race, sexuality, and faith arte the identifying elements of someone’s persona which define who they are. Embattled in legal and financial imbroglios and often alienated from his siblings, Michael Jackson had no identity other than the character on the videos. Only it was not a character. It was the only identity he had or had ever had from childhood. This was indeed strange.
He was a child of the zeitgeist and what the popular culture of the time demanded just as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Elvis. Elvis and John Lennon died at 40, Michael Jackson made it to 50 even though he he never progressed beyond the age of 10. His fountain of youth was the scalpel and the cocktail of probably over-prescribed drugs he copiously consumed, fueled by sycophants in Never Land and Holmby Hills in an almost intentionally recapitulated and tragically orchestrated replay of what his former wife Lisa Marie Presley saw kill her father Elvis in Graceland in Memphis. David Lister, an evangelist to the Mormons who directs Moriel in North America , was a frequent visitor to Graceland, along with being a friend and roommate to Elvis’s stepbrothers during the time leading up to Elvis’s death and probably has a better recollection of the spectacle of exploitation and self-destruction than Lisa Marie Presley who was very young at the time. His account echoes exactly what people say regarding Jackson.
Graceland and Never Land were the homes where a poor country boy from Tupelo, Mississippi and a little Black kid from Gary were thrust into the limelight of a world they were not ready for went to escape, but became the prisons they could not escape. They were sent to those prisons that looked like mansions, only to await execution. Death is the penalty for a human fame not surrendered to Christ. It is not a sentence imposed by Christ, but by fame in a fallen world. There is no reprieve.
John Lennon’s prison was the luxury Dakota Apartments on the West Side of Manhattan. I still recall speaking to John Lennon just before his final birthday. I gave him a set of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis for his birthday. I saw him one more time after that on West 72nd Street and a few weeks later he was assassinated. My friend Doreen was George Harrison’s oral hygienist. While cleaning his teeth she gave him the book Death of A Guru with a note I wrote to him about Jesus. He reacted angrily. From a counsel house in Speke (a rather tough neighborhood in Liverpool where I used to do evangelism) to an estate on the Thames, to a crematorium after dying young while chanting “hare krishna” ‚ “” that was his journey. His prison was his castle Friar Park in Henley on Thames not far from the UK Moriel office. It doesn’t matter. The fallen world will always deify pop stars with God-given talent instead of worshiping the God who created the talent. That is the fallen world.
I was in Los Angeles with my daughter a year and a half ago. We went to see the grave of Mel Blanc, the Jewish-American comedy voice artist who was the voice of Buggs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweetie Pie, and Porky Pig. Nearby I noticed a bronze statue of a rock n’ roller playing a guitar. I walked over and it was the grave of someone I knew, a member of a punk band called The Ramones. Three of that foursome are dead and buried in that cemetery. I had been friendly with the bass player named Dee Dee who use to cut hair before getting a record contract. I went to parties and had smoked cannabis with those guys in my wayward youth. Only God knows, but I fear to ask where they are now. Indeed, where are any of them?
Elvis “˜ brother is a saved Christian who says Elvis was a backslidder. Where is Michael Jackson? Pricilla’s father and her ex-husband died the same way in the same kind of circumstances. ‚ John Lennon said he resents not having been a fisherman instead of a Beatle and Bob Dylan once said he would have preferred to sell ice cream, so he reckons himself a failure for not reaching that dream. At least they were honest.
I get the impression that Michael Jackson also wanted to be honest, but honesty depends on a comprehension of reality, and I am not sure he knew what reality actually is. While David Bowie in the glam rock generation sang of a “Rebel Rebe”” who “was not sure if he was boy or a girl”, in the X Generation that followed in pop culture, Michael Jackson was that identity-less personification of that generation looking for identity that Bowie saw coming and the incarnation of what Bowie had called “rockin’ roll suicide”. You don’t have to hang yourself. Just believe your own publicity and you will wind up just as dead. This was Michael Jackson. When he died the generation that created him and which he framed died with him. Now you are not a kid anymore. Just someone who never grew up.
Hippies had Viet Nam and the draft to keep them grounded in the reality that psychedelic drugs provided a temporary delusional escape. Michael Jackson and his generation had no reality and no escape. Escape was their reality. His was a pop culture that sought not to end unconstitutional wars or drive Nixons and LBJs from the White House or liberate Blacks in the American South. When that was over, the Punk Movement was described in Britain as “Rock n’ Roll committing suicide because it had no purpose to live anymore”. Sociologically, that was true. The pop culture of Michael Jackson’s generation never had a purpose to begin with except to celebrate its absence of purpose and meaning in a quest for an identity that was nowhere to be found. It existed only to celebrate the absence of meaning and purpose. It was a new Kulturkamf ‚ “” like James Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause fast-forwarded 30 years but only where teenage restlessness had become replaced by a refusal to become a teenager. Hippies didn’t trust anybody over the age of 30. Michael Jackson’s generation couldn’t trust anybody over the age of 10. So that is the age their icon was forced to remain
Michael Jackson was not the only expression of this phenomena. Cirque De Solel celebrates life as entertaining but devoid of meaning. While Hippies took drugs seeking truth and metaphysical experiences, Michael Jackson took drugs because there was no meaning. While there was a Jesus Movement with a revival among hippies that saw campus radicalism adopted to evangelistic zeal and witnessed the birth of everything from Calvary Chapel to Jews For Jesus, the only thing that empty pop culture gave birth to was ultimately its own death.
Michael Jackson looked for identity by trying to change his identity from an adult to a child, from a boy to a girl, from Black to White. As believers we know the only one who can change our true identity is Christ who gives us a new identity when we adopt His. Jackson’s wealth turned into debt. His fame became shame. Only his image lives on. For believers we become conformed to the image of Christ and we actually live on eternally ourselves, not just a contrived image of ourselves, but a genuine image of who we are in Christ. Many of my hippie generation discovered this by the grace of God. I only wish that more of Michael Jackson’s generation had.
Yet, God is sovereign. From Al Sharpton’s bankrupt social gospel, to Rabbi Schmuelig Boteach’s caballah, to the Arab Islamic media trying to claim Michael Jackson was a convert to Islam and a Moslem, ultimately God had his way. As Isaiah wrote, God “will not give His Glory to another“. Apart from the Andre Crouch choir, I do not know if any of those who sang gospel choruses at Michael Jackson’s funeral were saved Christians. Yet Lionel Richie sang gospel, and the invocations were Christian invoking the name of Christ. Jesus would not allow a funeral watched by 1.3 billion people to be a Moslem funeral, or a Jehovah’s Witness funeral, or a New Age funeral. It had to be at least nominally Christian so Mohammad, or the Watch Tower Society would not get the glory. From MC Hammer to his own brothers, as a performer Michael Jackson could upstage anybody. But God does not allow His Son to be upstaged by anybody.