30th June, 2010
It is now one year since Michael Jackson died at the age of 50. When you understand how pervasive mediocrity is in any society, you would spare nothing in honouring the geniuses. And Michael was indeed a genius. As a child prodigy he started out with Jackson 5 until he was fed up, went solo and in 1979 released Off The Wall. Again, he refused to let people decide his boundaries. He put on one glove, pulled up his trousers, donned military jackets and the rest was war. He announced the stars were his new frontiers. With Thriller in 1982, he turned all barriers of race, colour, class, sex, upbringing into a long ladder and touched the stars. He never came back. From there, he revolutionised entertainment. Before Obama, he was the most famous face on earth. Ronald Reagan had to invite Michael to the White House. He and his wife were shocked and awed by his story. Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant mentioned at the memorial service, Michael made it possible for them to earn their shirts as blacks in LA Lakers.
Michael was that genetic engineer who tortured the racist gene in MTV and other media outlets to accept the richness of black music as worthy. They owe Michael for teaching them what the future would look like. He was that Moses who said thereâ€™s nothing that cannot be done if we raise our voice as one. He freed the young of all colours to connect in a way that later placed a black man in the White House.
Geniuses cannot let the world be as it is. Their thinking does not accept rules as they are set up. In the end, you cannot save yourself by thinking alone but if you really think and practice very well, the least of the consolation prizes is the world. Like all geniuses, Michael studied the masters and practised daily for impossible hours until his songs and dance became supernatural extensions of his body cells. They incarnated his irrepressible spirit.
Michael created a musical genre that could neither be called afro, jazz, metallic, rock, soul, R&B. The society with its compulsive disorder to categorise called them pop. I call them gut music. What about his dance steps? The moonwalk, that inimitable dance sequence of moving backward yet creating the illusion of moving forward. It was as if he had anticipated what Nigeria would be doing. Michael did cyclonic pirouettes better than Nijinsky or Nureyev. He could stand on his toes in loafers better than Martha Graham did in her ballet shoes. He shimmied and swivelled better than James Brown and Jackie Wilson. He moved his limbs in a blitz of static electricity that reduced all masters to nothing.
From birth we should uphold the right of geniuses to be weird with impunity. Unfortunately, Michael got an unfair share of punishment not empathy from his disciplinarian father. Watch Jacksonâ€™s choreography very well as he passionately gathered every inch of the stage into a terrifying logic of his dance moves. They were influenced by the wild movements of his limbs as he tried to dodge severe beatings from his father when he was young. Where others see severity, geniuses see possibilities. Wonder how many Nigerian children are being beaten severely and carted off for spiritual deliverance just because they could not help acting strange? How many turned those beatings into economic theories? How many see that abusive father as PDP?
Geniuses have no time for sanity. They prefer ideas to normality. They are not of us. They are just en route since they do not belong here. While others are fighting for lands and possessions to stake their claim on earth, geniuses are fighting gravity to capture the skies. They prefer immortality to grounded comforts. They do not pray for long life because they do not reckon time the way we do. Flannery Oâ€™Connor with her life-threatening disease went on pilgrimage to Lourdes not for healing but for the novel she was writing. Of what use is long life to geniuses when that life does not spark game-changing ideas? That is why all their works are everlasting arguments for rapturous beauty.
Success is very busty; it attracts fans and rapists. Because of their fame and weirdness, geniuses are very vulnerable to scandals. People who are gifted at nothing, who contribute nothing to the society, out of jealousy make it their evangelical mission to pull geniuses down. Since they cannot touch heaven, they raise hell. These people are all over in every society. Michael outsang his cynics, he outdanced his doubters. He thrived on their turmoil and in Billie Jean, turned his enemies into assets.
The American playwright Tennessee Williams wrote an essay, The Catastrophe of Success, ten years before Michael was conceived. He said if you are not psychologically, morally or emotionally prepared for success and it just happened, you shall crack. And a genius is someone who is never prepared because biologically he/she has an adultâ€™s brain in a childâ€™s body. How can a young body handle the pressures of a worldwide 24/7 paparazzi? Michaelâ€™s life was therefore a long desperate Scream for help but no one heard him. As a teenage celebrity, he was a 50-year-old midget. At 50, he was a decomposing infant.
He rose from humble origins to complete disaster. He was turning to cats and panthers in his videos but everyone wowed him on as Magic Jackson specialist of hocus pocus. When he turned into zombie and called it Thriller, we bought the record in record proportions. When he acted fully human in the next album, he called it Bad. We still flocked to buy, only that it was 50 million copies short of Thrillerâ€™s 109 million; we felt he was not crazy enough. When he dressed in immaculate white suit, he said he was Smooth Criminal. When he dated a chimpanzee, got feelings for a snake, people taught he was being funny. When he started sleeping in oxygen tanks, they hailed him as Wacko Jacko, the king of what is wacky wacky. He was dying right before our very eyes yet we were hailing him for more, screaming for his autographs.
Internally he was lonely and wasted; he was Hiroshima and Nagasaki enclosed in human body. He could not make emotional or sexual connections. All his marriages ended up conveying his separateness. Though genetically black, his kids came out unadulterated white. He could not conceive them with all the pleasures and pride associated with doing so. The conventional route was too messy for him. While others deliver children, he took delivery of his own like DHL parcels. His last child was downloaded from a surrogate mother no one knew whether she was human or a refrigerator. We were laughing while Michael was suffering. Before the newborn was properly prepared to join the human community, Michael whisked him away from the maternity like a Yaba madman. From the third floor balcony of his hotel suite in Berlin, he dangled his baby son to all the world like God the Father.
When Michaelâ€™s skin started migrating from race to race, he became an object of Omo detergent ridicule. When his face began to look like ojuju calabar, we cheered him on as Picassoâ€™s new artwork attempted by a plastic surgeon, yet he was battling a rare skin disease called vitiligo and lupus. He could not sleep; he was constantly in pains, physical and emotional. He was under the dictatorship of painkillers with Jupiter sounding names: Xanax, Demerol, Ativan. Michael turned into a mess of chemicals.
He needed a hug, we gave him a tug. He needed a bed, we gave him the one of thorns. For geniuses, as the creative faculties increase, the emotional departments become more vacuous. With nothing to fill them, the bubble burst and the rest is tragedy.
Mike, are you sleeping in peace? Do they know you over there? Have they the eyes to guage your worth? Are they cutting your yam in small slices? Are they pouring your wine in spoonfuls? If yes, please, turn back, kindly return to the welcoming hands of your only Olohun-iyo.
â€¢Damola Awoyokun is a writer and he lives in London.