“No more Michael Jackson.”
That’s the opening line of a fascinating document that came to light last month. In 1979, on the back of a tour itinerary, presumably in a cramped tour bus or hotel room, alongside the brothers he was desperate to break away from, a 21-year-old Michael Jackson scribbled the following manifesto:
MJ will be my new name. No more Michael Jackson. I want a whole new character, a whole new look. I should be a tottally [sic] different person. People should never think of me as the kid who sang “ABC,” [or] “I Want You Back.” I should be a new, incredible actor/singer/dancer that will shock the world. I will do no interviews. I will be magic. I will be a perfectionist, a researcher, a trainer, a masterer [sic]. I will be better than every great actor roped into one.
It’s pretty amazing to read. Ten years later he had achieved it all (with the exception of the acting part – an ambition he still claimed he wanted to fulfil in the year he died).
What’s striking though is these aren’t just career goals. They are a total wiping clean of the slate of personality: forget all that’s gone before, let’s start again, build from scratch.
Two years ago I got into the habit of writing something every 25 June. Since last year’s update there has been so much drama, so many sordid revelations, so many sad incidents, it’s hard to remember why or what I was a fan of.
Literally, of course, Michael Jackson is no more. But was he ever here? His absence does not seem to have changed much. New music continues to be released. The same number of column inches are filled. Fans crowd the forums still.
New thread: “Does anyone know Michael’s favourite pizza?” (329 replies, none of them conclusive.)
Whatever it was that generated stories and intrigue about this man continues unabated. Was it his management? An over-eager PR team? So-called ‘friends’ looking for a pay check? Of course some of it can be laid at his door – but how can we explain this gruesome fascination now that he’s gone?
As a fan I can’t pretend to have had purely selfless motives. Who he was as a person was under siege, and I was there to defend him, defend his actions, or, worse, his hair-tearingly infuriating, frozen-faced, false-eyelashed inaction. Looking back I see it wasn’t him in the dock, it was me: a 17-year-old, podgy English girl, short-sighted and untested.
The newly-minted revelation that my hero died at the hands of my nemesis – sleep, or the lack thereof – adds to those tiny electric ironies that make up a fan’s life, so tiny they are barely perceptible, even to oneself.
We are the same, he and I.
What? Nothing. I didn’t say anything.
So when Spike Lee’s documentary Bad 25 came out last Christmas, like all fans I watched closely, looking for glimpses into his life, an insight into how he worked, and how he developed his talent. We weren’t disappointed; Lee is a self-confessed fan, and the film brimmed full of adulation, from the people he worked with, to the artists he inspired.
It just lacked one thing: Michael. He’s behind the camera, shakily scanning the mixing desk and vocals booth, or he’s whispering to the director, in the shadows of the studio, grinning and pulling at his lip.
When he is interviewed, he looks uncomfortable. He is careful, deliberate, gentle; poured into a leather get-up about as convincing as a hamster wearing a suit of armour. If at that moment a pizza were wheeled out in front of him, I expect he’d look at it with a mixture of confusion and fear.
He wasn’t really there, even before death.
Something tells me it starts with that scrap of paper, now resting in a vault in Los Angeles, surrounded by carousel horses wrapped in brown paper, silver Rolls Royces and a fleet of arcade machines, all gathering dust. It’s a testament to the futility of my quest as a fan to find the “real” Michael Jackson.
Being a superstar requires a double personality: there’s the stage you, and the ‘real’ you. Perhaps it is a false dichotomy — plenty of them lose sight of the line from time to time — but those who found fame in their adult years had the chance to develop the latter. Michael Jackson didn’t. Perhaps he never wanted to.
I think I’m going to go with ‘Hawaiian’.