This week's Man Booker prize winner George Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013, and every word of it is as wise, gentle and thoughtful as you'd expect from the author of the short story "Tenth of December". I especially loved this part, and how it acknowledges our love of heroes is the first step to loving ourselves and then others.
Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare's, bright as Gandhi's, bright as Mother Teresa's. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.
First off: I’m not about to deny any of you have real emotions about Prince’s death, just because you didn’t know the man. In 2009 a man I’d met only once properly - Michael Jackson - died, and I was devastated. I still get upset about it, seven years on.
And I realise how hypocritical this is, adding to the pile of words being written as we speak on the subject, by saying you should stop writing about him. What can I say? I’m a twat.
But, agh! I can’t take another one. What grates about these constant tributes and social media comments and solemn blog posts (hello!) isn’t that the emotion behind them isn’t real, but that it can apparently be summed up so succinctly in 140 characters.
When Michael died, I did tweet something. First I tweeted the noise I made when I first found out. I was at home, alone, and let out what I can only describe as a loud drawn-out moan (my neighbours still look at me weirdly). Then, on seeing the tributes rolling past my eyes for a man that once meant more to me than any boyfriend ever has, I had to say something, anything, so I tweeted again - some rubbish telling him to rest in peace, but mentioning my connection to him (that felt important) - and instantly regretted it. My tweet lined up with all the rest, rolled up and off my screen. Poofff. Gone. What a pointless exercise. If anything, it left me feeling more bereft.
But I’d felt this desperate need to say something - anything - because it felt like it was so much more important to me, that no-one tweeting or being interviewed on TV even loved him as much as I did, felt as much as I did, and soon the desire to be heard became so intense I gave in and spouted some nonsense to draw attention to myself.
So I’m guilty of it too. I don’t want this to sound all high and mighty. But that tweet and every subsequent post I’ve written on the subject that tried to put into words what I felt has failed, because what I felt (feel) is too great to put into words.
So what makes me suspicious of people’s motivations is when they can - hours after their idol has died - sum them up in a few words. I can’t sum Michael up seven years later. I certainly can’t explain why I love him so. Why do you love your mother? Why do you love your best friend? Being instantly able to pinpoint what it was about a person that moved you just smacks me of a desperation to be heard. Look at me! Look what they meant to me! Look how sophisticated and subtle a consumer of music I am! But music is not about words - it’s about feeling, about how it makes you feel, not thought and analysis.
I fucking love Prince. Do I love him cos he’s a great guitarist? No. Do I love him because he’s multi-talented? No. Do I love him because he broke the gender rules and made sex seem mutually fun? No. Do I love him because he gave back to his community, or because he was prolific and a visionary and "pushed the boundaries", or any of the other stuff people have been spouting in the last 24 hours? No.
All of those things are true and admirable, but they’re not why I love him.
I love him because his music makes me strut up and down the street (/slash my bedroom) like I’m king of the world. I love him for 'I Would Die 4 U' and the desperate, pleading desire that radiates off it in waves. I love him cos he’s fucking funny (even if he did compare my beloved Michael to Helen Keller). I love that he’s five foot two and still incredibly sexy; when he speaks at the end of 'If I Was Ur Girlfriend' I feel like he’s speaking directly to me. I do some of my best air guitar work to the first 55 seconds of the 12” extended mix of 'Raspberry Beret' - he actually makes me feel like I’m a guitar-playing superstar hero when I listen to that. I was bloody miles away from him in the O2 in 07 (ooh, get me) but I still swayed and hollered like a madman when he started playing 7. When he sings, “Kat - we need you to rap!” in 'Alphabet Street', I fully imagine he’s asking me to step in (and I do - on the bus, in front of my computer, anywhere - I know every word and my shoulders jiggle like you wouldn’t believe). And I actually still *blush* when I listen to 'Gett Off' - on my headphones, when no-one else can hear. (It’s not even the lyrics, the sound of that bass is enough to do it - how the hell does he make even that sound rude??)
I love him for how he made me feel. I love him despite him not knowing me from Adam.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Perhaps all these comments are just what I felt in 2009. The hurt then was so much I had to say something - anything. When I heard the news yesterday it felt so enormous I wanted to grab total strangers and tell them. But then those comments are followed by rafts of videos, and clips, and gifs, all accompanied by words carefully crafted to sound as if this isn’t the first time the person in question has seen them.
"Reminded of how great the guitar work on this is" ("reminded")
"One of the greatest Superbowl half-time performances of all time" (because you've watched them all and decided) (and anyway, it wasn't - Michael's was)
"Er, yah, I got to see him in an intimate gig at Koko last year. #legend"
Get out of here. In the torrent of bollocks written about Michael Jackson in the days after his death, it was my friends who’d camped outside his hotel and queued all night with me to be first in line when the stadium gates opened who were notably silent. (Not to mention his actual family and true friends - but I'm not comparing their feelings here, just ours.)
So this isn’t a denial that you’re feeling something. You are. Prince was amazing. He was so great, a small part of us impervious to reason and vulnerable to the mockery of our peers thought maybe - just maybe - he'd cracked it, and he wouldn’t die, just like Michael or Whitney or David wouldn't.
Just be honest about it. You’re feeling something, a tiny feeling among all the other billions of people feeling something. Stop trying to make your voice heard by putting what he “meant” into words, as if he meant one thing to all of us, and you’re some genius for working out what it is, or what he meant to you is somehow better than what he meant to everyone else, or trying to explain why you’re so upset. Just be upset. It’s fine.
And if you must say something, how about trying instead to voice how he made you feel? If he really meant something to you, you might find you can’t.
Yup. Twenty years today. Twenty years since Jarvis Cocker got up on stage at the BRITs and waved his arse at Michael Jackson.
Ha ha ha, right? Hashtag legend. Hashtag LOL. Hashtag-
Nope. I’m still pissed off.
First up let me assure you I hesitated before posting this; I know it'll make me sound insane. Examples:
I got teary on holiday a few years ago during an argument with a friend when I tried to defend my position. (I couldn’t.)
I had a 90s theme party for my 30th birthday and almost threw my own little brother out because he came dressed as the Pulp frontman. (Invitations clearly said NO INDIE as the music code.)
I have two Pulp songs on my iPod - 'Do You Remember the First Time?' and 'Babies', both undeniably great songs - and I feel a little pang of annoyance every time I hear them, while 'Common People’ sends me into a full-on rage (the utter, utter smugness of it! the snideness! A song trashing a girl he nevertheless fancies - ugh, fuck you Jarvis).
Let me explain:
Okay no, there’s no explanation. No non-crazy one anyway. Just hear me out, 'k?
Here’s my ticket from that night.
At the time it happened, my argument went something like this: ohmygodhowCOULDhepoormichaelhe’sdonenothingabsolutelynothingtodeservethis
...because I was 16 and an MJ FAN OF SOME STANDING and I had gone to the BRITs to watch Michael on stage, for the first time in London in four years.
My argument didn’t have the impact I’d hoped it would. Mainly because my audience, aka the 32 16-year-olds who made up 11CH who were at this moment clambering over each other and trying to fart on each other’s laps during morning registration, believed something more along the lines of:
“yaaarrggh, what a wanker.”
A wanker. Michael. But-bu-buh-buh-
All I can tell you is it felt like being bullied. Me/Michael - I was so much of a fan by then I could no longer tell. Michael had long been the butt of jokes, and had recently been the subject of a *police investigation*, which meant as a fan I spent most of the 90s burning with an anger that Michael - and, by extension, me - was being victimised.
For the most part I grew out of that fan way of thinking. Got some perspective, a mortgage, a life. I still don’t believe the really bad stuff (let’s not get into why - I’ll leave that for another blog post), but I learned to see the faults in my childhood hero, just as I got older and discovered my own.
I am now so grown-up I am willing to concede that Michael might - might - have had some work done.
But the name Jarvis Cocker or the sound of Pulp’s music never fails to make my blood boil.
Come on, Kat. Lighten up. One man waving his bum at another man is funny.
*stony Kat face*
This is insane, I know. I know! I can no longer tell if my dislike of Pulp is a genuine aesthetic response (...unlikely) or tied up with what Jarvis did (yep, that sounds more like it), or simply bound up with the frustration I felt at the tiresome, ironic and self-conscious Britpop that dominated the 1990s, the predominant tone of which appeared to be scorn, scorn at girls who pretended to be something they weren’t, scorn at small-town life, scorn at boys who like girls and girls who like boys - all sung by lead singers who cultivated a kind of bored air of contempt, though they deigned to answer the questions posed by Smash Hits nonetheless.
Don't get me wrong; Michael was nuts. I think a part of him *did* think he was Jesus (a tiny tiny part, deep down - and hey, there’s a tiny part of me that thinks so too, so fuck you), and in later years he was plagued by a damaging obsession not just to be, but to be acknowledged The Greatest of All Time. His behaviour got weirder and weirder, he got less and less apologetic, and speculation about his private life overshadowed his music as a result.
But, for all his faults, - and here’s why I love him - he never had a moment of scorn in his life.
His music contained fear, confusion, paranoia, hope, joy in abundance. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t, but it didn’t just sneer at social mores and class. All that stuff felt so small-minded, so fucking stiflingly British.
That’s what a lot of people prided themselves on - these were the Brit Awards, after all, one in the eye for an American superstar.
Except Michael wasn’t from America, he was from outer space. His talent at least was out of this world. I don’t believe in God, but I do believe some people seem touched by something godlike - genius, whatever you want to call it - and what’s more I believe acknowledging that and adoring someone - whomever it may be - can be a positive, life-affirming act.
Call me an idiot, why don’t you.
'Earth Song' is not my favourite. The performance of it that night was really corny (always the penultimate song he performed on tour, we spent the time it was on working out how best to make our exit). BUT I admire its chutzpah. I admire its grandiosity, its ambition. I believe it came from a genuine feeling Michael had (about - yes - elephants), and I believe, if you listen to it, and stop feeling so bloody self-conscious, stop sniggering, FFS, you might feel it too.
And that’s what Jarvis is to me: sniggering. Sticking your bum out at someone.
For me he’s forever the boys in 11CH, who liked Ocean Colour Scene and Oasis and that one song from ChumbaWumba, and crashed into you at the bar jumping up and down and gripping each other’s shoulders and jeering to the sound of the Year 2000, and laughed at anyone who didn’t wear kappa shirts and record bags and their hair in curtains. He’s people who believe music is about clever lyrics, not sound and passion. He’s bants.
I realise a lot of Pulp fans might be surprised to hear this, as to them he represents a sort of alternative to that culture - a sort of nerdy awkward outsider who shopped at C&A instead of buying Ben Sherman shirts. Maybe that’s where my anger comes from. Having been on the outside, and finally finding success, he took it out on an easy target like Michael Jackson. Michael was under fire for so much of what he did or didn’t do back then, and getting clobbered for everything. He was an easy target. A showbiz Whack-a-Mole.
So yeah, my argument is still basically still ohmygodhowCOULDhepoormichaelhe’sdonenothingabsolutelynothingtodeservethis
I can’t defend it much. There’s no reasoning behind it. It’s just how I feel. It’s a massive failure in my sense of humour: a man showed his bum to another man at a highly inappropriate moment? In all other circumstances, that is 100% funny. It should be funny. I should find that funny. But I don’t.
Laughter, bants - there is a line where it moves from being good-natured to being simply hurtful, and the victim and aggressor usually disagree where it lies.
And the grown up, non-crazy part of me can see Michael deserved it, or course he did. But puncturing other people’s bubbles can get so tiring. It really can. There’s a lot of joy to be had in inflating them.
He announced he was the King (sneer!), when white people had been very clear that it was Elvis, so he married his daughter (boo!). He sent a statue of himself on a barge down the Thames (cue contempt!). He got given the Artist of the Millennium Award, because he was an egomaniac of outrageous proportions, and not because it in any way benefitted the BPI to have him perform during their award show. And on stage at the Brits he portrayed himself, solemnly, and with much pomp, as someone who had the power to heal people.
Was he manic? Delusional? It's possible. Did he sincerely believe it? Maybe, though I doubt it. Did he deserve laughter? Perhaps. Did he deserve to be mocked? I dunno. Mockery might seem an appropriate response, but it's unedifying how much glee on the part of the person doing the mocking it involves.
And then there’s the possibility that it was Jarvis, not Michael, who took the whole thing too seriously.
That level of artistry is difficult to achieve when your image is ‘authenticity’ and your most potent act is to tear other people down.
So yeah, I’m still angry.
Jarvis was just part of the mob that took Michael at face value. Who didn’t see him as an entertainer, but a weirdo, a deranged fool. Who felt pride in puncturing pomposity, without acknowledging the joy they took in it too.
I still switch the radio off when his show comes on (a show called Sunday Service - OH, SPARE me the IRONY). And yeah - MAYBE I cover his book up when I see it in Waterstones. I'm sad I live in a world where there’s no Michael Jackson, and Jarvis Cocker does voiceovers for Sainsbury's.
Many of my fellow MJ fans aren’t happy there’s a new album out. I won’t go into all the conspiracy theories and reasons why - they're too tiresome - but the new songs leave me feeling uncomfortable too. Not because Michael himself didn’t want them to be heard (I’ve always been frustrated with him for not releasing more music over the years), but because it feels part of a rebranding exercise that people (myself included) have wanted to enact since even before he died.
I’ll try to explain.
First off, the zeitgeisty aim of Xscape is clear. Its cover art invokes last year’s Random Access Memories (which itself deliberately invoked Thriller). The lead single is a breezy soul classic of the kind those French robot guys have been trying to bring back to life, and that’s fine. It’s a good song. An advert for a jeep shows people listening to it with the wind in their hair.
"All right," Michael says at the end of the take, kept in the single for authenticity's sake. "That's fine."
The trouble is the idea that Michael Jackson was a breezy soul star is just not accurate.
It’s an idea that’s existed since the 90s, when indie took a stranglehold and MJ was deemed 'past his best’ by people who didn't listen to his music. IMO there's no better indication that someone has barely listened to his back catalogue than the assertion “Off the Wall was his best album”.
Michael Jackson fans are (in)famously hardcore, but we’re not hardcore because of songs like Love Never Felt So Good, or albums like Off the Wall. We'll defend him to our deaths because he meant something important to us. Michael Jackson was a misfit as misfitting as they come. He didn't stick to any of the categories he was supposed to: he was male but gentle, he was enormously gifted but troubled, he was black but not happy with being forever classed 'soul' and 'R&B'. He expressed a frustration with being boxed-in that resonated with a lot of misfits around the world, regardless of colour, sex, whatever.
Off the Wall is obviously a great album, but in many ways, despite the three stonkers Michael wrote and his joyful, almost zany, vocals, it's a Quincy Jones album. It doesn’t represent Michael Jackson as an artist, beyond representing a line in the sand between him working with his brothers and going his own way. The thread of angst-ridden music that began in his late teens in the mid-1970s is there in songs like Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough, Workin' Day and Night and She’s Out of My Life, but otherwise the songs swirl and rise to crescendoes with a joy and abandonment that didn’t come naturally to Michael.
Exhibit 1: Blues Away, the first song he penned at age 18, might sound breezy on first listen, but listen to the lyrics. His early disco songs like Shake Your Body nestle up against dark songs like That's What You Get For Being Polite (about a character called ‘Jack’ who’s frightened to take the first step in independence - I wonder if any of Jackie, Randy, Marlon or Tito took note), or This Place Hotel (just - WHOA), songs that found their apotheosis a few short years later in Billie Jean.
(Side note for OTW fans: seriously, check out Destiny and Triumph, the two albums he ostensibly made "with his brothers" either side of OTW's 1979 release, though one gets the impression they’re the albums Michael saw as his opportunity to cut his writing and production teeth on...)
By the time he came to Thriller he was recording demos that were ready to release: Quincy did little to Billie Jean except add some orchestration. Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' was similarly advanced at demo stage, and is a masterpiece of paranoia, delusion and joy, all mixed together. The final version is catharsis in a pop song. Put it on right now. You’ll need a lie-down in seven minutes.
Leave Me Alone is, for me, the track that resonates the longest on 1987’s Bad album - an example of the kind of itchy groove Michael excelled at, one that exposed the song’s smooth melody for what it was. But by then, Michael and Quincy’s relationship was going in two different directions: some might argue Michael went in the direction that was detrimental, but I would say, at the height of his powers, he followed his, erm, nose and did what he wanted to do musically, to grow as an artist.
Via songs like Smooth Criminal (a song Quincy reportedly hated), Do You Know Where Your Children Are? (on the latest release, but recorded in 1989) and Abortion Papers (yup - a pro-life song that gets you up on your feet despite the lyrics), we end up at 1991’s Dangerous, a 14-track, 74-minute, CD-busting concept album released a couple of months after Nirvana’s Nevermind that fuses New Jack Swing with gospel and rock, managing to incorporate a lament for a 14-year-old boy (you heard) and a paean to world peace (you betcha) with grunts and groans and car-engine beats, and a sprinkling of hits that just about keep your pecker up (Black or White, Remember the Time, Who Is It).
HIStory (1995) was the first album that had more dross than good stuff - but the good stuff was solid gold. TDCAU, Stranger in Moscow are miracles in lean, sparse sonics. (Aside: he was in Moscow when news of the child sex abuse allegations first surfaced.)
Even Blood on the Dancefloor, a remix album with a few ‘new’ songs chucked in for good measure to keep us European fans interested while the HIStory tour ground its way round the continent, had a couple of songs that might be a hard listen, but are so individually weird and perplexing they’re worth it just to see the development of Michael's artistry. Throughout his career he worked hard to express something sonically that had never been heard, and a result he sometimes has more in common with sound artists than pop: Morphine, in particular, is surprisingly revealing and personal, sung in alternating bursts of anger and bliss, from the point-of-view of one of the drugs that would eventually go some way to killing him.
I'll say that again: from the point-of-view of one of the drugs that would kill him.
So when critics say he followed pop trends, I can't understand it. Have they listened to Dangerous? Have they heard Stranger in Moscow, TDCAU, Morphine, We've Had Enough? They might not like the later songs (Michael went strangely gothic in his later years, abandoning pop for an industrial version of R&B, with an angrier, overcrowded sound), but they can’t dismiss any of them as “following the crowd”.
The missteps came when he packed in too many sounds IN when others were anticipating the poor sound quality of mp3s and taking them OUT. Or when he relied too much on hot producers with a sound of their own, or tried to recapture old phrases and licks: those layered choruses that were so much his hallmark in the 80s sounded tired by the late 90s. But every one of the late albums hid gems like Unbreakable on 2001's underrated Invincible, which fans like me would listen to over and over again, and seemed to capture that directionless paranoiac anger and frustration that started way back in the 70s.
(And that's not even mentioning Butterflies on the same album, one of the best vocals he ever recorded, possibly one of the best songs he ever recorded, in which his voice escalates higher and higher at the thought of just touching a woman).
Which goes some way to explain why I’m not too keen on this 80s soul star rebrand. Despite what he sings in Off The Wall’s title track, Michael was never about throwing your cares away. He was about nursing them, shouting and shrieking and dancing them out.
As great as tracks like Rock With You or Love Never Felt So Good are, they do not tap into his essence or who he was as an artist. Love is never straightforward in his world - it’s thwarted, denied, or long gone. His vocals were as full of tics as they soared. Sometimes listening to his songs is like listening to someone with Tourette’s; he couldn’t even commit to the simple phrase “come on” without it morphing into “shamone”. And dancing is not easy - it’s jerky, individual, tense - though he carries it off with a slickness and lack of self-consciousness the impersonators can’t manage. Somehow I can’t imagine him just getting up and cutting a rug at a wedding, can you? Doing the running man? Nope.
I spent years wanting him to go back to his OTW days, where he danced and sang with abandonment, just as fans in that difficult mid-1970s period longed for Little Michael again; I wished he’d sung those Pharrell songs instead of Justin; I wished he’d cut his hair and looked more normal; I wished he’d released the hundreds of songs he worked on for each album and been as prolific as Prince; I wished he’d found happiness or love or peace. So part of me is ecstatic there’s an album worth of music on its way out. Hearing these new songs is great - they’re easy, simple songs that sell Jeeps and mobile phones. They remind everyone why “he was the best”, as the brains behind the project LA Reid insists.
But something sticks. We didn’t love him because he was the best. We didn’t even love him because he was the “King of Pop". We loved him because he was troubled, and angry, and didn’t know why, when there was so much to love in the world. He was neither morose nor ecstatic; he was both, sometimes at the same time. I dare say he gave voice to feelings a lot of us had growing up, not in his lyrics, but in those grunts and shrieks and sudden bursts of song.
I’ll be buying the new album, mostly on account of the tracks Chicago (recorded 1999) and Do You Know Where Your Children Are? (1989), which are about adultery and child sexual abuse respectively. Not the remixed versions, but Michael's original demos. BOTH of them make you want to dance - albeit weirdly, with funny jerky limb movements, at your desk, by yourself.
Ahh, he was the best. My eyes fill up thinking about him still.
Shamone, Michael, shamone.
PS If you're not convinced, or you don't know much of MJ's music beyond the triumvirate of Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad, I've linked to all the songs you should listen to.
"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.
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.
During those years, every attempt to curb my obsession failed, and even now, although my accounts have gone untended and my email updates have been halted, I still can't quote give it up. When I get nostalgic I reread old favourites, laughing before the punchlines. Every so often, I spend some time browsing in new, different fandoms, changing the preferences one by one and then scrolling down to the white space at the end of the page. I am not sure what I am looking for.
When Michael Jackson died, three years ago today, a friend of mine and I noted how some fans didn't miss a beat. Their behaviour was unchanged: they went from being fans of Michael Jackson to being fans of him in death. The fact that he had died was almost irrelevant - and, true enough, he was as close and real to them as he'd ever been.
Remembering the day of his death, lighting candles, counting down the days. The rituals of reminding everyone of today's dark and auspicious aspect - getting phrases like RIP Michael Jackson to trend on Twitter (surely the equivalent of shaking someone awake and saying, "sleep tight!"), writing heartfelt open letters, delivering 10,000 roses to his place of rest - are pretty unchanged from the activities we used to get up to when he was alive (and - I want to be really clear about this - when I was 16. Sixteen).
I've started to think that fandom and memorialisation have something in common. Are the same in fact. There's something morbid in a fan's desire to distil and immortalise their idol, to hold them up as a beacon of virtue in the midst of wavering, unreliable humanity.
Fame is in the act of subjugation: it isn't down to the intrinsic value of someone, but the willingness of others to raise someone up. It's the act that's important, not the person, from the burly chap who gets a MUM tattoo on his arm, to the girl crying at the sight of Justin Bieber.
So when people who deride Z-list celebs and call them "famous for being famous", they're missing the point of fame entirely.
The phrase originated in the 1960s, and was brought into wider use by Malcolm Muggeridge when in 1967 he wrote:
"In the past if someone was famous or notorious, it was for something—as a writer or an actor or a criminal; for some talent or distinction or abomination. Today one is famous for being famous. People who come up to one in the street or in public places to claim recognition nearly always say: 'I've seen you on the telly!'"
But that does nothing to explain the transformative effect of fame - what happens to a person as soon as their name is known.
I could not believe Jade Goody had died. Here was a woman whose entire irreducible schtick was based on her normality, her mundanity, and yet when she died, the most normal and mundane thing of all, it seemed unreal.
The episode was grim in the extreme: played out in front of millions, from the moment she was told her diagnosis on air, to the cortege that carried her coffin back through Bermondsey back to Essex. It didn't seem possible that she would actually die, that this was it, that there wouldn't be some last-minute reprieve or reveal.
And yet there wasn't, just like there isn't for other 27-year-old women every day. As Eddie Izzard said when Princess Diana died:
"My mum died when I was six and my brother was eight. No one gave a shit."
And he's right. It's not fair. There's nothing fair about fame. Fame is not about levelling up, according people acclaim based on their relative merit or achievements. Fame does not inspire hard-worn admiration for a person's achievements - if they exist, they're the icing on the cake - no, fame is indiscriminate. It suggests someone is simply better than others. That they are intrisically of more value, separate, living where the laws of nature don't apply. Their hair falls in glossy, effortless waves. Their thighs do not stick together in the heat. They can do a cheeky wink without looking like a boss-eyed, leery lech. They know how to stand when someone takes a photo, and not to tense up like an incontinent water buffalo. They are better than you.
Understandably people don't like the sound of that. How can Kim Kardashian be better than me?, I hear you say. Justin Bieber's just some kid who got lucky, why should he get all this attention? Paris Hilton, give me a break. I have a degree. I work hard for a living. My sentences don't go up at the end?
This week a headteacher questioned our obsession with characters like the Kardashians:
"What is she telling our young people about life? As a society, we have clearly attached a value to her, and there may be some messages about hard work buried in there somewhere - I expect she has to slave in the gym to keep that posterior in shape - but these are very hidden messages, buried under the other messages surrounded by glitz and sparkle".
She's right. Unfortunately the people we put on pedestals carry with them all kinds of wrong messages. So nowadays we enlightened folk prefer to talk about "equals". We scoff at people's pretensions, and delight in pulling the rug from beneath their feet. We look down on those who subjugate themselves at the feet of another as deluded and primitive.
The trouble is up close, we're all pretty confusing. We let each other down, think irrational things, and act "out of character". Sometimes putting a bit of distance between ourselves and a select few gives us the perspective on others we need.
And Michael Jackson - well, I don't think I ever quite got that he was alive. That he walked the same planet as me, was standing on stage in front of me, or, once - a bunch of us crowded round the door outside at a fan convention - used the same loo.
In the years before his death, I was no longer what we call an "active fan". Watching from afar - and this makes me feel very guilty - I would prophesy an early death for him. It wasn't a particularly hard fate to envisage, especially given his final few years. Accusation, absolution, walking the world for years, and then - his words - the "final curtain call", a last chance to prove himself. I've often thought he had the making of a tragic hero.
Besides, who can imagine Michael Jackson aged 70, 80? It must have been strange for those who knew him as a child watching him age (even he knew it - his natural adult features were so alien to him he just thought, fuck it. Let's go nuts).
In the end, I found that celebrity when you're not a fan is so alienating, and takes on a narrative way beyond the actual person involved, I longed for him to die.
Then nothing could happen to change my version of him: he would never hit a bum note, cancel another concert, release a dud record (he never did), be laughed at by Jarvis Cocker, or wrongly arrested. Nothing that could let me down, crush my dreams.
Three years on, he makes much more sense to me now that he's dead. People do, don't they?
French fans of Michael Jackson are suing the late pop star's doctor for "emotional damage" they suffered over his death, their lawyer said Friday.
The case against Conrad Murray, who was jailed in November over the star's 2009 death, is due to be heard in the city of Orleans on April 11, lawyer Emmanuel Ludot said.
"It's similar to losing a childhood friend in a traffic accident. Because this death affects you, you have the possibility to file a suit and seek compensation," Ludot said.
The lawyer is acting for around 100 fans who are members of an association that calls itself the "Michael Jackson Community".
He said that while each fan could be awarded damages of up to 10,000 euros (13,000 dollars), they were seeking only a symbolic euro.
I have a framed copy of this photo in my bathroom, the room where people display their certificates and graduation photos, those proud moments they want their guests to see. It's high up by the toilet in the corner. You could easily miss it. I sometimes wonder if the eyes of male guests notice it while they stand at the loo.
I have it there because it shows people what Michael Jackson means to me, it says that I am a fan.
It's a picture taken by Annie Leibovitz, in a series of snaps for Vanity Fair that tried to capture his essence as he dances up a storm. In this one he stares impassively forward as he balances on his toes, his whole body still like he's doing nothing special. What is he thinking? How can he stay so still? Does he know his nipple is showing? It doesn't matter: it's a picture taken of him in October 1989 at, as the caption on my copy says, "the peak of his career".
Being a fan involves demonstrating your devotion to others. It requires you to identify as a fan. I'm not sure it works without that. Learning by rote the release date of every record so you can dazzle (dazzle) your friends, or saying proudly, "I love that guy". We all walk about with our preferences visible: "I love NY", "Liverpool FC forever", a tattoo of our childrens' names, the Guardian tucked under our arm.
Our allegiances say something about us. I think, looking back, standing outside his hotel all those days, chanting his name, saving up money to see him in concert so many times, said something to me about my tenacity, my loyalty, my depth of love. I was 17. How else was I going to find out if I had those qualities? I lived in Surrey in England. I had to do well at school if I was going to go to university. I was going to have to do something pretty drastic for something interesting to happen.
Besides, he needed me. Fans were part of Michael's image: they amassed wherever he went, screamed his name, and fainted at his concerts. He filmed this adulation and edited it into concert footage, fans pounding the window of his car, slamming against the front barrier of a stadium before a concert, crying and screaming and praying as he leaps on stage. When I ran after him, got my place in the front row or peered through the blacked-out window of his car, I was one of those fans, a star of one of his videos.
The fan imagery continued in videos for his latestsingles, culminating in one promo taking a cue from that ultimate director of frenzied fanaticism, Leni Riefenstahl. He even built statues of himself (okay, so they were more styrofoam than granite), and sent them round the world ahead of his tour dates. He needed adulation. His fame was based on it.
As the world turned against him, us fans were desperate to show we were still there. The press could never understand how, after years of bad publicity and bear baiting, people still stood and waited of their own free will for a glimpse of a man who'd seen better days. In time we were accused of being mercenaries, that we were fake, part of a huge publicity machine, paid or somehow inveigled to stand at the spot he'd be at and shout his name.
Now that he is gone, the people behind Michael Jackson™ continue to wring every dollar they can out of his name, including the recent video to Michael's sketchy and remastered rendition of 'Behind the Mask', an Eric Clapton hit he helped write in the early 80s, in the creative glow between Off the Wall and Thriller.
Never mind that YouTube is already full to the brim with betterfantributes (and oh my god you wouldn't believe how many bad ones). They've jumped on the bandwagon, creating a montage of fanmade videos that have been edited and sanctioned by his hated music company, Sony:
Their social media strategy is in full swing too, asking fans to send in their pics of them with Michael (cue the sound of thousands of copies of photoshop opening), tweeting daily "facts", hosting anodyne forums and shutting down fan sites that abuse their copyright. Apparently 36,678,468 people "like" michaeljackson.com. Like? Like? .com?
I used to run down Mayfair streets looking for his car, memorising numberplates, shouting to friends who didn't own mobiles which way to go so we could cut him off and catch a glimpse of his wide-open eyes behind the famous black silk surgical mask. We brought traffic to a halt, grinning at the drivers raising fists at us, and strutting a little as we tumbled down Oxford Street in a gang, people staring and getting out of our way as we whooped and punched the air, each clutching the hand that had touched him like it was no longer part of us, tingling with pins and needles, a stranger's body part. Now @michaeljackson tweets me every afternoon at 10:00 Pacific time.
Untrue as they were, there was something to those claims of "fake" fandom. We wanted to be part of a bigger thing, a phenomenon, and our presence denoted a greater significance, Michael's indisputable significance. Witnessing him meant that somehow we were important. We stood there to demonstrate our dedication, to ourselves, to everyone, to Michael.
Michael. In the end I didn't stay with him. My dedication was found wanting, and my tenacity and loyalty and depth of love only went so far. He went under, bobbing to the surface from time to time until the final wave. Today is two years since he died.
Some things haven't changed: there is new music, new footage, and everyone who ever met him has a version of him to sell. Fan forums buzz with beliefs and interpretations, new angles on old stories, that old fervour now focussed on new conspiracy theories, creating new factions.
A few days after he died, a friend and I remarked on how unchanged some fans were, that their behaviour hadn’t changed at all. Of course, he had hardly sat in their front room and had tea with them when he was alive - he may as well have been dead, living so far away in Los Angeles - but he was no more. We sat in a bar in Soho thumbing the stems of large glasses of red wine, grieving for someone who for a long time had ceased to exist so vividly in our imagination, and now no longer existed at all.
As a fan I used to wonder idly what he was doing on this earth we shared, where he was, who he was with, what time it was in LA. 10, 9, 9am? I supposed he was eating breakfast. Since he died I found myself asking it again, exploring how I felt when I told myself nothing, nowhere, midnight. Four o'clock. Seven thirty.
Time moves on and that first, arguably most significant, relationship in my life is broken, one half of it swinging in the wind, being dragged onto a Final Cut Pro timeline, graded, normalised and deinterlaced by a Sony video editor.
I can't help thinking those scenes of adulation miss something. Our vocal dedication hid another side, a side that's hard to explain, and impossible to replicate with footage of innumerable screaming fans and endless moonwalks: a close, intense personal feeling for another human being. One that thought wearing a gold leotard and white socks was a good look, but a human being nonetheless.
It wasn't one-sided either. I was one fan in a crowd below his bedroom window, through which we'd glimpse the brim of his hat or the flash of his sunglasses, and out of which he'd throw messages of love and neediness.
He made us feel like we weren't just a publicity vehicle to him. Knowing we were there, he assured us, made him happy, less restless, more contented. He had people come down and film us. When I met him in 2002, his photographer took a picture.
We - I - understood him, and by loving him, spotting and defending his qualities in the face of such hostility, we - I - distinguished myself from everyone else who just saw a freak. I felt special. I was involved in something important, and it started with loving another person intensely. I did it all for him. We loved him, and he loved us back. More.
My photo of Michael at his peak never fails to spark discussion. The plumber asked about it, my friends roll their eyes, and dinner party guests come out of the loo looking confused. It's my thing, see. Weird, huh? Bet you had me pegged.
What I really want though, is a portrait of him taken in 1980.
Here's one. I don't know what it is about this period that seems to sum up so much for me about my love for Michael Jackson. It's a time in his life when he was at his most prolific, his most creative, poised for greatness; he said himself it was when he was at his happiest. It also happens to be the year I was born.
Looking at this I feel his potential, and a dark smudge of sadness, the knowledge of what is to come, his fate. "Show me a hero," Fitzgerald wrote, "and I will write you a tragedy." Well there it is, in that photo. My hero. A glimpse like this is all I need to conjure up all kinds of notions about him, just as I used to wonder what he was doing in his hotel room all those years ago.
I find it curious that thinking about him generates an interest in me and makes me sad in a way nothing else does, nothing real, anyway. It's like his story is a portal into other feelings, real emotions that emanate from real people and events in my life.
He is 21. By now he has sacked his manager, his father Joe. That's Tito behind him.
He's just picked up his first Grammy award - he's probably holding it in his hand right there, out of shot - for Off the Wall. The award was for R&B male vocal performance, and he feels snubbed; disappointed that his album wasn't deemed suitable for Record of the Year. He has vowed his next one will be the biggest selling record of all time (it was Thriller). Perhaps he is doing it now, as he looks at the camera.
His Afro has been clipped short and his hair is now covered with the oil that will set alight during the filming of a commercial in four years' time and leave him with third degree burns and a dependency on painkillers. His skin is a smooth chocolate. His face is wide and handsome, with winged eyebrows framing deep, soulful eyes that look warily with a vulnerable determination. Soon that will flip to a determined vulnerability. His childish charm has given way to extraordinary good looks, and he does not see it. He hates his face so much he washes it in the dark. He has had one nose job.
The spell lasts as long as I look at the picture. I know in reality he experienced a lot of happiness that year: he won many awards, filmed a Disneyland special, welcomed the birth of two nephews, and in the year after that he went on the Triumph tour and wore this hat:
That is an awesome hat.
Clearly I can create a picture of him that is compelling, beautiful, but not the whole story. Being able to tell a single story, knowing him for what he really was, was crucial to me as a fan. I needed to know my version of him was accurate. Troubling accusations that risked my version of who he was sent me into hysteria, a terrified, lip-wobbling fury. I know now other people have different views of him, what he was like, what he was capable of. I know also that my view of him isn't necessarily accurate. No-one's is. His wasn't.
Today there are TV specials and articles about this anniversary, and I am as thrilled as anyone when I see him dance, watch those crowds of fans, and remember what it felt like to be in the front row of Wembley, reaching for an enigma that spun and moonwalked to avoid my grasp.
One of the best descriptions of fandom I've ever read is actually a definition of “aura”, by the German philosopher Walter Benjamin: he calls it "the unique phenomenon of distance, however close an object may be".
That idea of distance and closeness rings true with me. In the last two years Michael has become an icon, revered and distant, his reality as a human being forgotten or pushed under the carpet.
I want to remember that other side of being a fan, that closeness I felt to someone who isn't here anymore. That's hard to admit; it's much easier to describe it as fanaticism, dedication, a religious fervour. But love?
It was never true that we were paid to be fans. None of that was fake. Perhaps we were deluded; but I'd argue those delusions felt as real to us as anything else in our lives. And that's all we can ever really say about each other, isn't it?
I watched the last part in the brilliant series Faulks on Fiction on BBC Two this week (the whole series is available on iPlayer for another week).
Sebastian Faulks' take on the history of the novel involved focussing on characters rather than authors, putting them into four groups: the heroes, lovers, snobs and villains of modern literature.
This got me thinking about which group the characters in my novel would fit into, and the third programme caught my interest in particular. Faulks labelled as snobs such different characters as Emma, Pip, Pooter, Jeeves, Jean Brodie and James Bond, and it certainly made for a thought-provoking account of social mobility, not to mention the novel itself and its entrenched social mores.
The novel as a literary form has been described as beyond heroes, describing not the epic heroics of Odysseus or the green knight, but the small actions of everyday people. That also involves dragging down those who think too highly of themselves, and showing that their story is not only not unique, but replicated again and again in rooms across the world. "Let us sit upon the ground", a defeated Richard II says, "and tell sad stories of the death of kings". There may be many kings, he is conceding, but there is only one death, and there is pleasure to be derived from telling this singular event in many varied ways, from different perspectives, and in numerous stories. Some novels have no hero to speak of even, the eponymous character being a bit of a blank at the centre, functioning only to interact with other more appealing characters: Wilhelm Meister, say, or Nicolas Nickleby.
So it’s interesting to think of the snobs in books – those characters who turn their backs on their old life, or look down on other people – as active agents. Faulks calls them the novelists’ “secret weapon”, and argues that Ian Fleming, in creating a character obsessed with the correct brand for everything from cars to martinis, borrowed our shared awareness of these products to bring his character to life.
This version of the snob is a modern reflection of consumer society, Faulks argues, but I wonder if it is not so dissimilar from a common theme of dissembling that has been around since the sixteenth century and the birth of what cultural historians call the modern man. Angry at the pretence of grief in his father’s (now uncle's) court, Hamlet insists "I have that within which passes show, /These but the trappings and the suits of woe". Grief is mediated through black cloaks and ceremonies, and not truly felt by anyone but Hamlet, and in this, one could argue he is an early "snob" in Faulks' sense.
This got me thinking about the fans in my book, who see themselves only in relation to another thing, and seek to delineate and express themselves through another person altogether. Is to be a fan to be a snob? Certainly it is an act of distinguishing oneself from "normal" affection for an object, whether that object is a TV show or (ahem) pop star. Is Hamlet's paralysing grief for his father remotely related to a fan's pointless longing? What is in that longing? Is it love only, or a desire to pull down one's object of affection to one's own level?
Okay, so I just compared my book with Hamlet. Enough for now I think.
On holiday recently I got into an argument with a friend. It was a friend who didn’t know me a decade ago, and who made an off-hand comment about the pigment of Michael Jackson's skin.
The discussion that ensued was polite, but drawn out and tense, as little by little I let my association with Michael Jackson show. One by one my other friends, who've all known me much, much longer, left the room.
When you're a fan, it's difficult to know where a normal person's interest in your subject of choice begins and ends. I'd bore friends shitless with the latest album news, and get into arguments believing they cared as much as I did. It infuriated me that, despite knowing comparitively little about the subject, they were certain of the facts. I'd watched every interview, read every account and could quote them all verbatim, but they had "read it in the paper". This is like a red rag to a Michael Jackson fan, and I charged it every time.
Take my friend's theme: Michael Jackson's skin has grown noticeably lighter, ergo he hates his race. It didn't matter that Michael himself had explained what the matter was. It didn't matter that it was difficult to imagine someone growing up black and thinking it reasonable or even attractive to lighten their skin to such an extent. It didn't matter that he repeatedly professed pride in his race, that he championed black and ethnic minority causes all his life –
...and, here I am. Getting worked up again, listing the reasons you should believe and love Michael. I can see your lip curling with amusement, your eyes widening with pity. Every argument I used to get into ended up like this: me, quivering with anger and indignation, and you, uncomprehending and bemused.
The same thing happens now, as fans are deliberately baited by writers on sites such as Gawker, or "snarky entertainment blog" Hecklerspray. Here, here and here.
I don't know Mof Gimmers, Hecklerspray's editor, but I think we have some friends in common. His comment made me laugh:
We've got a reputation, us MJ fans. My social networks are filled with reminders for demos and pleas to sign petitions. We’re politicised, worked up. I watch fans hurry to messageboards, round up supporters and point the way to some offending article, flooding the comments with "ignorant!" and "haterz!". It’s like watching lemmings walk into a trap. But I can hear myself in those hysterical comments, and I remember what it was like.
Are we more vocal than other fans, is that it? I suspect not – just Google "Justin Bieber" and "who the fuck is". But there’s something more frenzied and loyal about the average Michael Jackson fan. There’s more to defend, certainly. There are more wrongs to right: almost every fan I knew back in the day talked about "justice" and the "truth" when it came to Michael. It hasn’t escaped my attention either that I was a fan at a low ebb in Michael’s career; not in the 80s, when he was riding high, but in the 90s, when dubious allegations and overblown behaviour set him against the tide of public opinion.
Defending him – poor, victimised Michael – was a big part of me being a fan. As fanclub press officer, I defended him on telly and radio. I built websites dedicated to him, and organised support groups for isolated fans. We were a minority. Being a fan was a mark of distinction when everyone else attacked him so viciously.
And yet what I didn't realise is that he wasn't a target, for that amorphous thing the "media", or anyone else for that matter. There wasn't a conspiracy to destroy him. There wasn't a vendetta. No, it was much worse: he was a figure of fun. He simply didn't mean much to most people.
Or perhaps he did. It always struck me how some of his detractors were as committed as his fans. Could it be that the nasty comments, the near-constant smears and innuendo were propelled by the same fascination that I felt?
My friend and I didn't come to blows, and the argument ended on good terms. But it reminded me of how I used to be, how I'd defend Michael at every turn, and shout and argue with friends who'd taunt me with accusations, but who really couldn't care less. It was a double blow: not only did they not care about him (and how couldn't they?), but they also didn't see how much it meant to me.
It's exhausting being a Michael Jackson fan. Shortly after meeting Michael in 2002, I made a conscious decision to step away from it all. There were other reasons, but not least was how much effort was involved; how at every turn, I felt compelled to defend him, whether the accusations were about his music ("he's not done anything good since Thriller"), his face ("he looks like a freak"), or worse. I'd get upset, and take it far too personally.
I've since learnt to disassociate myself from conversations like that. I argued calmly with my friend in Spain, determined not to get too wound up. After years of avoiding the subject, and after a year of sadness at the loss of Michael, I found myself repeating simply, "yes, but you don't know that. And neither do I. But I'm willing to bet he's not as weird as all that."
Give him the benefit of the doubt, I suppose is all I meant. Mof is right, this “angry embrace” is fun. But perhaps if we'd all relaxed a bit when he was alive, things would have turned out differently.
I recently found these badges in HMV. They appealed to me because I do indeed love MJ, and I absolutely love moonwalking.
I felt a pang at the sight of them though, hanging on a carousel alongside badges for Robert Pattison, Justin Bieber and Muse. Being a fan of Michael Jackson was being sanctioned by a small merchandising company in Sheffield, confident in the knowledge that now, since his death, on-message teenagers proudly pin "King of Pop" to their lapels. A badge pack no less, four badges for four different outfits.
It wasn't always this way. Ten or fifteen years ago, the phrase “King of Pop” was derided by the press and most people as self-proclaimed and meaningless. We used it though, chanted it, painted it on bed sheets torn into banners, but back then we were crazed, in denial, blindly devoted to a paedophile.
You see, I was a fan of Michael Jackson. I don’t mean that I liked his music; I mean that, for a period in my life, he occupied my every thought. I was obsessed. I was so dedicated in fact, I worked for the British Michael Jackson Fan Club, building their first website, writing articles for the fanzine and taking phone calls from TV and radio crews whenever Michael was in the news. I saw him in concert over 12 times, travelling by coach to stadiums around Europe, and sleeping overnight outside the gates for a chance to be in the hallowed front row. I waited for hours with other fans outside his hotels, chanting his name, my eyes trained on a single open window, and screaming at the sight of a suddenly extended, thin, white arm. I wrote impassioned letters to newspapers complaining about the treatment he suffered at the hands of the vicious but intangible "media". I hung out with Michael Jackson impersonators. I met him twice.
So at 10.30 at night on Thursday 25 June 2009, my phone – the number unchanged since the mid '90s – blew up with calls from news outlets looking for my views, and friends checking I’d heard the news and was alright. People I hadn’t heard from in years left condolences on my Facebook page. An ex-boyfriend even wrote me an email. To all of them I said: I was fine.
But I wasn’t. It was strange, seeing him – the same clips I used to watch every day after school – and thinking of him no longer as my Michael, but as a figure who, if you believed the tributes, suddenly meant something to everyone. I felt a jolt, like the one you feel when the familiar face of someone you know appears on television, and yet I had to admit, sadly, that it was familiar because, well, as faces go it was pretty recognisable. My personal affinity with the most famous person in the world was being submerged by an outpouring of public sentiment that angered me: where were you in 1993? 2004?, I thought. Back then, watching people declare their respect and love for my idol was unimaginable; he was a laughing stock, an outcast, more readily associated with his mugshot than his moonwalk. It didn't matter that he was found innocent; the damage was done. And now, dead at the age of 50 after numbing the pain with hospital anaesthetic, he's an icon?
I thought about this again when I read Leila’s post about the standardisation of what it is to be a geek. I really love what she and some of the commenters have to say about authenticity as a dividing factor between the ur-geek and the new common appropriation of the word. In the post, Leila attempts to write a definition for "geek", a term that has become as devalued through overuse as the term "fan":
“In my opinion, a geek is someone who's very very into something – someone who really understands something, or at the very least, loves it so much it doesn’t matter. But, without wishing to sound overly soppy, to love is to want to understand, I think.”
I really loved Michael Jackson. In some ways I was a geek: I know the full name and birthdate of every Jackson (there are over 40), and I can hear an MJ bassline at 20 yards, whether it’s next in the mix or playing in a shopping centre. I spent years poring over photos, reading accounts by people who knew him, and desperately trying to understand him. But more important than that, his music made me happy, his dancing made me ecstatic, and when I saw him perform live, I almost died from screaming. I loved that he was batshit crazy, sending statues of himself down the Thames, and, right up until he died, planning to build a 50-foot robot of himself in the Nevada desert that shot lasers from its eyes. And despite all that, I was certain he was more normal than people thought, and adamant that he was loveable.
This commitment marked me out, and it made me feel special. I felt special because I understood and defended someone no-one else would, and in turn that made me special in other people's eyes, because, frankly, that's kinda weird.
Looking at these badges, I realise it's not just Michael who's been commercialised, but my fandom too. And that makes me sad.