When Buddy Holly died in a plane crash on 3 February 1959 the young songwriter Don McLean wrote his searing and enigmatic tribute, American Pie. (This was one of the songs I was doing when I was arrested for busking on the Paris Metro when I was 20.) The death of Holly was the ‘day the music died’.
When John Lennon was shot on 8 December 1980 a part of my adolescent life closed down. I had grown up in Liverpool with the Beatles as the soundtrack companion and we were still hoping for some sort of reunion one day. The angry resentments of Lennon would never now mature into new avenues of musical creativity and poetry. Something died with Lennon.
Last night Michael Jackson died at 50 – 10 years older than Lennon and 28 years older than Buddy Holly was when he passed away. It is perhaps not surprising that the dominant mood in the media this morning is focused on the sadness of Jackson’s lonely life. It almost feels like a mercy that this troubled man has been released from a life that brought him a host of personal problems and public humiliations.
Michael Jackson was bullied by his father, propelled into stardom and fame before he even reached his teens and even seemed to spend the rest of his life trying to recover the phantom of a missed childhood. The wonder of his music and dancing was always overshadowed by the prurience of a public that loved to build up the artist and humiliate the man.
When Jackson announced his intention to attempt yet another career revival with fifty concerts in London, I wasn’t the only one to think this was ridiculous. No surprise, then, that they began to get cancelled before they even began. But the speed with which tickets were sold at least gave the hope that Jackson might be wanted more for his music than the stories of weirdness that always accompanied him.
Jackson won the spoils of stardom, but he also paid a heavy and miserable price. Despite all the weirdness and his complex inability to cope with the world as it is (to say nothing of his body as it was), he was a human being made in the image of God and infinitely valuable – regardless of the judgements of those whose miserable lives are spent trying to destroy those who achieve something in life.
May he rest in a peace he never knew in life. And may he be remembered above all else for his wonderful artistry and the gift he gave the world through his music.