(originally posted here as a comment last night amid the Michael-a-thon …)
What a difference a couple of hours makes. Poor Farrah, Larry King could barely contain his enthusiasm in dumping his pre-arranged show on her death to fill endless minutes with MJ tribues: “Celine Dion, your memories of Michael …”
It’s amazing listening to this buzz of inane “analysis” on TV in the wake of Michael Jackson’s death. Actually, what’s really amazing is how these people can talk for hours and hours about him with barely a mention of music. To me, if there’s a tragedy in all this, it’s that there was a talented musician lurking within the persona of Michael Jackson. But the music was long ago displaced to what Nick Tosches described (in reference to Jerry Lee Lewis) as “that place where fame repeats its own name.”
A few years ago I found some bootleg white-label 12 inch records of early Motown recordings, a capella performances of some of the biggest hits; just the original session tapes with all the other tracks faded down leaving the voice to stand alone. There are a couple of Michael Jackson performances in there that are remarkable. During “Rockin’ Robin’s” instrumental break, you can hear Michael giggle at someone or something happening in the studio and it’s such a natural, uninhibited, silly, childish moment that you’re abruptly confronted with that fact that he was so frightfully young when he first held the spotlight. Does exposing (exploiting?) a talent at such an early age inevitably lead to such a tawdry end?
The other amazing performance is the a capella of “Ben.” He sounds so world-weary and his rendition of the song seems so hard-won by bitter experience. But of course, he was just a kid, so the premonition in the song is even more unsettling.
Ben, most people would turn you away
I don’t listen to a word they say
They don’t see you as I do
I wish they would try to
I’m sure they’d think again
If they had a friend like Ben
Yeah, it’s a song written for a movie about a rat. But it sounds like the juvenile Michael was singing a lullaby to the mixed-up, messed-up, misguided, freakish, exploited, exploiting adult he’d later become.