Robbie Fulks Remembers Michael Jackson
Robbie Fulks’ comments were provided at my request via e-mail. I knew that he has long been a fan of Jackson’s music. In fact, he has for years been working on putting out a tribute album to Jackson and has released mp3s of several covers.
Michael Jackson hugged the peak for what constituted, in pop-culture-years, an eon: about 1970 to 1990. For all that time he was on his best game, and for more than a little of it (the Quincy Jones years) he was sprinting out at a safe, superior distance from all competitors. On those terms — maintenance of superabundant talent and visionary innovation — he compares to the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Sinatra…and hardly anyone else in popular music, actually.
That child abuse (perpetrated on and by him), self-mutilation, psychotic narcissism, and God knows what other grotesqueries should have so thoroughly interpenetrated this American success story is a dismal reflection on a number of things. Celebrity-besotted America, naturally. The satraps and sleazy ten-percenters who abetted in sealing off any exit doors from the singer’s delusional happyland. And — not to be too grandiose — even our democratic ideals are tarnished by Mr. Jackson’s untimely death: any poor kid in America can grow up to be president, or, if he’s abysmally unlucky, multimillionaire superstar.
You can listen to his sweet, sincere, hair-raising treatment of “I’ll Be There,” or any of four dozen others from the early 1970s, and be moved again and again by the spectacular natural force of his voice. Moved enough to forget, if you like, that a lot of these performances were, whether in a vaguely internalized or a sickeningly specific sense, coerced.
June 25, 2009