Or perhaps the real question is; Should we?
It’s not often that I get inspired to post here just because of an issue someone brings up on a Michael Jackson discussion board, or because of my response to it. But every so often, it happens, and what starts as a routine response inspires me to come here and look into the question further.
Lately, it seems, there has been a lot of discussion about separating Michael Jackson’s music from Michael Jackson, the human being behind it. It’s a debate grounded in a very disturbing reality, but a reality that can’t be ignored. No matter how much sites like mine and the ones listed on the right strive to shed light on the truth of who Michael Jackson was, there will always be people who believe all the savory tabloid stories and, worse yet, believe he was a criminal. Yet they will still listen to his music, usually with some lame rationalization about separating the music from the man. By doing so, however, it’s obvious they are only contributing to their own sense of guilt, rather than allowing themselves to embrace what could be a truly rewarding and fulfilling experience.
There is even one disturbing faction of the hater community trying to encourage fans to embrace the idea of Michael as a pedophile, rather than fighting it. Again, their motto is based on the idea that one can “Love the Artist, Despise The Man.” You can read more about that particular group and their agenda exposed here:
For the moment, I don’t want to veer too off-topic in discussing that group or their agenda, except to say that their agenda is an obvious one. They think that if they can somehow discourage fans from seeking the truth about the allegations, and discourage them from researching, discovering, and spreading the evidence that supports his innocence, then the world will have no choice but to accept their version of history-which is a version they very desperately need to cling to, for whatever sinister reasons. They would like nothing more than for fans and truth seekers to lay down their arms and give up the fight to expose what was actually done to Michael Jackson-thus, their encouragement of saying on the one hand, “Yes, it’s okay to be a fan of his music ” out of one side of the mouth, while saying, “We condemn Michael Jackson, The Man” out the other.
But putting aside the most sinister aspect of Michael’s “human” side-the allegations-there still remains a man who has been the target of endless tabloid accusations. I sat back for a moment just today and realized that over the past week alone, I’ve debated and battled every topic from drug addiction to “skin bleaching” to his sexuality to the never ending arguement over his children’s paternity. And I’m still finishing up Frank Cascio’s book, which I will review here in a few days-a book that has certainly opened its own can of worms insofar as this very complex subject of who “Michael The Man” was-and was not.
Depending on how gullible one is, there are a lot of aspects of Michael The Man one may not agree with. There are a lot of critics, cynics, and even outright haters who question every aspect of his life and how he lived it, all while still insisting “But I love his music!”
This is my take on it: I think many use that as a sort of justification for continuing to like/enjoy Michael’s music even though they may not necessarily agree with all of the personal choices he made in his life, his lifestyle, or even if they think he committed unspeakable crimes.
I know for myself, there are many artists whose work I enjoy even though I may not necesarily agree with or endorse their personal lifestyles-heck, you could put just about every rock musician whose work I love into that category, not to mention almost every writer! I can, for instance, enjoy Van Gogh’s paintings even though Van Gogh probably wouldn’t have been someone I would have enjoyed hanging out with in real life.
As an English instructor, it’s the same sort of thing I deal with almost daily with the writers we cover in class. I have to deal with student debates about why we should study and revere Ernest Hemingway even though he was a drunk, or Samuel Taylor Coleridge even though he was a drug addict, or Oscar Wilde even though he was gay (yeah, I live in the Bible belt, just for the record!). Perhaps the best answer to that ongoing debate is a quote contained in one of our texts, and it’s one I often refer back to: “If we waited for great art to come from perfect human beings, we would wait a long time indeed. We would be a world devoid of great art.” Indeed, great art comes from imperfection, and often, from a place of darkness (as well as light). With the last few postings here, I realized I’ve been exploring Michael’s duality and oppositions a lot in the last few weeks. Maybe it’s something in the air, but the more I see discussions like this, the more I realize the importance of embracing that duality. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and all of the major Transcendentalists stressed that the divine within us is not a separate entity from our human flesh and blood. We cannot separate our divinity from our demons. Yet, every day we live in a world that seeks to do just that! And additionally, insists that our artists be mopped into corners where they are either demonized or lionized, and their wings clipped accordingly.
I was thinking of something that Frank Lisciandro, a very close friend of Jim Morrison’s, wrote in his book “An Hour For Magic,” of which I still have a very worn and battered copy. Frank Lisciandro wrote that people often think of Morrison as nothing but a drunk and an addict. But none of Jim’s greatest work was written while drunk. Instead, his best poems and lyrics were always written, according to Lisciandro, “in the clear, bright light of dawn, when the world was still and full of hope. In these quiet, intense hours he spilled his poems out on the pages of dozens of notebooks…” Art often reflects not just who we are, but what we aspire to be; whoever we are in that clear and “fresh light of dawn.” But perhaps in that state we are closest to who we really are. It is not only the moment when we are closest to God, but also most in touch with the light within ourselves.
While I have always been personally attracted to art that is born out of darkness, it’s not the darkness itself that attracts me, but rather, the search for that clear dawn in the midst of chaos. I hear this in so many of the songs from bands and artists I admire. Just for example, I’m also a huge Black Crowes fan (yes, I listen to a lot of music, from many genres!). What I’ve always loved about the work of Chris Robinson, whom I consider one of the most amazing and underrated songwriters of our time, is his ability to always find the redemption and salvation of Sunday morning even in what sometimes seems the blackest of nights, when all hope and love is gone.
Similarly to Morrison always writing “in the clear light of dawn”, it was during many of those nights when Michael Jackson couldn’t sleep, and would walk out to The Giving Tree to meditate by moonlight, that many of his most well known songs were inspired. What he gave to the world were the songs that often came to him in those moments of midnight clarity.
Michael would have understood perfectly the words of Arthur Rimbaud, words written over a hundred years earlier by a youthful poet struggling to deal with his own issues of inspiration and creation:
The Poet makes himself a seer by a long, vast and reasoned derangement of all the senses-every form of love, of suffering, of madness.-Arthur Rimbaud
Through the years, Rimbaud’s quote has often been misunderstood and misinterpreted as a justification for artistic excess and debauchery (i.e, drug use). But that’s not really what he’s saying at all. He is simply saying that the artist must embrace every aspect of himself; every atom and particle of his joy and suffering, in order to create. If he denies his art the full encompasse of his humanity, then he denies himself.
And if we as an audience deny it, we deny ourselves.
So while I can kind of see how some might feel it is POSSIBLE to separate Michael the Artist from Michael The Man, I think they are doing a disservice to both when they approach it that way. As was pointed out by the poster who initiated the discussion that fueled my inspiration this morning, Michael’s music was inseperable from the man. The qualities in his music that bring us joy; that make us want to get up and dance, come from that inner joy of spirit he brought to it, just as his darker music came from his pain and anguish. Yes, the songs were inseperable from the man who wrote them.
Michael said of his songs “We Are The World, “Will You be There, “Heal the World, “The Lost Children”-“These are the songs I write because I hurt.”
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius”-William Blake
One could also look at songs like “They Don’t care About Us,” “This Time Around,” “Money,” “DS,” etc and hear him say, “These are the songs I write because I’m pissed off and angry, and tired of being pushed around.”
Conversely, one can hear songs like “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” “Billie Jean” or “The Way You Make Me Feel” and hear him say, “These are the songs I write because, like you, I know the joy of falling in love, being happy, and wanting to dance!”
Maybe instead of thinking of it as seperation, people should look at embracing art as an extension of both the lighter and darker sides of ourselves; as it reflects the duality of our own humanity, for better or worse.
So yes, absolutely, those songs came from the soul of the man. And when we allow ourselves to enjoy them, we are partaking something of that individual’s soul and spirit, whether we like it or not. Enjoying a work of art is like being a desperately thirsty man or woman led to a drinking trough. When we sip that water, we are not only nourishing and replenishing our body, but also ingesting all that it contains. We cannot separate the bacteria from its nourishing qualities; we can only ingest it as it comes, impurities and all.
This is also true whether we are listening to a song, reading a poem, or gazing at a beautiful (or even a disturbing) painting. If it moves us, it’s because we are being moved by the spirit, the heart and the mind of its creator. In the end, instead of trying to separate The Art from The Human Being, it’s much easier and much more rewarding to simply accept that there is no separation. Rather, art is the bridge that connects us to another human being,more completely than we will ever be at any other time-yes, even during sex or childbirth! I challenge anyone reading this right now to go to your CD collection, or to Youtube or anywhere where you can take a few moments and listen to a Michael Jackson song. Any song at all, it doesn’t matter which one. Go ahead…five, six, seven minutes, however long it takes. If you do this exercise, then congratulations. You have just connected to Michael Jackson’s soul in a way you will never get from any book, magazine, or tabloid story. For those five minutes or so, he has allowed you, the listener, a deeper understanding of him than you will ever get from any other source, even though we still somehow insist that all of these sources can provide us with more understanding of him than than the music itself.
As for whether we choose to accept or reject that connection, that’s a choice only the individual can make. But to accept the idea that we can somehow do both is to spit in the very face of what art is. Art is a representation of our humanity. Without humanity, there is no art.