I hear your voices.
I hear the, “fuckin’ nigger lover”’s; I hear the, “can’t they hold this funeral someplace besides here”’s; I hear the, “he faked his death”’s; I hear the, “God how I love you, Michael Jackson”’s. I hear them all because they are in me, too. Anyone who crawls up into the Barber’s chair feels these types of feelings.
The first time I caught wind that things were not as they seemed to appear in the House of MJ I was partying with a Jewish guy who was looking to build a chain of “PMO”’s for all the wayward disco dancers who couldn’t seem to kick the cocaine (PMO: Productivity Maintenance Organization). Alan had helped build a heart center off the main hospital where I was born, so he had a team of professionals all ready to go. He thought I knew something about Information Technology, which I did, so that was going to be my role, allegedly. I’ve never heard, “Billy Jean,” so many times in a row in my life. Before or since. Had Alan not been Alan he probably could have convinced all of us that preventing addiction on a budget was an actual possibility. Had Alan not tried to get into my life-partner-at-the-time’s pants, or swap his wife for mine, we might still be friends. I have a problem when things move too fast…or when I discover that the world of twenty year olds contains key ingredients that the world inhabited by forty-year olds can never have again. Not that impossibility will stop forty-year olds from trying to tear a twenty-something’s world apart to get after what it is they think they need.
Alan told me about the bizarre, “un-Michael Jacksonesque” behavior…the eating of green slop – probably spirulina – and the “unreasonable” scrutiny Jackson’s people seemed to be subjecting his project to. After all, didn’t Michael’s good friend Elizabeth Taylor turn her life around as a result of a drug rehab?
I believe that weirdos attract weirdos, so it was not that difficult for me to say, “see-ya,” to the world of consultancy and to pick up a cause in the world of educational testing. Really helping children…that’s what I’ll do with my skills! Snip, snip.
What a fucking waste of time that was. Not that it wasn’t time well spent — but had I not been under the spell of a variety of as yet undetermined infirmities myself, my time would have been better spent stepping over the Alan’s of the world and into the livingrooms of people who could have the kind of impact on life-as-we-know-it that I secretly wanted to have. Such is life. Fortunately I am not the only person in this world who wishes humanity well, even though I do have these spasms, from time to time, of, “what the hell for?”
I’ve been watching the Michael Jackson interviews this afternoon, off and on, in addition to the memorial service. So I connected with the part of me that used to listen to “Off the Wall,” and watch his dancing videos. I felt that sense of wonder and magic that only a person who can really move their body in a primordial rhythm can inspire. And just as quickly I want to detach from those memories because they were long ago and far away…perfectly scripted and controlled moments of performance. Just a life, well lived, that is now over…ended by the liver for reasons that no doubt stem from a childhood pock-marked by violence, sexual abuse and ignorance. Snip, snip, snip.
In the interviews, both with Maury Povich and with the British guy whose name I don’t recall, I see a desperately depressed individual who is self-medicating. Childhood trauma of the kind Michael claims to have suffered from – and most importantly when he says he suffered from it – induced brain damage that is not easily or readily repaired. As a person who has his difficulties dealing with depression, I can assure the reader that I know what depression – acute, clinical or chronic — does to whole families, not just the sufferer. The Jackson Family exhibits some familiar patterns. Money can make things easier, but it can just as easily lock the sickness in place. Snip, snip, snip, snip.
Most importantly for me and my family, the pattern of taboo-breaking sexual intrigue as a means of alleviating some of the pain caused by depression, strikes a chord of resonance in me that I would just as soon ignore and deny, rather than accept and embrace. Depression is an ugly and desperate illness that does not nudge or influence its victims – it pushes, pulls and drives the human animal for relief from something they cannot seem to account for except through experiencing terrifying quantities of personal shame and regret. Inside that double bind of needing help and being absolutely terrified of what that help might reveal, the disease progresses towards complete, clinical madness. Of course taboo-breaking behavior only deepens the depression so that, over time, only heavier and heavier doses of chemicals, be they internally generated in, or externally introduced into, the body are required for less and less relief. No point bothering around the ears.
By the time I ended my merry-go-round of addiction and depression, I was settling for minutes of relief and years of pain and humiliation. While I can say with great hubris and pride that I never in my adult life knowingly violated a child in any way, that does not mean that I do not identify or empathize with those who do because, as a child, I was violated. Part of the drill of getting that kind of stink off of you is coming to terms with the tendency to over-identify and sympathize with one’s rapist. Yes, that is who and what people who violate children are – rapists. There is no other word that we have to describe them. Certainly they must go to great lengths to window-dress their intentions and certainly most of them believe every word of what they tend to say about their behavior – but beneath all of it is the reality of the power differential between rapists and their victims, and the compulsion brought on by depression to almost literally “drink the blood” of the living so that they – the self-identifying victim — can merely survive to live another day, or week or month or year. If we could see, externally, what the disease of depression feels like and causes internally, we would not have words adequate to describe the experience. Leprosy doesn’t even come close. The stench of Depression is unparalleled in my experience living in and around other human beings. Depression is an ugly, ugly disease that, because it is mental, is free to spread and adversely impact anyone who must interact with its victims. No point in calling this a coiff; we’re into a full-blown head shaving. Not even Britney cut it this close.
And the disease won’t be satisfied consuming just one life, it wants to swallow whole generations of families.
I submit to you that it is Depression and not pedofilia we are responding to when we look at the life of Michael Jackson and want to minimize his musical impact, his many attempts at charity and his desperate attempts to both understand and accept himself as a human being.
Because I have already processed these types of emotions many, many times in other venues, I can understand why some would feel driven to make some sort of caricature of Jackson and dismiss him. We’ve built whole enterprises within our civilization to make dismissing these types of situations easier. It’s facile to label a public health issue a crime and then ostracize it out of whatever existence we believe it has. But when we do this, the disease only comes back with a vengeance. I know why this is now, but that was never really the crucial matter of fact. What is crucial is that we respond to each other with empathy and kindness, first, and save the drama and theatrics for another time and another place. What is absolutely important is that we get help to people who need it and healing to those who want it.
As we humans age, our dopamine production drops. For the mentally ill, this is not good news as it means that whatever infirmities we do have onboard will become harder and harder to treat. Clinical madness and long term inpatient treatment is not out of the question for some of us. Our choice is to allow the Depression to eat us alive from the inside, out, until hurting ourselves so that we can have some more “anesthetic” makes all the sense in the world; until setting ourselves up to fail so that we can be even more hurt and have to work even harder to overcome the obstacles we place in our own way drives us to consume more and more so that we can feel less and less. I’ve listened to Michael Jackson’s voice all day today; his problem was never that he didn’t feel enough, his problem was that he felt too much. There was no, “off” button left in Michael Jackson’s nervous system before he died. Unfortunately, all those feelings were Michael’s, including the guilt that drove him to destroy his life. So if you felt like Michael Jackson wasn’t paying any, or enough, attention to you, or seemed narcissistic as hell, you would have a point. It is impossible for a person to respond normally when they have a Clydesdale standing on their foot…without a lock of hair left on their head.
This all being said, I can let Michael Jackson rest in peace and go back to enjoying his ability to work a crowd with dance moves that, in their day, were the stuff of magic and inspiration…they almost made the decade that Ronald Reagan and Bush I were using to destroy our country bearable. I could suggest that indulging in some sort of compulsive or addictive behavior might make what’s happening in our world now more bearable; but, then again, I would have to say just as quickly, “you don’t have enough.”
Better take you up on that shine, Willy. Everybody sees your feet at a funeral.