Too soon?

Jul 8, 2009 at 12:00 am

"I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not!" President Obama snapped those words at MSNBC's Chuck Todd a few weeks ago concerning the violence in Iran. But, in other world news, the Michael Jackson Death Watch coverage immediately jumped from celebration of the self-appointed King of Pop's artistry to toxicologist reports in less than 24 hours following his death. 

Comparisons to Elvis' demise were inevitable, of course — both kings' reigns were most assuredly brought to an end by overindulgence and having no responsible grown-ups around capable of saying "no" — or at least having any lasting effect. 

Stress, prescription painkillers or the exhaustion of having crammed 42 years of cutthroat show business into a 50-year life with no time off for a childhood — none of us can say for sure at press time what finally stopped Michael Jackson's heart. But we can probably pinpoint the exact moment when Michael Jackson stopped our hearts and gave us all pause, cause for concern ... or just plain gave us the willies. Since his 1983 Thriller duet with Vincent Price, it was as if one master of the macabre had passed the scary torch to another. Michael Jackson had always specialized in startling us and making us gasp in amazement. But, at some point, that power also included the ability to creep us out with alarming frequency. 

So here's a checklist of the times when Michael Jackson crossed the line from comforting to disconcerting, which we as fans will have to cross at some point during this long grieving process as we decide how we want to remember him. And possibly, how we don't want to remember him.

1) The 20/20 Sylvia Chase interview (1980)

The first instance most of us heard Michael's speaking voice since puberty. His wan Diana Ross impersonation seems harmless now in lieu of what eccentricities followed — but it was an early indicator that the confidence he exuded onstage was nowhere to be found in real life where he was more fragile than the Elephant Man bones he allegedly wanted to buy. Double creeps for father Joe Jackson, who even then could give the Crypt Keeper himself a startle!

2) "The Girl Is Mine" (1982)

Hard to believe, but this underwhelming duet with Paul McCartney (which Rolling Stone goofball writer Touré claimed was "Ebony & Ivory" on NBC Nightly News, thereby totally blindsiding Stevie Wonder) was actually the leadoff single from Thriller and for a short while many thought this soft-headed crossover attempt might be a permanent condition. Hearing Jacko and Macca fighting over an imaginary doggone girl with less vigor than your average "Leggo my Eggo" skirmish left Michael with a wimpy image that no amount of crotch-pulling could subsequently ever erase.

3. The Thriller video (1983)

The first concrete example of Michael Jackson's innate ability and fervent desire to creep us out, made even more unsettling when you realize that the nose he has in this video has not been living tissue since 1985.

4. Taking Brooke Shields and Emmanuel Lewis to the Grammys (1985)

That Michael Jackson seemed more comfortable with TV's "lovable" Webster than the Blue Lagoon star wasn't lost on anyone, least of all Eddie Murphy, who lampooned Jackson mercilessly in his 1987 Raw film and video. The subsequent disappearance of Emmanuel Lewis from the MJ camp was a pattern that would repeat itself with other child stars, including Macaulay Culkin and Corey Feldman, setting the template for Michael the man-child, who discarded post-adolescent boys faster than the powers behind Menudo did.

5. Bad, bad — really, really bad plastic surgery (1986)

With every new Madonna album, the Material Girl changed her look. With every new Michael Jackson album, the Gloved One just changed his face. And with the release of Bad, his appearance took on a decidedly cartoonish veneer, thanks to his Casper the Friendly Ghost white complexion, his Peter Pan nose and the biggest chin clef since Rocky & Bullwinkle's Dudley Do-Right.

6. His friendship with Bubbles the Chimp (1986) 

A lot of folks had a big problem with Jackson's simian sidekick. But in retrospect, wasn't it nice to see someone who actually looked happy living in Michael Jackson's world?

7. The extended "Black or White" video (1991)

This controversial and widely misinterpreted sequence where Michael pulls on his crotch repeatedly and smashes up a car made it apparent that Michael didn't know the first thing about auto-eroticism. Later, to quell the controversy about vandalizing the car and storefront windows, racist graffiti was digitally added to the video. Take that, you big, bad racist windows!

8. The HIStory trailer (1996)

The imposing imagery of this King of Pop military exercise trailer seemingly lifted from the pro-Nazi film work of Leni Riefenstahl, making it easy to believe the crowds were cheering "Sieg Heil!" instead of "Mi-chael!" But Michael wound up infuriating his Jewish supporters like David Geffen and Steven Spielberg anyway with the "Sue me, Jew me" passage in "They Don't Care About Us." The Schindler's List director went so far as to retract his blurb in the album's liner notes ("I can't wait to see where he takes us next..."), written when he thought it was just going to be a Greatest Hits collection.

9. The Martin Bashir interview (2003)

This creepy interviewer had a blatant agenda, to inject the word "bizarre" into as many bits of narrative as possible. And he certainly got what he was looking for with Michael's "sharing your bed with a child" speech later in the show. But it was seeing Michael's own kids imprisoned in veils all the time that was truly bizarre — child-rearing tactics worthy of papa Joe. At least the head-swathing spared Prince Michael the Second or Blanket from seeing the drop view from a Munich balcony. Check out this "bizarre" exchange as Michael insists Blankie was completely safe when he dangled him over a balcony so the crowd could see him, as Bashir — in a fit of "gotcha" journalism — barks back that they couldn't see him because of those damn baby burkas Michael made him wear! 

10. The second child molestation trial (2005)

This, alas, was the final nail in Michael's American popularity and the reason he fled to the Middle East. Whether he was innocent or not, Yanks had finally had enough of a man living a misspent youth well into his 40s. But it was his appearance during the trial — thin, frail and, at points (yikes!) sporting facial hair — that showed nature had taken over Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" campaign and wasn't getting any kinder.

Serene Dominic is a music writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]