- Gone Pop*:Michael Joseph Jackson
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[End Page 42]
For Bonnita Joanna Johnson (November 30, 1967-January 15, 2010)
who drove from Cleveland to New York,said hello and goodbye to her friends,then drove from New York to Cleveland and went to sleep.
The Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all. I hope he has the good sense to know it and the good fortune to snatch his life out of the jaws of a carnivorous success. He will not swiftly be forgiven for having turned so many tables, for he damn sure grabbed the brass ring, and the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo has nothing on Michael. All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair—to all of which may now be added the bitter need to find a head on which to place the crown of Miss America. Freaks are called freaks and are treated as they are treated—in the main, abominably—because they are human beings who cause to echo, deep within us, our most profound terrors and desires.—James Baldwin
"The Negro . . . is primarily an artist . . . His métier is expression rather than action. He is, so to speak, the lady among the races." When the white sociologist Robert E. Park said this in 1918, black intellectuals responded with understandable outrage. Nor did black male musical artists—bluesmen, jazzmen—have any use for this feminized vision of themselves. But Michael has made use of it. He took it up and bound it to a black gay aesthetic that has been pushed to the margins of black culture: drag balls, voguing, club life and biracial and gender bending eros. When Michael and his sister La Toya are photographed side by side, it's as if ghostly twins have just floated out of a gothic mansion. They could be Roderick and Madeline, the tormented siblings in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher." Janet blends right in when the three of them appear together, as they did in court early on in Michael's trial, swathed in flowing white garments, eyes hidden by white-framed dark glasses. The sisters' hair cascaded below their shoulders. Michael's fell softly to his shoulders, then curled upward (the 1960's Jackie Kennedy flip). Their resemblance was uncanny. A war of gender worlds had been going on in the Jackson family for decades, and Michael had a long time ago chosen to join the women.—Margo Jefferson [End Page 43]
Born Leo, fire, a masculine, extroverted lion.Born three months and three days before Black Tuesday.Up from that odyssey, from Fountain Hillto Oakland to East Chicago to Gary.An introverted Taurus, full of God's arrows, at his side.Settled in the steel trap of steel mills, operating cranes.A brown falcon with green eyesand falcons like him did not fly, they fathered.Then fought. Then provided. Then managed.Favoring, often, the ground, not the sky's traffic of othertalented talons, because the ground favored family.Poverty's abusive crossroads paved with small prey.Young sickle-shaped feathers, nine dancing offspring.Joseph wanted little falcons and got peacocks,infinite vultures, a lonely prodigy.
Magic City of Steel, The Steel City, U.S. Steel,All this strength in a regular town with a regular name: Gary,City in Motion, City of the Century, GI, the G,county consisting of Lakes, Lake County, Chicagoland,land of poisonous air, hard to breathe, land hardened by agents,hardening agents, recording agents like Gordon Keith of Steeltown Records.Gordon was no Gordy, but he was their first big break,the one who got them "off the ground," off the flat,t-shaped northwestern corner of Indiana.
A separate class of usefulness for each of their gifts: