MICHAEL JACKSON (1958—2009) changed for us repeatedly, and died for us each time. The chirpy, miraculous boy siren granted the escape from pessimism and racial strife we wanted in the Vietnam years; and the suave soul musicbox dancer reflected the oblivion of the Reagan era; and the damaged confessor on Oprah fulfilled our 1990s culture-war hunger for grievance. He was a different Michael each time, the idol with multiple faces, and his belief in fairytale was harder to deny given his own impossibly sublime gifts when he was a real boy, and the dazzling theatrical feats of his many more years as a lost one. He was not just a magic spirit but also his own changeling, morphing for the adoring crowd because he knew how fickle their adoration was even more than they did. America’s abandoned child, from a famously dysfunctional family, his contortions, misfortunes, possible crimes and definite exploitation by others finally let us laugh off the issues of racial self-worth, gender identity, mental health and medical abuse that we didn’t want to face any more than he did. He snarled and jumped and came to rest between a glorious past and a grand future, an immortality without him in it, his ghost on tour and playing with your kids on their game-screens and whooping like heavenward winds through mechanically assembled albums. Free, in a way, to be remembered as a genius, his contradictions neatly packed away in the absence of his real problems, his rights and wrongs, his real needs, like the scary man in the storied, empty mansion, where we sent the boy we never wanted to leave us, but didn’t know how not to drive away.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Preston Sturges, Yasuji Tanioka, Meshell Ndegeocello, Anton Newcombe, Charlie Parker.
READ MORE about members of the Original Generation X (1954–63).