Nelson George - Author, Director, President of Urban Romances
By Nelson | june 26, 2009 | Post a comment
Tel. 212/228-6951


Orson Wells' rich, brilliant & ultimately doomed character Charles Foster Kane died, alone and unloved, in his California mansion. At the time of his passing he was a deformed, corrupt and far removed from the genius displayed in creating his mass media empire. In the aftermath of Michael Jackson's I couldn't help but think of 'Kane..' Michael's Zanadu had been stripped from him a few years back, leaving him wandering from rental to rental home, such as the one he died in in Los Angeles yesterday.

Michael was prepping to try to recapture his once elevated status with 50 sold out shows at London's massive O2 arena. But that was not to be. In fact I believe that the stress of preparing for that show, after his long performing layoff, played a role in his demise. With the music, videos and event tour that supported 'Thriller' Michael re-invented the art of the blockbuster album, creating an international stardom that endures. And, sadly, for the last twenty five years of his life Michael was in a losing battle with himself, trying to match that magical year even as the culture changed, the record industry imploded, and his personal demons ruined his reputation.

At several points in his life Michael revolutionized pop culture. He lead the first black teen group to cross racial lines. With Quincy Jones, he produced a trio of albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad) that reinvented the rules for black artists musically and in terms of international appeal. The videos, grandiose, elaborate and full of wonderful dancing are still the gold standard for the merging of music & image. Along with Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and so many other media legends, Michael made the '80s a golden age for black pop culture.

I, like so many of you, grew up with Michael Jackson. With my mother, sister and family friends I attended the Jackson Five's first Madison Square Garden show. Over the years I attended eight Jacksons/Michael Jackson shows and spend countless hours over the last forty years thinking about and, often writing about that man. In fact a book I did about him, The Michael Jackson Story, in 1984 jump started my career. It was first book and first exposure to the media machine that both celebrated, reported about and, ultimately, ripped him apart.

Its hilarious how one sided much of the immediate commentary about the man has been. Sinner or saint? More apt is artist and sinner. People want to simplify a truly complex life. We have to be sophisticated enough to acknowledge that greatness and a touch of evil dwelled in the man. I've always believed that transcendent art emanates from the purest, most evolved parts of our soul. But that highly spiritual achievement doesn't absolve us of our daily misdeeds. To simply brand him a smooth criminal, as some have, or to overlook his tragic nature, as have others, is to deny his humanity. The meaning of Michael Jackson's life -- as a black man, a sexual being, a abused and abusing adult -- will be interpreted to fit the prejudices of the speaker. His music -- it speaks volumes.


Nelson George is not available for interviews at this time.

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15 comments for 'MICHAEL JACKSON (1958-2009) BY NELSON GEORGE' on march 10, 2013 at 03:25:14 PM says:

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Alethea on august 20, 2012 at 06:08:52 AM says:

Thanks designed for sharing such a nice opinion, piece of writing is
good, thats why i have read it fully on april 22, 2011 at 02:36:58 AM says:

Nelsondgeorge.. May I repost it? :)

Plano DJ on august 14, 2010 at 00:40:39 AM says:

He's a legend in the music industry. All his songs was all remarkable.

Plano DJ on august 14, 2010 at 00:40:11 AM says:

He's a legend in the music industry. All his songs was all remarkable.

free song downloads on october 25, 2009 at 06:27:28 AM says:

Yes, the good musicians are always great! Like Michael Jackson....who is an unforgettable musical culture creater, who will always be remembered in the universe so far the music is remembered....

Patrick Barrett on july 8, 2009 at 09:40:24 PM says:

I'm in the Phoenix area and would like to find that Elvis champion to set him straight. Little Richard once had to repeat, loudly (as only he can), "Elvis was a great ENTERTAINER - read: not artist".
Plenty has bee said about Michael Jackson. I will add that as someone swept into Black music early on, it was Elvis that brought that sound, imperfectly as he replicated it, to young White kids in the 50s. Michael packaged real Black music for the world and in my 67 years I have seen the change he wrought.

Sherman on july 7, 2009 at 04:08:14 PM says:

Just finished listening to you on Talk of the Nation. THANK YOU for strongly refuting Bill Wyman's ridiculous claims about Elvis Presley. I am not now, nor have I ever been a fan of Elvis. I also liked what you said about the art transcending the artist. You were the smart guy in the room today.

miranda m. on july 7, 2009 at 01:51:48 PM says:

I enjoyed your refutation of the "Elvis invented a musical form" canard on Talk of the Nation today. Reminds me of George Carlin's profane, passionate and accurate assertion that Michael Jackson was the greatest entertainer who ever lived -- NOT Elvis. (Google "Jacko beats them all" for a video of this.)

I wonder why people have a hard time letting go of the allegations of which Michael Jackson was ACQUITTED. I have heard that the accuser, now an adult, has admitted he lied. And yet those charges hang over MJ even in death. That really is sad. MJ was complicated and troubled and eccentric, but he gave a lot, through his charity and his music.
A transcendent figure indeed.

C. Kurtz on july 7, 2009 at 01:28:44 PM says:

Loved it on NPR when you said Elvis did not invent Rock and Roll! I've been saying that for years to anyone who'll listen! Will miss Michael.

Itibari M. Zulu on july 4, 2009 at 06:53:03 AM says:

Yes, Michael Jackson changed pop culture, and he became the King. Thank you for your thoughts.

naluhema on june 26, 2009 at 06:41:16 PM says:

Thank you Nelson. Especially appreciate the line "...transcendent art emanates from the purest, most evolved parts of our soul. But that highly spiritual achievement doesn't absolve us of our daily misdeeds." I've been sharing Youtube clip of Miles Davis playing "Human Nature" on Facebook. I love this photo of you and Miles on your blog. Much aloha, K

Trevor Whitecliff on june 26, 2009 at 11:26:41 AM says:

Yeah, he is a lot like Kane, but I tend to think of him more as the real Jay Gatsby. He could never quite let go of the past, always searching for that elusive green light...

The definitive book about the american dream would not be complete without, in the very least, a chapter dedicated to the man.

Maybe he'll find the peace in death he couldn't in life...

urban bromances on june 26, 2009 at 10:25:22 AM says:

shut up fag

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