On the pop of the King and Michael Jackson's artistic legacy, unity, plurality, posterity


Why would Michael Jackson be an artist more essential than the others, more striking than his peers, more innovative than other Kings and Godfathers before him, whether it be rock'n'roll, soul, blues or funk? Who will be the "new", the "next" King of Pop? So many questions that sing badly and falsely (because they are often provocatively insistent) to the ears and that, when they are answered by too many fervent lips, make the arguer look like an obtuse lunatic.

@ Harry Benson, 1997

Obtuse, we could not be, as he was not. To be closed would be incongruous. "Open your mind and put your heart on the line". If intelligence consists in integrating all the fields of possibility while rejecting none, then he was supremely endowed with it.

The field in which he has been "confined", the mainstream "pop", has nothing of a tunnel, even if this term, popularized for a time by Liz Taylor, widened the ways, and with reason. It is not funk, nor soul, nor gospel, nor rock, nor rap, nor jazz. It is all that. It summons within itself an eclecticism and a diversity of references which reject, at the source, the enclosure on oneself, but, on the contrary, do not cease to throw bridges, musical, artistic, towards the other.


Michael Jackson's pop music is, in a way, made of that. Woven, sculpted, sketched, painted and colored, it is, like its creator, one, and just as plural; authentic, and just as moving; visionary, and just as respectful of know-how.


"We are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants" said Bernard de Chartres. Michael Jackson, whose humility was one of his most striking traits - and even, naively for the uninitiated, the most unexpected, even incongruous - knew how to remain small in the face of the greats to whom he was indebted, and modest in the face of the novices whom he accompanied and to whom he opened up possibilities of which they themselves did not suspect they were the blessed bearers.


He had that piercing look that scrutinizes, analyzes and extracts the best of the other without long speeches, with just the right amount of advice and confidence to guide and at the same time leave the other free to be himself and to become what he did not yet know, that is, the best in his specialty. The eclecticism of his pop or, shall we say, the plurality which characterizes it, enters in resonance with this entourage from which he was enriched and which offers, with the wire of his opus, angles of attack disarming sometimes, far from a confinement in an autoproduction which would have been, all in all, navel-gazing and undoubtedly doomed to an ineluctable repetition or sterility. It also enters in resonance with its own artistic personality chameleon.


But since we return unceasingly and inevitably to these terms, let us note that unity and plurality are only the two faces of the same being. To create a unique personality, authentic, that is to say personal, identifiable, recognizable, although elaborated around the aggregation of multiple references, there is the Jacksonian particularism. A multiple personality because already, to begin with, multidisciplinary. It is well in this heart that a voice dances while the body sings; it is well in this den that combine then merge music and image, clip-video and 7th art, scenographies, fine arts, history and symbolism. Its plurality, its capacity for openness and innovation are already in this.


His image of pioneer, as for it, does not hold only in his faculties of widened and even visionary perception which made him catch, by anticipation, the expectations of the public of today and tomorrow; it holds just as much with a deep faculty to borrow what he judged to be the best, or the most effective in others, what touched him, the most, to reinvest it, to remodel it in his way, according to his own vision of the world.


This plurality, therefore, comes from several sources. Educational and cultural, formative, but above all, affinities. Because it would be very artificial to believe that everything is only a commercial strategy in the Jacksonian loans. To believe that his emotional involvement in his interpretations is only pure acting. In this, moreover, he distinguishes himself from his peers... The scenic implication, the artistic particularity are prolonged, in him, in the Real life, by an extremely advanced human conscience and a particularism of personality which disconcerted.


A being similar to us, but powerfully different. A visionary being, Barnum-like, who understood where the real power was and tried to master it. A being who, because of his otherness, this strangeness wanted, allowed to hover, then suffered, turned against himself - as soon as the media exchange was no longer given - was locked up in the narrow columns of greasy papers and dry brains, pitifully imprisoned within sensationalist columns.


The other is scary. And he was other. Special, particular, singular, different. These are the adjectives that most REALLY describe him in the mouths of those who know WHO they are talking about. But in a society that prides itself on its openness to otherness and difference, the very person who embodied it, much more unwittingly than by staging, was rejected. Not of this world. Neither martian, nor deranged, just him, just other. This right to be, this right to uniqueness may seem paradoxical when one artificially belongs to everyone. So this beautiful society has mocked him as much as it has adulated him, making him the easy and unavoidable target of its morbid and twisted projections, without ever shamefully questioning its own inability to integrate the otherness that makes up its mawkishly and hypocritically humanistic and charitable window dressing.


But let us return to the music, to the musician, to the dancer, to the artist...


The borders are always blurred, and everything is intertwined. Borders of identity, artistic, cultural, social, human. From the star to the mirror through the omniscient eye and without necessarily going through the myth of Argos (although...), the notion of light and reflection is not so much at the heart of his problematic as that of the double, and not only of this famous and ancestral African-American double-consciousness. Mystery is the main card he said he was playing with, without ever fully revealing the rest of his game. He understood that asking questions that fall one after the other into an abyss, opening up a panel of sometimes contradictory answers and endlessly raising other questions, was the best way to question his fellow man in the very long term and thus to pass to posterity. The Renaissance masters he loved had done nothing less. Surviving one's own death and leaving behind a trail of mysteries is the best way to create an ever-renewed and therefore immortal interest.


Putting the pieces back together consists of nothing less than capturing the common thread, remaining connected to it, returning to it, endlessly, as the sculptor always starts from his sketches or his dream; and as the first take recorded on magnetic tape already constituted and contained, in fertile seeds, the final sculpture of his songs, which the sound engineer listened to again and again so as not to lose himself from the Way, from the Truth, so as not to betray the musical Life of the thing.


Sincerity cannot be improvised. Eclecticism pushed to this point, whether it is Mussorgsky, Orff, Beethoven or Duruflé, whether it is Van Halen or Notorious Big, Mick Jagger or Santana, is not borrowed by good manners and commercial aims. It is effective by the intelligence deployed in its dosage. It leaves the door of the studio open to God, as Quincy Jones says, as much as to the other, the human, to the experienced artist as to the beginner, as long as he has something to say and even if, when he arrives, he does not know yet why the humble and almost mute master of this place has summoned him to his court of another royalty.


Let's not be obtuse. Let us listen. Let us understand. Let's be patient with the formatted minds, with the stomachs used to pre-digested dishes and which suffer from having to break their teeth a little on a dish more consistent than announced, than even proclaimed, by the barkers of power who make the media menu every day.


As for posterity... Looking for a new him is a utopia, certainly human, when it comes to dreaming of the survival of the one who left, hoping for him under other features, under other forms, as long as he gives us the hope of a new life. To be Michael Jackson is hardly more possible than to be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Pergolese whom he loved so much.


Michael Jackson only officially met Mozart for the time of an improvised moonwalk on the Requiem, he only summoned Pergolese for the time of singing, with the voice of a child, a line of the Stabat Mater in a chapel in our regions. Official, but intimate. Culture is not something to be flaunted when you have it to spare, when it constitutes, as he said, the ultimate treasure not to be thrown to the dogs. What did he need to justify himself? He didn't even owe his talent to himself. He owed it to God, he said. His skin disease, instead of making a display of it or a morbid mythology that would have made people cry or mock him, he made it a courageous springboard, used it as a sign from Heaven. From mother to son, the illness, in the Jackson family, was taught and lived, via the Bible, as a perch held out by God to rise above suffering, to open up to those more miserable than oneself, and to "do" something positive, constructive with it.


Then the King of tomorrow will exist, like many other things, only for non-artistic purposes. Because he will have neither the time, nor the means, nor the visibility that ours has known how to make, hour after hour of work, one step in front of the other, feet on the ground, faith in the belly, eyes fixed towards Heaven. Because talent comes second.

Because originality no longer has a voice, as long as you have the time, the desire, the openness to go and look for it, only in the back of the shelves of labels and sub-labels rarely put forward.

Because self-financing is no longer in the artists' grasp, and to do good work you need, in order: intelligence, creativity, a taste for work, insight, a sense of finances, determination, humility, time and patience, and the human, technical and temporal means (and therefore financial means, we'll come back to that) to implement the rest. It is necessary an osmosis of intelligence at the controls of the creations (and true Creations, of course) and an opening on the future as much as the enlightened and integrated knowledge of the past.


That to arrive at this state, it would still be necessary to have had the chance to be formed, in the best artistic school, the most visionary and effective - the one which revolutionized the sound of the planet and impregnated the Beatles even, and was exported under multiple forms, without ever fundamentally changing still today, in the few modern disinences "proposed" by the antennas - to be formed thus, during all its childhood, in a determined and determining equivalent of late Mrs. Motown.


That to get there, one would have to have been born almost "synchronized", to have "danced before walking" and to have had a voice that made men and women cry before the age of five, and to have fought in local contests, to have rehearsed for hours and hours after school until they fell, to have performed on Saturday nights before Sunday mass, but always with a common faith and fervor, with a determination and already an early clairvoyance on his own capacity to offer the world, as a witness of Creation, an alternative to suffering and war, to atheism and to moribund despair ("I want peace in the world" he will write, at the age of 7, to his stunned teacher who asked each student to write his most beautiful wish for Christmas on a small piece of paper)


Then he will come, the successor. But can we think that he will still be of our era? Let us be happy and blessed to have crossed here on earth, for a lifetime or a few years, for a distant presence, for a smile or a handshake, for a signature or a few words on a piece of paper, the one that Heaven had undoubtedly, in a great kindness, sent us. And let us thank Him.


What does a star do when it has finished shining? It returns to the cosmic dance. So nothing is lost. But let us be happy, the star has not yet finished shining...

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