… and if it’s true, the monster and his music will vanish forever
Art can survive its creators' crimes, but not pop - it is a music of youth, making paedophilia an ultimate transgression
If Michael Jackson was really a paedophile, can his music survive?
The documentary Leaving Neverland is unequivocal about his behaviour, the alleged sexual grooming and assault of minors. Much of the damage was already done to his reputation a long time ago. It is almost hard to remember now what a pariah Jackson had become in his lifetime.
Serious allegations about him first surfaced in 1993 and put his career into a tailspin. When he died in 2009, aged 50, he hadn’t released new music in eight years and his debts were approaching $500m. Court documents revealed Jackson’s lifestyle to be hopelessly dissolute: sleeping late, self-medicating on painkillers, watching Disney films and drinking bottle after bottle of expensive wine.
Death changed everything. Ambivalent feelings about his behaviour were overwhelmed by a potent combination of tragedy and nostalgia, with Jackson evoked in terms of his incredible youthful achievement rather than adult decline. A decade on, his estate is worth more than $1bn, making him the highest-earning dead celebrity of our times. But surely that is over now.
Art can survive crimes by its creators. Caravaggio was a murderer, Byron committed incest. Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite but we still listen reverently to his music. But it wasn’t pop music, which thrives on innocence and escape. The kind of effervescent dance pop Jackson excelled at needs to be light, buoyant, pure at heart and nimble on its feet. Time can take the sting out of almost anything but pop doesn’t have time. It is a phenomenon of the moment, existing in an eternal present.
Pop, at its very essence, is a music of youth, which makes paedophilia an ultimate transgression. You never hear Gary Glitter any more and, though he was nowhere near as famous or talented as Jackson, the retrospective tarnishing of his music is essentially the same. For a pop star to be a paedophile is like a priest or teacher taking advantage of their vulnerable charges.
The sheer size of Jackson’s global audience means that he will never fade away entirely. Already some fans have been going into the IMDB database and changing the name of Leaving Neverland to Liar Liar 2. But his most deluded admirers have been in denial for decades. Some may make excuses and say he was a damaged, tortured soul whose own childhood was stolen from him by show business, in a career driven by an unloving, domineering father. Some will argue that the music should be separated from the musician. Many will retain a vestige of affection for tracks that meant something personal to the listener.
But if the documentary’s revelations become the accepted narrative, Jackson will surely disappear from public shared spaces. His music will no longer be heard on radio stations and streaming playlists. It will no longer be sought out for advertising deals and film and TV soundtracks, because programmers will have second thoughts about unwanted associations.
And Jackson will slowly vanish from view, surviving only in our nostalgic remembrances of more innocent times, and, perhaps, as a bogeyman figure, a symbol of how fame can create monsters.
– © The Sunday Telegraph