And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.
-William Shakespeare, As You Like It
So I may be the last of an entire populace to make mention of Michael Jackson's death - not that I could say anything that wasn't said throughout the multi-week blitz of media attention given to his passing. Based on sheer volume, I don't think an original angle on this apparently world-changing event could be presented.
It seems the spectacle of his leaving the planet was as phantasmagoric as the life he led on it.
Admittedly, I paid my respects in the days that followed, spinning through A-B-C-1-2-3, Billie Jean, Thriller, and Bad, to name a few, wondering how so many years had passed since I listened to these on cassette tape. And whether analogue or digital, watching a coming-of-age Michael dance and move in ways that defied entertainment standards of the day (if not also gravity) is as spectacular now as it was then. He was the whole package: voice, movement, musicality, presentation and attitude.
I also choked through some video tributes that exposed less notable musical offerings, such as his whitewashed collaboration with Janet Scream, Remember the Time with Eddie Murphy, and the political statement piece They Don't Care About Us (the melody and message of which bear an uncanny resemblance to Pink Floyd's Another Brick in the Wall).
At the peak of Michael Mourning Madness, I was in Berlin, performing at G-Star Raw's runway shows during Fashion Week, experiencing my own strange taste of the life fantastic.
Wafer-thin beauties and fat free beau hunks intermingled with cigarettes dangling, perfect skin glistening, and libidos charging as they paused between fittings and rehearsals. Whether in the hallway, the kitchen or the rest room, the poise of their flawless genetic structuring silently commanded respect in every space. An unspoken law that everyone obeys.
These boys of barely 23 or 24 years of age spoke with me quite a bit in five days, offering baby congratulations with smoky voices that slipped between sparkling teeth and perfect lips. Smoky enough to make a pregnant woman of thirty-five blush. Throughout the week, these men-children could be spied spending their down time pouring through Vogue, Elle and Detail magazines, picking out each other's latest spreads. Or discussing contract negotiations from the shoot they finished last week in Barcelona. Or, as the hot days got longer and longer, talking about their latest sexual conquests and how many numbers they planned to score before the day was done.
The girls kept mostly to themselves, smoking incessantly and drinking water. Although the boys were admittedly gorgeous specimens, I could hardly keep my eyes off the women...each one of them looking like a china doll carefully on loan from her perch on a pristine glass shelf. Eyelashes and lips at perfect volume. Hair long and smooth. And as they changed backstage, I couldn't help but notice as I walked by that there wasn't an ounce of fat on them. And no visible veins. No bruises. No dimpled skin. Not an imperfection to be found anywhere.
No wonder these people - these specimens - are preoccupied with plans to fornicate with one another.
Of course these aren't the only cast members in this well-oiled theatrical machine of fashion. Far from it. The twenty-some models were heavily outnumbered by a team of creative directors, producers, choreographers, light and sound technicians, hydraulic lift operators, set builders, hair and make-up designers, "dressers" (those who dress and strip the models during the show), canteen operators, security, latrine attendants, assistants, assistants to the assistants, business managers, marketing directors, the CEO of G-Star....and somewhere in the mix, us two musicians.
And yet, the models adhere to a slightly different moral code than the rest of us, and somehow, this gap isn't disturbing. In fact, it was almost pleasing to me to imagine these beautiful people participating in illicit short-term affairs with each other. And if that was all they concerned themselves with beyond making sure they didn't miss a cue on the stage, so be it. That would somehow be okay. Almost an entitled right.
My musical partner / good friend Maartje and I spent much time on this trip discussing this strange caste system that seems to exist in the presence of the beautiful, the famous and the obscenely wealthy. And it is an intuition formed in us by an early age. The cool kids in junior high. High school cheerleaders and the captain of the football team. Beautiful people seem to inherit special privileges. Maybe not always in extremes, like models or pop stars. But there's just something about them that commands different attention and concessions to certain rules of conduct.
People who live their lives on stage carry at least two persona with them at all times: that which is dressed up for the audience, and that which is the inner voice of their intimate self. The bigger the audience, the bigger the fame, the larger the gap between these persona. Or perhaps more accurate, the larger the gap between people's perceptions and genuine understanding of the two. Is who we see who we would get, should we be invited into their private world?
Michael Jackson lived a big life both on and off the stage. We saw him. Listened to him. Watched him grow. Watched him change. We read stories of his strange relations. Heard about allegations. Wondered about his metamorphosing appearance. And now, we have memorialized him in ways bigger than for Nobel Peace Prize winners, past presidents, and important scientists. Through mourning this highly public figure, we have claimed a piece of him.
And yet, all we really know of this man is what he and his entourage offered on the stage and in the studio. The rest is smoke and mirrors, resulting from a combination of our imagination and the very well-paid publicists who told us who he was.
But maybe that's enough. Maybe, as humans, we need to believe in the fantasy of the beautiful, the famous. To watch these specimen, these spectacles as they pass by and allow them the extra room they require just...to be.