By Dele Momodu
God, please forgive me, for claiming publicly that I worshipped an idol. Truth is I did. I worshipped Michael Jackson. I hated anyone who ever passed snide remarks about this greatest showman on earth. Strangely, I never met my idol. He was a god I accepted in good faith. A god I would have loved to meet. But I kept faith with his music, and was privileged to have met some of his siblings. There was nothing I did not try to meet him. I always knew it was only a matter of time before the relentless vicissitudes of life would take its final toll on this extremely frail but prodigiously talented artiste.
Michael was supposed to be the peak of success but he was the limit of sadness. His fame eclipsed that of all his siblings combined. He was the very epitome of achievement. No artiste in history had generated as much controversy in one lifetime. Like the quintessential dancer that he was, Michael waltzed from one crisis to the other. He was the true example that the world may pretend to love success, but the world actually hates success. Every imaginary story was conjured, or concocted, around this stupendously famous man.
He packed more than the activities of a thousand years into the 50 years he lived on earth. The world is allowed a glimpse of such demigods once in a blue moon. Michael was a deviant in all ways. He defied the laws of gravity and motion. He was a spirit child, and he acted the part perfectly. He was bound to go the way he came, with a bang. It was impossible for him to go with a mere whimper.
In his time, most things he touched turned into gold. He became as popular as the Coca-Cola bottle. He was known everywhere and was more popular than most world presidents. In our school, every music group mimicked Michael Jackson. At the then University of Ife, one young man became famous on campus for his dexterous performance of Michael Jackson in “Beat it”. He is the same Femi Elufowoju who’s currently doing Nigeria proud as an actor in the elite theater of London’s West End. Michael was every child’s ultimate idol. Even for those of us who grew up in rural settings, and had no television sets at home, we knew this boy who danced better than James Brown. His name resonated like Iraqi bombs, exploding beyond boundaries.
This was the main cause of his problems. Success breeds more sorrow than joy. There is the intrusion of privacy. The financial demands of trying to put up an appearance. The envy of peers, and the subject of sibling rivalries. It was impossible to ignore Michael, whether you hated or loved him. To describe him as an icon was an understatement. Everything around him was big news. He was never going to live a normal life, like you and I. He was sentenced to his own prison, and would never be able to break free.
Michael lived in a society where the policy was everyone for himself and God for us all. He was a lonely child. He started life too early. And fame and fortune beyond imagination chased him. He was haunted by both. They became his albatross. He had to wear a mask to go out. He was said to have experimented with all manner of weird disguises. He earned the acronym, Wacko Jacko. He was easy prey for both genuine and counterfeit extortionists. They found all manner of excuses to take his money, and practically took him to the cleaners.
Michael lived and was sustained on maximum hype. He regularly reinvented both his person and his career. From being an innocent Black kid, he transfigured into a white ghost, who became whiter than snow. It was speculated that the record labels that made incredible fortunes off him had encouraged him to engage in bleaching away his blackness, a terrible habit that would later become an incurable obsession. It probably worked initially. But it soon became a tragic flaw in his persona.
Those who wanted any reason to detest him found perfect grounds for merciless assaults. He was insulted and abused. His unusual love for children was another sore point. He was called a child molester. Who knows? Neither you nor I were eye-witnesses. Such stories abound about newsmakers everywhere. As a devotee, we accepted him warts and all. He was human after-all. I learnt a lot from his life. That success would never guarantee happiness. That money would never buy peace. That your friends would rather watch you die when you get into trouble than offer a helping hand.
All those shedding crocodile tears now obviously saw Michael in his various stages of dilapidation – that those who can never match your talents would always attack your efforts. That at the end of it all, all is vanity indeed. Human beings are always quick to judge others. They leave the log in their eyes and chase the speck in that of others. Michael this, Michael that, was all we heard. Now that he’s dead, may be they’ll leave him alone, and allow the dead to bury their dead.
The problems were just too many for Michael. And the burden must have been too heavy to bear. It is difficult to imagine how he even lived for this long. He had marital problems. He had acute financial problems. From being one of the richest men in showbiz history, he became a pauper, as poor as a church rat. His grace to grass story was one of the most frightening examples of the fall of man. It could not have been easy. It was as if he had no family, and no friend.
The man had helped to raise money for the world, but the world failed to raise money for him, in his time of dire need. They watched his life collapse while everyone minded his own business. This is usually the tragedy of great people. They are often seen as the supermen who can solve all problems alone. But my illiterate mum knew better, and used to warn that there is a thin chord holding the heart to the human body. It is just too fragile.
Die-hard fans like me were hoping for a miracle that would teleport Michael back to his original state, when he was that adorable kid, and everyone thought he was older than Michael. Michael had that childlike innocence that made him vulnerable. But he was awesome. The world was not big enough for his stage. Music was his life and we had all foolishly believed that he could live, sing and dance forever. We followed his every move, shared in his triumphs, and suffered in his pains. He was human, very human. He had his foibles, like all mortals do. He tried to keep to himself a lot, and came out of his shrine only when necessary. He was called the weird one. He had to be. His life was too extraordinary and too sensational.
I was always hoping to meet him, one on one. And even dreamt of bringing him to Nigeria to live under our protection, when his troubles became too suffocating to watch. We toyed with asking the Ooni of Ife or the Alaafin of Oyo to make him an African Chief and get our government to turn him into our national treasure. That would have been feasible in a land that understood the power of entertainment and tourism. But one Arab tycoon stole him to Bahrain, where I believe life must have been very miserable for him. He was just too broke, and was facing certain humiliation of unimaginable proportions.
The bailiffs were after him like bullets. Before his very eyes, his prized possessions were auctioned. His Neverland Ranch, which was his recreation of paradise on earth, became a dead place and he had to give up the ownership of this private sanctuary. By the time the relationship between him and his Arab friend broke down, and he had to return Los Angeles, the damage had been done. He was forced to move into a rented apartment. Just imagine, from living in paradise to living in the pit of hell. It is better imagined than experienced.
What I admired most about him was how he kept readjusting to his excruciating conditions. He accepted his fate with uncommon equanimity. He was determined to prove that he wasn’t finished. He travelled to London recently to promote his forthcoming world tour. He needed to disappoint the cynics who thought he was down and flat-out. His plans were going fine. He had sold a record 750,000 tickets for his concerts. For him, the shows were meant to be the grand finale to an incredible career, the sort we are not likely to see again in our generation.
Also, he was working hard to leave a worthy legacy, and a formidable empire for his family, especially his children. He was said to have written hundreds of songs which he never performed, but were meant to be released only after his death. He was a workaholic. He probably died working. He didn’t want his fans to be disappointed in him. They were the reason for his existence. We meant everything to him, just as he meant everything to us.
You don’t have to be a doctor to know he must have died of exhaustion. The London concert was meant to be his final farewell to the world. He had gone as far as getting a personal trainer to beef him up for the tour. His existence depended on proving this ultimate point. It was a dangerous fixation that would prove fatal. He had been off-stage for too long. Unknown to him, age was no longer on his side. Everything that has a beginning must have an end. He did not accept the verdict of God. The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh. It was time to go and the time to be set free.
The elephant collapsed two nights ago. I cried like a baby. My wife had always found my love for Michael Jackson very strange. If she did not know me well, she may have suspected me of unprintable inclinations. I had wished Fela truly kept death in his pouch. We would have begged him to keep Michael for us forever. But Fela himself was killed by death. It is one debt we all owe. Sooner or later, the king of all bailiffs must come, and take possession of all. This is the reason we must do our best and leave the world better than we met it.