False Idols

When I was in high school, I was obsessed with Pearl Jam. I'm a pretty neurotic person by nature, and the combination of teenage chemicals and angst-ridden music was overwhelming. The first credit card purchase I ever made was for a Pearl Jam bootleg that came out not long after their second album and featured a lot of songs for their upcoming third album.

But some context: I'm 33. I'll be 34 in October. I told Nicole that being 33 has been fun, but 34 seems like a drag. She said I only enjoy being 33 because of all the Jesus jokes I can make. "Who doesn't love Jesus jokes?" was my reply.

And, really, does anyone not like a good Jesus joke every now and again? It's doubtful.

So, clearly, I was in middle school when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" hit and I was grungified from that point on (it eventually lead me to punk rock, which eventually led me elsewhere, but that's a story for another blog).

I didn't cry when Kurt Kobain killed himself. While I was far more obsessed with Pearl Jam, I don't think I would have cried had Eddie Vedder died. I've never met the guy and, while his music has meant a lot to me over the years, I can't very well consider him a friend. As crazy as I got about Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder, I never worshipped him -- and he never asked.

Yesterday they were showing some clips of the now deceased Michael Jackson. There can never be enough said about what Michael Jackson meant to the world of music. I could go on and on about what he did for this country, how he crossed lines on so many different levels. The "King of Pop" title might not have been entirely accurate, but a decent argument could be made that he played a hand in creating what we consider pop music these days. I don't think he ruled it, but he definitely helped in its creation.

Anyway, the clip they showed was from a performance. There's a guy on stange in a modified spaceman suit, doing a dancing number. He stops at the middle of the stage, and the music comes to a hault and, slowly but surely, the guy removes his helmet to reveal...Michael Jackson! And the crowd goes ape shit.

It occurred to me, in that very moment, why I out grew Michael Jackson at a young age. It is, perhaps, the same reason why I've never watched American Idol -- I don't believe in them. I don't believe in a person who turns himself into this overblown character, turns his or herself into a spectacle that requires the adoration of millions to survive.

There's a fundamental understanding in such a character: the audience is less than the person performing on stage, and the person on stage is royalty, to be spoken of in reverance and worshiped like a deity. The audience feeds into this, swoons at every melodramatic gesture, like the newly healed at an old time revival. And all the while, there's the pop icon, gyrating on stage and feeding on that adulation.

How do you find sincerity in that? How do you find honesty? I can't and, looking through my collection of music, never did.

Perhaps the most classic example of how such a move can backfire is Bono. At one point, Bono decided to become a rock icon, complete with onstage personality. And, sure enough, the fanbase were unhappy. U2 has always been a band about real issues, powerful songs that felt important, felt genuine (there's that word again). But Bono running around as "The Fly?" No, that's not genuine -- it's self-indulgent.

That is, perhaps, the word I've been searching for: self-indulgent. My tolerance for self-indulgent muscians is very low, or at least musicians who are self-indulgent via their fans.

And let's face facts: Michael Jackson would have had a much different life if he hadn't been the "King of Pop." Chances are good that he wouldn't have become quite so odd. Perhaps he would have found the help he needed to deal with his childhood. But that wasn't really possible for Michael Jackson the charicature, Michael Jackson the pop icon, Michael Jackson the idol of millions.

Michael Jackson will always be known as a talent performer who broke barriers. I will always remember him as pop music's most famous victim.

It's clear, from the millions of peole who watch American Idol, that he won't be the last.