Friday, June 30, 2006


Andrew O'Hagan on Margo Jefferson's On Michael Jackson at the LRB (no subscription required):

What is it about fame that can make people unbearable to themselves? In the right conditions - the wrong conditions - a dreamy and over-watched person of sizeable talent can turn steadily into a tragic being, as vulnerable to the psychically destructive forces of the age as the great heroines of the 19th-century novel or the doomed figures of Romantic opera. Moral captives such as Emma Bovary and Tess Durbeyfield have destruction written into their code of happiness, as does Cio-Cio-San or Verdi's Desdemona, suffocated by bad men or bourgeois custom but most effectively by a public (an audience) that loves to be complicit in the undoing of women and the aestheticising of their pain. Once you get to Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe or Billie Holiday or Lena Zavaroni, the thrill has become a fetish, and you can see how self-change and death-throes have become in a rather naked way the bigger part of their performance. Michael Jackson has all of that by rote, and is distinguished among such figures as a black man who wants to be a white woman; a person who wants to unperson himself, to become something beyond nature, something entirely concocted of private fears and public desire.

I really liked O'Hagan's novel Personality; he's got a new novel coming out later this summer, a curiously empty US Amazon page says the book will be published here by Faber and Faber in August (that is something I must read) but here is a more convincing page for Be Near Me at Amazon UK.


  1. I'm kind of obsessed with michael jackson--I'm so glad you pointed this out.

  2. The summer I turned thirteen my mom cut a deal with me that she would pay for oboe lessons if I made enough money to buy the oboe (this is not as Horatio Algerish as it sounds, I was already taking lessons on two other instruments and money was tight, it really was a test of seriousness since I had been dabbling in bassoon as well as clarinet and recorder) which was $125 for a pretty awful beat-up used one. In those days babysitting paid $2/hr. and the good mothers always topped it up a bit at the end. (The bad mothers counted every quarter-hour and never paid an extra dollar.) That summer I spent a horrifying number of hours babysitting for two adorable devil-children, both boys, the older really quite demonic in a charismatic way and the younger frailer but still fairly boisterous. (They used to play pretend-Wimbledon and beat each other up with their tennis rackets, the older one was John MacEnroe and insisted on the younger being Jimmy Connor. You can imagine who did most of the beating.) Their mother was always off playing golf or lunching, rarely returned on time and never paid me an extra dime on top of the strict legalistic limit.

    But the point of this story is that these two rather sweet though evil little boys (perhaps in first and third grades?) had a grand total of two albums, cassette tapes of course: Boy George's Colour by Numbers and Michael Jackson's Thriller. And if they had really tired themselves out beating each other up & were feeling more winsome and obliging than usual they let me choose which one we listened to as I put them to bed. And to this day that is always what I think of when I hear a song from either one of those albums. BTW I sort of loved the Boy George musical TABOO, I was sorry it closed so quickly....

  3. As a former student of Margo's I'm certainly not an objective critic of the book, but I found it very well-written and a great use of the extended essay form.