Probably the first musical artist I really loved, even before my indefatigable devotion to all things Spice, was Michael Jackson. We would play his cassettes in the car on repeat and watch his music videos until the tape ran thin. I remember, in the absence of a poster, printing off an A5, grainy black and white photo of him performing and pinning it proudly to my Disney’s Aladdin pinboard. I was a Michael Jackson Fan, and that was part of my mutable yet vigorous 10 year old identity.
It is fair to say that my early promise as an MJ devotee was not quite fulfilled: while I enjoy and listen to his music to this day, I couldn’t help my un-fan-ly feelings of bewilderment and pity at his strange behaviour later in life. When his death came, I was saddened, enough to shed tears, and yet in many ways I felt the popstar I adored had been gone for a long time.
And so it was with a strange combination of recognition and detachment that I followed the trial of Conrad Murray, the star’s physician who was recently convicted of involuntary manslaughter. What struck me most about the criminal proceedings was the reaction of the fans. Having made their pilgrimage to Los Angeles, today’s Unreal City, they camped outside the court to signal their devotion. When the verdict came, cheers and euphoria greeted the sentencing of Murray to up to four years in prison.
A natural desire for justice for the figure they loved? Perhaps. And yet, the blurred circumstances of his death seem to confound this straightforward triumph. The doctor’s actions were irresponsible in the extreme, and I am certainly not disputing that he deserves to be stripped of his medical license and jailed. But the tragic picture that arose from the trial, of a once extraordinarily talented man dependent on painkillers and dysfunctional relationships, is the image I take away, dampening any possibility of celebration. Perhaps we can take some comfort in the thought that maybe now, more than two years after his demise, we will be able to focus on remembering Michael Jackson as the wonderful performer he was. The news that his deathbed is up for auction implies we may have to wait a little longer.