Friday, June 26th, 2009

Michael Jackson :: Morning’s End


Long before anyone could read into Michael Jackson’s cubist, etiolated face a work of performance art, the wounds of internalized racism, or the excess of boredom and wealth, all those things that would make us either look away or gawk, there was his voice.

The thing that Berry Gordy heard from the 10-year old boy was “knowingness”, he said, “feeling, inspiration, and pain”. There was an early protest song, “The Young Folks”, that now seems telling. But as time went on, Gordy and his songwriters gave Michael songs in which loss loomed large, the better to exploit that glorious instrument of his. And for that voice, he lost his childhood.

Or more precisely, he gave it to us. Many of his most affecting performances were about distance and displacement, the desire to be somewhere else, the inability to return to a lost past. Think of the songs that the hip-hop generation adored so much: “I’ll Be There”, “I Wanna Be Where You Are”, “Who’s Loving You”, “Maybe Tomorrow”, “All I Do Is Think Of You”, “Ready Or Not”. On these songs, Michael’s “knowingness” sounds more like fragility. (On the other hand, but hardly balancing the scale, is the joyous Bronx summer break of “It’s Great To Be Here”.)

If you want to wonder how ambivalent this boy-dream, this incarnation of all our notions about youth and beauty, felt about the limelight and wanting to be “normal”, listen to him sing “Got To Be There”. When he sees the girl of his desire walk into the morning light, it’s as if he has transferred the shine away from himself to her, imagining a perfect love above the blood and grind of the daily celebrity-making machine. When he hits that high “me” (matched later by the word “home”), he has given all of it up to all of us.

But as an audience, we were insatiable and ruthless. Years later, after the satisfaction and ease of his 20s, after he had been broken by self-mutilation and bizarre scandal in his 30s, Michael Jackson would reveal a tragic, bathetic emptiness, pleading, “Have you seen my childhood?” By then, many of us had either turned away or turned on him. The transaction was done.

In the end, he lost even his voice, autotuned first by lawyers and other keepers of his dissipating wealth, consumed by Mickey Mouse-sounding paid-TV defenses and overproduced songs, before finally going silent forever. Time will restore the greatness of Michael Jackson’s artistry. May it also cause us some revulsion at our complicity in his fall as well.

posted by @ 12:34 am | 36 Comments

36 Responses to “Michael Jackson :: Morning’s End”

  1. Eat My Shorts says:

    great post Jeff. a truly great voice that didnt beat u over the head to convince u of its greatness.

  2. sharon p. says:

    my friend told me to have a look at your post. thank you. how will i remember him? as the person who bought the elephant man’s bones just so he could bury them. who will he remind me of? Zora Neale Hurston, who was also accused of child molestation in 1948 — an accusation that caused her to leave the “community” she had dedicated her life to. what will I listen to? “ABC” — it helped me to understand what “school” was all about.

  3. Jay Legaspi says:

    Beautifully written as always homie.

  4. Thanks Jeff. This sums it up. We will never understand what it feels like to have to guard your existence from the world. I still have the luxury of going to a restaurant, the movies, hanging out with my children at the park, all of the things that we take for granted. Michael gave us all a voice, an image, a move to unite us across generations, nationalities, and class. I wonder what he would have been like if the same media that had torn him down over the past decade had given him the praise they have over the last 15 hours while he was alive. We might have repaired his broken heart.

  5. pattiepsc says:

    this is such a well written synopsis of Michael’s yearning and quest for something we all take for granted; but nevertheless the price he paid so we could enjoy his talent.

  6. susan starr says:

    please watch tammy johnson’s 2-minute video on the website…an odd place to put a fundraising plea, but think about supporting ARC, which gave Jeff his first public voice and gives us people like tammy…

  7. Tammy says:

    Great post Jeff. I felt like I lost Mike years ago. Yesterday made the feelings real. I hope that he truly is resting in peace.

  8. Ted Swedenburg says:

    Thanks, a great, and moving, tribute. My favorite bar played Michael all night last night. Everyone loved it. And doesn’t MJ get serious props for being the Jackie Robinson of pop–for breaking the MTV color bar?

  9. Priscilla Page says:

    Jeff, so moving and so thoughtful. Thank you for this.

  10. Ellyn says:

    Thank you. from my heart.

  11. […] Chang – Morning’s End Many of his most affecting performances were about distance and displacement, the desire to be […]

  12. …very nice, jeff. i too listened to mj last night in my favorite bar and it was amazing. i knew every song by heart, even the ones i didn’t like. michael j was a master.

  13. Jeff– this is so heartfelt, so beautifully written. You capture our complicity in his demise with the perfect line: “And for that voice, he lost his childhood.” Thank you.

  14. MAN says:

    Brilliant, comrade, Brilliant!

  15. babkubwa says:

    “You capture our complicity in his demise with the perfect line: “And for that voice, he lost his childhood.” Thank you.”

    Exactly. thanks for writing this.

    lets hope people re appreciate the music as it deserves now.

    RIP Michael

  16. Mia says:

    Jeff-thanks for a great piece. What a great artist, innovator, entertainer. He gave us so much joy, so many memories. We ultimately broke his heart. May he rest in peace.

  17. […] Just read a beautiful piece on MJ by Jeff Chang: Michael Jackson :: Morning’s End // Tags: Michael Jackson Categories: Pop […]

  18. Absolutely well written piece in reference to a complex man who emobodied to contradictions of the society which created him. The man in the mirror was Michael himself, he reflected so much of this societies image right back at them… the beauty that was always there but the pain that was slowly eating at us all.

  19. Marq says:

    Amen. Couldn’t have said it any better.

  20. indigo says:

    Thank you Jeff, I knew I could count on you to say it right! Short, sweet & to the point. (Instead of all this inept flailing about that’s getting published elsewhere on the topic!)

  21. Kyra Gaunt says:

    Hey Jeff,
    This was really sweet, tender and captured the essence of that space between him and the rest of the world that wanted him even when we thought we couldn’t stand what it was doing to him. We are complicit. And I’d say it’s the paradox of life for us all. We are all eye to eye with each other’s humanity pretending we are not and it doesn’t really matter anyway.

    The way ya make me feel / It rea-lly turns me on! / Knocks me offa my feet / My lon-e-ly days are gone.

  22. Fanon Che Wilkins says:


    Man you have me in tears brotha. You have absolutely nailed it. This is the finest piece of writing on Mike that I have read yet. You have captured the tragedy and beauty of our King like no other. All praises to you for doing us such a wonderful service. We must amplify your genius. Thank you so so so much.


  23. kay says:

    i will never turn on my mj…never. thank you for this.

  24. […] this is some of the best commentary we’ve read: Jeff Chang’s blog. […]

  25. Reeta Luthra says:

    Thank you Jeff for a beautiful write-up.

  26. Thanks, Jeff. I especially appreciated the mention of several MJ/Jacksons tracks not previously known to me like “The Young Folks,” All I Do Is Think Of You,” and “Ready Or Not” — all of which I will now seek out.

    That put the focus back on the music. And to listen and dance to Michael’s best music (with his brothers or on his own) is really the best response to all the ghoulish post-mortems and self-important “analysis” that now will fill the airwaves.

  27. […] many others I feel compelled to say something. Inspired even. I found Andrew Sullivan’s and Jeff Chang’s posts pretty resonant, Jason King’s too, among others, and I’ve been particularly […]

  28. […] Jeff Chang – “Michael Jackson::Morning’s End” […]

  29. Jano says:

    Jeff, I love your writing. As I stayed on youtube watching one MJ video after the other, (until the sun came up), I was shaken by looking at how much he changed physically.
    “What would have happened, what impact could he have had on brown kids with wide noses if…”, I thought.

    Then I came to my senses. If he had kept his features, his kinky hair and didn’t have the skin disease,not only would the world have rejected his genius, he probably would have been shot coming out of a 7-11 opening a pack of gum.

    I would have not paid the rent, stood in line in frigid Chicago temperatures to see Michael Jackson.

  30. Ann-Marie N. says:

    this was a great post Jeff. Thanks for sharing. He gave up his childhood for all of us.

  31. I will surely miss Michael Jackson, he is really worthy of the name King of Pop and he is certainly one of the greatest musicians of all time.

  32. Annie says:

    Michael Jackson
    He passed too soon
    Those who took his mortality
    have lost their own
    Their hearts are Brick
    This is more than sick!
    This is another trick
    to teach society that he
    can be used and abused
    (called to slave rather than serve)
    They have no nerve!
    But-yes, he can!
    He can have a place for us all
    Who make This Place-This Planet better
    For he stood for wholeness
    He stood for innocence
    He stood for Choice.
    They have no voice!
    Michael’s silence is louder
    than life – by
    resting in us
    Telling us we are all okay
    We are all loved by God-Allah-Our Creator
    Who is greater
    Who brings strength
    Even when our last length
    Seems to unfold.
    Michael’s Silence
    Is Truth –
    A fountain of Youth
    Requesting for us to be kind –
    Be Respectful, don’t be forgetful
    of the real purpose in Life.
    Their ship is skinking!
    As our active thinking
    Learns as he – the info sponge
    who sought to apply
    all the why’s answered
    who sought to apply
    Peace as the Answer
    Despite confronting conflicts.
    They would sell him out
    They would sniff out his possessions
    And told Michael his: only concessions
    that are of worth, are what our Earth –
    Our World – our Universe gains;
    ‘Christianity’ remains
    and therefore he gains for his his soul.”
    Because they coveted his soul
    to mold imbalance
    and hence, constantly causing turmoil
    But his was a soul of Promise
    The soul that colored
    The soul that keeps what is his
    The soul that enjoys
    girls and boys
    playing in Innocence.
    They took! They are crooks!
    They don’t care – they don’t add
    They take
    They are Social Parasites
    Whose might grows
    As they know Michael
    And penetrate his life –
    in ways that emplored him to build Walls
    Just to take –
    to take his dignity
    To take his mind
    To take his simplicity
    And create unkind
    Michael lived in Truth
    Which was why his love for Youth
    Took priority
    He lived beyond Greed
    He freed the world to express
    with his own Best
    Yet they continued testing
    Messing with his mind
    Messing with his life
    Wanting what he has
    For they were nothing without “it”
    They were not gaining without “it”
    Now, we see they are nothing
    They never will be anything
    They, who have no dreams
    But create nightmares
    Create fear for those talents
    They are senseless
    They are not America’s Promise
    They are and always will be
    Let’s sing for Michael
    Let’s make Michael’s life
    a Victory
    Doing what he
    What he
    which is
    to Harmonize.
    He was always wise beyond his years
    He always faced Fear
    Our tears can either tear our souls
    or we can do what he would want
    and that is – to believe
    In our Being
    And that our Journey
    holds Meaning
    to both God
    and Man.

  33. Annie says:

    One more comment, besides the poem I sent. Has anyone ever wondered why Michael Jackson wasn’t considered mildly autistic? He showed so many of the signs of autism. Was it to just add more hype to the false stories about the guy – who, by all rights, should have been richer than even Sir Paul McCartney – and I do love his singing, too, no doubt! Michael was taken advantage of and why couldn’t there be people to prevent this? Had they just identified that he was autistic, things would have run much smoother, I would surmise. Maybe I am wrong, but he meant no harm to anyone and in fact, wanted everyone to be nice to eachother. I regret not trying to send him letters, but was so sure they would never end up hitting his eyes, that is why. My pain is felt for the Jackson family and my prayers are with them. – annie

  34. […] Jeff Chang talks about his music […]

  35. The Jester says:


    MJ was by no means autistic. But, he was diagnosed as schizophrenic as a young child, which would explain the behavior you pointed out.

    Also, its worth pointing out that the very first case of child molestation against MJ led him to take large amounts of pain killers and “anti anxiety medicine”, which he became slightly addicted to. The same medicines he was taking and was weened off from were the same medicines taken after his 2005 trial.

    A number of things I think is what let MJ go: the constant media slander, his rising debt, the shady people who surrounded him, the fact he signed for 50 tours while only meaning to sign for 10, addiction to pain medicine, the list could go on even longer; all these things led to the destruction of Michael. Now, he’s just a regular person, not some sort of god; but, I believe we all (and the ruthless media) forgot he was just a regular person, and proceeded to destroy him as if he wasn’t real (as they do everyone now).

    It’s sad; most of his fans and the black community turned their backs on him for his face disfigurement, or his skin color changes, or the molestation allegations. And now the very same media that hated Michael Jackson, told us to hate him, and tore him down is now the same media that has idolized him and has “recognizing his legacy” for the past week.

    I’m glad the internet is starting to take the place of the news stations as our source of information, as we all were so quick to be misled, misguided, and controlled by a media that only seeks to torture celebrities to make us feel better through some guilty schadenfraude technique, and is slowly denigrating our society. With the internet, ideas and opinions are having free reign without the need of major media giants.

    And its people like Jeff that make me excited to see a rise in this new media. Thank You.

  36. Rona says:

    Thanks Jeff, beautifully written piece. Michael was as much a product of our twisted celebrity-obsessed culture as of his childhood (or lack thereof). My sentiments were similar in a post i wrote on my blog. RIP MJ, we’ll always love you.

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