Jermaine Jackson sings what Brooke Shields called Michael Jackson's favorite song: Smile, written by Charlie Chaplin
As a Chaplin fan, I couldn't help posting this. But I have also been deeply moved by Jackson's death--after years of seeing the increasingly erratic behavior and unnecessary cosmetic surgery, his death is a reminder of what incredible talent he had. I was only 5 or 6 years old when Thriller was released, and not interested in music at all at the time, but this was a different sort of phenomenon. Listening to his music again today is a revelation, stripping away all the negative press and accusations to reveal something far too extraordinary to ignore.
If you have any doubts or lingering hostility toward Jackson, watch the clips from the making of the Thriller video where he appears with a Mickey Mouse sweater and a huge smile, clearly loving every beautifully creative moment of the experience. Perhaps that was just hiding deeper insecurities that would be more clearly revealed and enhanced by years of media scrutiny. But if you were young in the early 1980s, I defy you to listen to this music or watch the videos and not remember a time when this beautiful, extraordinary young man stole our hearts.
It is fitting that Jackson loved Chaplin's song, as the two have much in common. Both came from quite modest working-class backgrounds looked down upon by society at large--African-American in Jackson's case, Cockney in Chaplin's. Both became performers at a young age, displaying an innate ability to entertain people on the stage, later trailblazing new media and becoming the greatest international stars of their eras. After their meteoric rise, both were dogged by scandal and saw their popularity drastically decline as a result, with many calling for legal action against them.
Those not familiar with Chaplin's life will probably scratch their head in wonder at what all this could have been about, and while Chaplin was a deeply flawed individual, there is no question that the campaign against him was hysterical, short sighted, and utterly reactionary. It is a shame that it took exile and a changed political climate for Chaplin to win the hearts of American movie-goers again, but at least he was able to live a long life with his family while attitudes change.
Jackson has not been nearly so lucky, succumbing to the pressure of success with a drug addiction that appears to have killed him. He will not live to see the warm acceptance that might have been bestowed upon him late in life, nor the changing tone from a press that has dogged him mercilessly for decades. The vultures that devoured and destroyed him will likely be none the more introspective about their future victims, but the rest of us will at least have the privilege of enjoying his work for the rest of our lives.