Strawberry Fields 8x10 jpg copy

To be honest, I never cared much for Michael Jackson. My era of keen pop interest was back in the 1960s, good ole rock’n roll. I had no idols. Some voices spoke more directly to me than others, one being John Lennon and The Beatles.

Though he looked like an intellectual, John Lennon was solidly an artist and entertainer. He was a lousy student and dropped out of school. He had a gift for doodling; maybe he learned something in art school. Lennon and the Beatles drove the girls wild. I remember the Ed Sullivan show when the Beatles first came to America. They were the mop tops, and the girls shook their heads right off their bodies.

All the singer idols seem to that that visceral power, that animal magnetism. Slender Frankie Boy after World War II, Elvis the Pelvis, sweaty Englebert Humperdink, Michael Jackson, King of Pop. What was Michael Jackson’s appeal? This crotch-grabbing, shrieking android?

Michael Jackson was energy, or was the focal point or transmission node of vast cultural charges as he went through his onstage routine, making sharp James Brown moves with his dancers like a martinet leading a crack drill team: a quick spin, pelvic thrust, and the moon walk, with fireworks going off all around. Viewed from a distance, he seemed remote, alien, which he joked about in public. He was soft-spoken, unquestionably generous and kind, enigmatic behind heavy shades.

Elvis was a southern white boy that smoked of black sexuality. In cape and rhinestones he was identifiably a king. He was a man. Michael Jackson was a black kid from the Midwest who, in his success became white, as literally as he could, and slept with prepubescent white boys innocent as Peter Pan at his Neverland Ranch, except that we all knew that firkytoodling was going on in the bedroom.

A contemporary of Madonna, Michael Jackson made costumes an important feature of his act. Michael looked more like a band leader or prince of some fantasy kingdom than a soldier in his quasi-military outfits. Maybe he secretly yearned to perform in “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” He performed at U.S. military bases. Elvis actually served in the Army. Lennon protested the Vietnam War.

John Lennon came from a broken home and lived a roller coaster life, with violence in it as well the peace message the age committed him to. He seemed to have found moments of peace with Yoko Ono. It was during his marriage to Yoko Ono that JL produced several of his biggest hits: “Give Peace a Chance” and “Imagine.”

Lennon’s artistic influences were heavily literary. The English poet and comedian Spike Milligan was a big influence. Jackson’s mentors were performers, including the fore-mentioned James Brown. Jackson was a dancer, song writer, business man. . When you think of Lennon, you think of the long hair and wire rim spectacles, seldom his clothes. Lennon wrote, played guitar and did “bed-ins” with his artist wife, in the age of happenings.

Michel Jackson is noted in the Guinness Book of World Records as The Most Successful Entertainer of All Time. His album “Thriller” sold 45 million copies, all-time record. You can’t beat that. In 2002, the BBC conducted a poll to choose the 100 greatest Britons of all time—John came in 8th. Not bad, considering the competition included real people like Winston Churchill, who came in first. Princess Diana came in third, ahead of Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare and Sir Isaac Newton. One might ask: What is the meaning of greatness?

The current world wide outpouring of grief and affection at the sudden death of Michael Jackson is reminiscent of similar outpourings at the death of Princess Di. I remember when the news came in on TV of Diana’s death in a traffic accident late Friday night my time. It went on and on for weeks, exhausting the flower sellers of Britain.

It was the quizzical, poetic side of John Lennon that appealed to me. He belonged to a more literate time when thought had not quite been blown away by circus and sheer voltaic energy. It seems to me that you can enjoy a video of Michael Jackson and not clearly understand the words. I can’t imagine listening to a Lennon song and enjoying it without catching the lyrics.

Michael Jackson outlived John Lennon by 10 years. Jackson seemed to have ceased aging after he had his face reconstructed. Michael, like Elvis, died of cardiac arrest. Lennon was shot to death on the night of December 8, 1980 by Mark David Chapman outside his residence in New York City. Every year on that date New Yorkers hold a vigil outside the building where he lived. Across the street is a small park with an “Imagine” emblem in black and white tiles on the earth.

Super stars like that don’t really die anymore. They just stop making albums.

Poem, image, and artwork by Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.