Hudlin Entertainment

Michael Jackson

Orson Wells’ rich, brilliant & ultimately doomed character Charles Foster Kane died, alone and unloved, in his California mansion. At the time of his passing he was a deformed, corrupt and far removed from the genius displayed in creating his mass media empire. In the aftermath of Michael Jackson’s I couldn’t help but think of ‘Kane..’ Michael’s Zanadu had been stripped from him a few years back, leaving him wandering from rental to rental home, such as the one he died in in Los Angeles yesterday.

Michael was prepping to try to recapture his once elevated status with 50 sold out shows at London’s massive O2 arena. But that was not to be. In fact I believe that the stress of preparing for that show, after his long performing layoff, played a role in his demise. With the music, videos and event tour that supported ‘Thriller’ Michael re-invented the art of the blockbuster album, creating an international stardom that endures. And, sadly, for the last twenty five years of his life Michael was in a losing battle with himself, trying to match that magical year even as the culture changed, the record industry imploded, and his personal demons ruined his reputation.

At several points in his life Michael revolutionized pop culture. He lead the first black teen group to cross racial lines. With Quincy Jones, he produced a trio of albums (Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad) that reinvented the rules for black artists musically and in terms of international appeal. The videos, grandiose, elaborate and full of wonderful dancing are still the gold standard for the merging of music & image. Along with Eddie Murphy, Bill Cosby, Oprah Winfrey, and so many other media legends, Michael made the ’80s a golden age for black pop culture.

I, like so many of you, grew up with Michael Jackson. With my mother, sister and family friends I attended the Jackson Five’s first Madison Square Garden show. Over the years I attended eight Jacksons/Michael Jackson shows and spend countless hours over the last forty years thinking about and, often writing about that man. In fact a book I did about him, The Michael Jackson Story, in 1984 jump started my career. It was first book and first exposure to the media machine that both celebrated, reported about and, ultimately, ripped him apart.

Its hilarious how one sided much of the immediate commentary about the man has been. Sinner or saint? More apt is artist and sinner. People want to simplify a truly complex life. We have to be sophisticated enough to acknowledge that greatness and a touch of evil dwelled in the man. I’ve always believed that transcendent art emanates from the purest, most evolved parts of our soul. But that highly spiritual achievement doesn’t absolve us of our daily misdeeds. To simply brand him a smooth criminal, as some have, or to overlook his tragic nature, as have others, is to deny his humanity. The meaning of Michael Jackson’s life — as a black man, a sexual being, a abused and abusing adult — will be interpreted to fit the prejudices of the speaker. His music — it speaks volumes.

Nelson George

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John Hope Franklin, Another Angle

Between 1936 and 1938 more than 2000 former slaves were interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  The following link is to excerpts from the narratives assembled from those interviews:
 
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/snvoices00.html
 
Only a heart the size of a mustard seed and encrusted with steel would be unmoved by those testimonies.
 
The eminent historian John Hope Franklin, who died on March 25, 2009 at age ninety-four, was not a part of the Federal Writers’ Project, but he experienced the fellowship of former slaves.  He also met Barack Obama, the first African American President of the United States!!
 
That his extended right hand touched the hands of former slaves as well as that of President Obama brings new meaning to the title of his celebrated 1947 book, From Slavery to Freedom.  His scholarship and life experiences should also remind us that American slavery isn’t too far from living memory.
 
Perhaps there should be a national effort to find and interview others who can remember conversations with former slaves.  There is probably no one else who, at eighty or ninety years of age, combines Professor Franklin’s scholarship, humanity and acuity of mind.  Even so, the fact that there are Americans alive today who met former slaves, yet lived to see a black man elected President, is powerful testimony to what is possible in our country.

David Evans

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