Columnist: Enough Already About Jackson
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
We've heard from a number of voices celebrating Michael Jackson's talent and impact on the culture, now a slightly different perspective from columnist and music and culture Stanley Crouch. In a column in last week's Daily News, Crouch writes that Jackson was, quote, "a man who became more a production myth than a human entertainer." And Stanley Crouch joins us now from New York. Welcome, thank you for joining us.
Mr. STANLEY CROUCH (Columnist, Daily News): Oh, thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Let me read a couple of lines from your piece. You wrote: Because overblown entertainment has come to replace deep feeling or spiritual recognition and satisfaction, a man like Jackson became a product of every technological trick available to the recording and video industries.
Let me ask you: Do you think that Michael Jackson was untalented?
Mr. CROUCH: No. Do I think he was as talented as people are claiming that he was? No. Was he a great singer? No. Was he a great dancer? He was a great rhythm and blues dancer, but as one guy pointed out to me, you couldn't compare him to somebody like Sammy Davis, Jr., who was really a great dancer. That's just how that goes.
MARTIN: You think he was over-praised?
Mr. CROUCH: Well, but that's not his fault. The industry exists to overstate the value of the individuals it makes its money off of. So if you and I get parts in a movie that's going to make a lot of money or is thought to be, then we will be described perhaps as the two greatest actors of the last half-century. That's all that is. That doesn't have anything to do with us. That has to do with a salable product, and Michael Jackson was the biggest and best product that they had in the music industry for a long time.
MARTIN: But do you think he was, at the end of the day, an artist or an entertainer?
Mr. CROUCH: I think he was an entertainer. I don't think he was an artist because his material doesn't contain much human understanding or human value beyond an adolescent vision of life, you know, like, which is like, we would all be better if people would just treat each other right. Well, you know, that's nice, but that doesn't tell you much of anything.
MARTIN: In fact, you make some interesting comments in this column about that search for a perpetual childhood or adolescence. It sounds like you have some sympathy for him as an individual, as a, you know, person who spend his entire life in his bubble of fame.
Mr. CROUCH: Well, the thing is, I don't think anyone who has any awareness of the actual life that Michael Jackson lived could not be very sympathetic to him because he didn't have a childhood. He was separated from life by bodyguards and limousines and a lot of things, and he missed a lot of just basic experiences that most people have, which tend to mature them. He didn't have those experiences. And so I, you know, I felt bad for him as a guy.
When he - when I saw him on that special that came out in 2003, talking about how he had lived from when he was about five, I felt kind of bad for him, but that still doesn't make him an artist. He still was just an entertainer.
MARTIN: Do you think that there's a larger point to his kind of search for perpetual youth? Because there are those who look at him as a poster child for, depending on your point of view, either a person who was so filled with dislike for his blackness that he had a desire to be anything but that, and there are others who see him as a poster child for a desire for some racial shape-shifting.
Mr. CROUCH: I think if there was a race he would have preferred to be a member of, it's the race of people, or it's the race of cartoon figures that appear in Walt Disney's films. And I think that he wanted to look - from what I can tell, he looked very much like the Walt Disney version of Peter Pan. And he even said in the 2003 documentary that when the guy asked him why did he name his place Neverland, he said because I am Peter Pan. So there you go.
MARTIN: You wrote in the piece that Jackson became, quote, "the greatest individual success in a hollow industry shaped by the gleaming technological manipulation that swallowed the heart of the world like a plastic shark covered with glued-on glitter." Those are some tough words. At the end of the day, many people are saying that there's never going to be another individual star like him again. From your perspective, is that perhaps a good thing?
Mr. CROUCH: Well, first thing is that the world we live in, for anybody to say that there will never be X is - that's foolish. We don't know. Now we're in a post-recording-industry period, and so the technology of the moment has not been appropriated by corporate types yet to the extent that it would take to make another Michael Jackson. But whomever the next person is, if there is a next person, will not become who he becomes or she becomes in the way Michael Jackson became what he became.
MARTIN: Stanley Crouch is a writer, a music and culture critic. If you want to read the piece we're talking about, it appeared last week in the New York Daily News, and we'll have a link on our Web site. That's the TELL ME MORE page at npr.org. Stanley Crouch, thank you.
Mr. CROUCH: Thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: We need to take another short break, but before we do, here's another performance from yesterday's memorial, recording artist and longtime Jackson friend Stevie Wonder. He's singing "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer.
(Soundbite of memorial service)
Mr. STEVIE WONDER (Musician): We can't help but love you forever, Michael.
(Soundbite of song, "I Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer")
Mr. WONDER: (Singing) I never dreamed you'd leave in summer. I thought you would go then come back home. I thought the cold would leave by summer, but my quiet nights will be spent alone.
You said you would be the life in autumn, said you'd be the one to lead the way. No, I never dreamed you'd leave in summer, but now I find my love has gone away. Michael, why didn't you stay?
MARTIN: Please stay with us on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.
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