Published in The Times, August 28th 2009
I’ll say Michael Jackson was precocious. I was 21 before I stuck a poster up on my college door saying “No!” to America’s Vietnam war. The singer managed the equivalent at only 13 when some of his co-evals would still be playing with Lego.
This stick-insect cartoon not only reveals a political consciousness in advance of his years but an appreciation of the sheer intensity of the bombing by the B52s as they defoliated the landscape aided and abetted by machine guns and helicopters. Of course we could simply give Michael an A-starred for being good at watching tv but that would be to overlook the most significant addition to his composition.
Dominating the foreground is a peacemaker, depicted as an angel or a guerrilla but probably the King of Pop himself, in redeemer pose, telling the world he’s here to save it. Lennon would write ‘Imagine’ only four years later calling for an end to war. But even the bombastic Beatle, also an adept draughtsman, never purported to be the Messiah. Liverpool versus Los Angeles; grounded feet versus solipsism from Hollywood.
The second quick outline portrait of a cross between an underage matelot and a quattrocento choirboy focuses on the eyes – again redolent of Jacko’s own – in a pose that practitioners of Neuro-Linguistic Programming would instantly recognise as auditory recall, a “remembered sound”.
Is boyhood, then, as conceived by this Peter Pan of popular culture, to be understood as the age when we first grasp the power of music to capture us in space and time and abolish the difference between the two? Is the boy recalling – possibly – some eternal hymn to innocence, or even the Pied Piper’s pipes? It is striking to know that the performer who never wished to grow up demanded narcotics and anaesthetics to keep his mind in a state of perpetual childlike fantasy.
Proust he wasn’t. But nostalgia is his swain song.
Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – www.bacp.co.uk