Abstract: Michael Joseph Jackson was a ritual healer whose charismatic presence magnetized and unified millions of souls for good through his global performances. In this opinion piece academic and artist, Constance Pierce, discusses the myriad connections between Michael Jackson, J.D. Salinger and the notion of privacy.
Constance Pierce is a visual artist especially interested in the import of Jackson’s global influence in the area of visual culture. She has exhibited regionally, nationally, and in Europe and Japan. She is Associate Professor of Fine Art at St. Bonaventure University (NY). Her notable works include, ‘The Dance: Epiphany and Loss (Watercolor Series)’, ‘Will You Be There (Drawing Series)‘ and ‘RUACH HAKODESH: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson‘.
Pierce, Constance. “Privacy (Michael Jackson and J.D. Salinger).” The Journal of Michael Jackson Academic Studies. Published electronically 22/7/14. https://michaeljacksonstudies.org/constance-pierce-privacy/. Originally published on Academia.edu here: https://www.academia.edu/6097165/PRIVACY_Michael_Jackson_and_J.D._Salinger_essay_by_Constance_Pierce_. Subsequently published on JoeVogel.net here: http://www.joevogel.net/privacy-michael-jackson-and-j-d-salinger.
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Privacy (Michael Jackson and J.D. Salinger)
By Constance Pierce
Michael Joseph Jackson was a ritual healer whose charismatic presence magnetized and unified millions of souls for good through his global performances. Yet he also was, and still is, an intensely polarizing presence. An immense amount of shadow material was projected upon him by a myopic culture. As an artist, he became skilled at bearing this shadow, aesthetically processing it, and thrusting it back to us (as maligned artists often do) as art.
Another enigmatic genius of twentieth century culture also left the stage in 2009. He was 91, and unlike Michael, died of natural causes. He had escaped his own meteoric rise to fame nearly a half century ago, seeking out a small enclave of anonymity where he fiercely protected his privacy against all odds. When approached about doing his autobiography, J. D. Salinger reportedly responded by saying he had borne all of the exploitation and loss of privacy he could possibly bear in one lifetime. Michael had expressed similar sentiments in the prescient lyrics of “Privacy” on his final album ironically titled “Invincible.”
Like Salinger, Michael seemed to make his own bid to abandon his fame during the last decade. In the end, though, that seductive spotlight switched on one more time and he heroically (meant with mythic import) leapt into that light … and to his own death.
I wish that he had sought, as Salinger did, a place of stubborn anonymity so that he might have enjoyed several decades of personal and artistic privacy. I can so easily conjure an image of Michael finally at ease in his majestic personal library, the way it was evocatively photographed for the pages of “Architectural Digest.”
During his lifetime, he collected more then twenty thousand books for this library, with a leaning toward art, literature and history. Some of his greatest inspirations were the poetry of Emerson and Wordsworth, and the sculpture of Michelangelo. As mentioned by so many already, Michael was a voracious reader. One of his very last secret late night outings was to an L.A. bookstore.
I also imagine him spending a good part of his future engaging in the production of his classical compositions. At the time of his death he was collaborating with renowned American conductor David Frank to arrange and produce these orchestral pieces with a major symphony in London in 2010. Although, surprising to some, Michael listened to classical music all of his life, and had often expressed that his favorite composers of all time were Tchaikovsky, Debussy and Copeland.
A curator associated with the Louvre recounted Michael bringing his children to visit the renowned Paris museum. The curator described him as being so deeply moved by his favorite works of art, that he was brought to tears in front them.
As a painter and sketchbook artist himself, and an avid collector of art, there were reports that Michael – after retiring from the stage – was planning to realize a life long dream. Months before his death, as the story goes, his daughter was encouraging him to commence serious study in art history through the educational wing of one of the renowned New York fine art institutes.
There were also several reports that we would see Michael involved in film directing, producing, and acting in future years. He had already been engaged in a film project depicting the last days of one of his favorite writers, Edgar Allen Poe, where he had planned to play the lead role himself. There were so many avenues of his rich creative life that remained ahead of him.
Above all though, I envision him growing older while relishing the richness of thousands of days with his three children who were everything to him.
However, Michael desired to offer a last serious retrospective of his finest work through a series of live concerts in London prophetically entitled “This Is It.” His decision to engage in such an ambitious project at the age of fifty was, in large part, for his children. They were born in recent years, and had never seen him perform live before. In the end he had said “It’s all for love…” He died, at the careless hands of another, amidst his final act of creation.
According to New York Times writer Charles McGrath, J.D. Salinger once told his publisher he was “good and sick” of seeing his photograph on the dust jacket of “Catcher in the Rye” and he demanded that it be removed. He reportedly ordered his agent to burn his fan mail. Maybe, Salinger was furiously attempting to exorcise the “phonies” (in the vernacular of his archetypal character, Holden Caulfield) from his life. Maybe, for the profoundly celebrated, the price of true privacy demands such acts of self-defense against brutal public invasion.
The other night I had a dream. In it I could see J.D. Salinger and Michael Jackson sitting together. It looked to me like they had been up all night; sometimes companioning each other’s long silences, and at other times quietly discussing life … and death … and fatherhood … and art … and also the hauntingly elusive longing they had both shared for privacy.
In my dream, I notice that they are not conversing over a late night latte at a celestial Starbucks. Instead, I clearly discern them to be sitting shoulder-to- shoulder, just like the “Nighthawks,” in that nearly empty iconic Edward Hopper diner. Finally, they had each taken leave of the exquisite anguish of their fame. Outside the diner, surrounding them, I now see the vastness of a clear dark night sky in Paradise. The stars have come out. And, as Dante once wrote after taking leave of the Inferno, “Let poetry rise, again.”
Constance Pierce is a visual artist especially interested in the import of Jackson’s global influence in the area of visual culture. She has exhibited regionally, nationally, and in Europe and Japan. She is Associate Professor of Fine Art at St. Bonaventure University (NY). Her notable works include, ‘The Dance: Epiphany and Loss (Watercolor Series)’, ‘Will You Be There (Drawing Series)‘ and ‘RUACH HAKODESH: The Epiphanic and Cosmic Nature of Imagination in the Art of Michael Jackson‘. Find out more about Constance here.
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