Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson, Androgyn

I grieve with the family of Michael Jackson and his world-wide audience.

"As he grew more famous, Jackson began altering his own appearance, going further into an image that appeared to be androgynous, beyond racial categorization and the bounds of age," writes Ann Powers of the Los Angeles Times in the best cultural analysis of his life I have read.

In addition to the joy of music and dance he shared with the world, Michael broke some of the tightest cords strangling our culture: gender and race. What a gift to us all.

My daughter Roz kept a sticker on her bedroom door for many years: "Gender here is anyone's guess."

Michael's choices contributed to the cultural changes behind that message. He admired Diana Ross and chose to adopt some of the beauty and glitter that she represented.

The causes of his death? Two words say it all: Oxycontin and Demerol.

Note on July 29: One more word needed is needed... Propofol.

Two years ago, five blocks from my house, a schoolmate of one of my daughters died of an Oxycontin overdose.

Drug addiction can be to prescription drugs as well as to those that are illegal. Oxycontin is only a step away from morphine, which slows the heartbeat and breathing.

Today Deepak Chopra is reporting that Michael asked him to write a prescription for a narcotic; Chopra urged him to seek other means to alleviate physical pain.

Did Michael ever try going into a rehabilitation center for his addiction? He lived just a few minutes from Wonderland Center on Mulholland Drive, where one of my daughters was successfully treated.

Perhaps his fame prevented him from taking this course.

I grieve because he is like a little brother to me, ten years younger. When I first saw the Jackson Five on television, he was a little kid. I watched him grow up.

A few weeks ago my daughter Marie spent three days in the Intensive Care Unit on the seventh floor of Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA, where Michael died. I walked up and down those halls where his family faced the worst news two days ago.

I remember being in the countryside of Italy in 1980, trying to be friendly with some children I met there.

They spoke no English and I no Italian, but the kids came up with two words I understood:

"Michael Jackson!"

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