A few years ago, I was heartily bereaved, and I now believe that if something like that happens to you, you are never quite the same. This is no kind of emotional Top Trumps, with me claiming a win over someone who has never had that happen to them. If you haven't, I am honestly so glad for you. I just know that That Thing cuts through my life like a cheese wire, dividing it cleanly into How I Was Then and How I Am Now. And How I Am Now is so very terrified of That Thing happening again, it renders me a craven victim of superstition and karma-paranoia, who responds to jokes about the demise of the famous and eccentric not with brazen, anarchic laughter, but with a fearful bite of the lip or an anxious furrow of the forehead. How I Was Then hates this about How I Am Now, but How I Am Now has me in quite the aggressive half-Nelson, and How I Was Then is now too weak to fight back. What I'm basically saying is that, when it comes to macabre jokes, How I Am Now is Gripper Stebson, while How I Was Then is Walter The Softy.
Holy intertextuality, Batblog!
Not exactly, critical theory fans. I just wanted to write that.
Another consequence of That Thing is that I am now blindly over-understanding, and an ardent cutter of slack, in the case of anyone messed up and fairly odd, since that has been my default setting since It Happened. Terrible things have been written about Michael Jackson doing terrible things. I have no idea if they're true, and it's not in my job description to decide. But in the matter of his prodigious but wholly legal eccentricity, I'm not sure it's so wildly disproportionate to anyone else's. It's just that the rest of us are working to a slightly tighter budget. If you wanted a chimp, a theme park, your own sweet shop, and you could afford it, and no one was telling you no, you would be spartan indeed not to get Apes R Us straight on the phone.
Personally, I would have an owl sanctuary. I would spend millions on gardeners. I would have a fleet of ice-cream vans. I would probably dress as Katherine Hepburn most of the time, on the days when I wasn't being Henry VIII or Joan of Arc. I would own several robots. Sometimes when I am walking along the street, I pretend I am in a race with all the other pedestrian drones, and I hear BBC commentary in my head, rising to a frenzied pitch, as, after making up 30 metres, I draw level and pass an old lady. Were I loaded, and had I never lived a normal life or learnt that it was unorthodox and profligate, I would rent a stadium and some ringer athletes, and stage my own Olympics, at which I win every event, because I have paid everyone else to lose.
Everyone is just trying to keep the comfort in, and the badness out, in whatever ways they can. And it may seem as though the concept of dignity has had no place in a conversation about Michael Jackson for about 20 years, but the effects that were wrought upon his appearance were, I assume, merely an attempt to create his best version of Jacko, to hold back the march of ageing and decay, to show he was the boss, even if the rest of the world could see this was fallacy; even if the rest of the world was laughing. And that's really no different to any man who's ever bought a toupee, or any woman shoehorned into a dress that's a little bit too small. Everyone has a thing they do or wear because they're desperately clinging on, and because they think it's the thing that makes the difference, to the mystification of The World. You have your thing, and I have mine – we just don't realise that no one else gets it. And I don't think I want you to tell me.
And despite Michael Jackson's costly arsenal of cosmetic procedures and high-strength pain-relief, he was eventually betrayed by his exhausted, mortal heart, like millions of 50-year-old mortgage slaves and middle managers before and after him. And when you see Jermaine Jackson peering over the top of a stockade made of microphones, at the eye of a storm of flashbulbs and clattering cameras, he is just one man, emotionally broken, having to tell a large group of strangers that his brother died an hour ago.
My favourite thing I have read or heard today is an ex-colleague's Facebook status. You'll be unsurprised to learn it is not a joke. It was something like: 'I have danced more to Michael Jackson's records than to anyone else's, and so have my kids.'
[Shit, even I am pondering the wisdom of writing 'Michael Jackson' and 'kids' in the same sentence. Maybe How I Was Then is not entirely a lost cause.]