The M.J. Comeback We’ll Never See

Slate's Culture Blog
June 25 2009 8:04 PM

The M.J. Comeback We’ll Never See

As saddened as I am by Michael Jackson's death , I'm equally shocked that it didn't happen sooner. A few years back when I covered M.J.'s trial and sat a few feet from him on a daily basis, I found myself constantly marveling at his frailty. Jackson wore his suits tailored tight, with fitted jackets and stovepipe trousers, yet still the fabric billowed around his bird-boned frame. He was always limping down the courtroom aisle, clutching at his ribs, taking shallow breaths. He showed up late to court one day looking on the verge of a violent retching attack. The consensus within the trial's press corps held that Jackson spent his days in a haze of Jesus juice .

Now that he's gone, obsessive Jackson watchers will wonder what hidden truths might at last emerge. Some theorized that Jackson had been paying off his ex-wife Debbie Rowe and perhaps others in an effort to conceal the actual biological provenance of his children. Will anyone come forward now and clear up the origins of Prince, Paris, and little Blanket?

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Jackson's many creditors will no doubt lament the death of his ability to tour and to rack up new revenue. They'll squabble over his valuable song catalogs and his less valuable tacky home furnishings.

And then there are the rest of Michael's fans, the millions who loved the music but were unsure what to think of the man. I've always been agnostic on the question of Michael's guilt or innocence and felt that he was, at heart, an 8-year-old boy with the equivalent excitability and moral sophistication. And so I'm mainly sad that the gloved one won't get a chance to bask in his inevitable cultural reappreciation. M.J. was due, somewhere down the line, for a Johnny Cash-style re-emergence. An Elvis-in-black-leather moment. It would have been tinged, of course, with the lingering memory of M.J.'s alleged transgressions. But never underestimate people's thirst for a comeback. Michael would have lit up like a small child at the opportunity to make one more moonwalk across the world's stage.

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

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