Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, Ten Punching Bags (Last Supper), 1985-1986 (detail)
Greg Tate's piece in the Voice, The Man In Our Mirror, will be the best thing you read about Michael Jackson's death today. In fact, this will probably be the best thing you ever read about Michael Jackson, period. The breathtakingly excellent Tate pulls together Jeff Mills, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Marky Mark getting his face punched in, and the socio-economics of Gary, Indiana to write the most clear-eyed and least deifying picture of Jackson and what his death means. This shit is fucked up and complicated, and Tate don't mind. You can go listen to "Who Loving You" or that acappella version of "I'll Be There" again. That's cool. But I'm totally getting out Burnt Sugar's Depends On What You Know trilogy. Because, y'know, it kind of does.
"The unfortunate blessing of his departure is that we can now all go back to loving him as we first found him, without shame, despair, or complication. "Which Michael do you want back?" is the other real question of the hour: Over the years, we've seen him variously as our Hamlet, our Superman, our Peter Pan, our Icarus, our Fred Astaire, our Marcel Marceau, our Houdini, our Charlie Chaplin, our Scarecrow, our Peter Parker and Black Spider-Man, our Ziggy Stardust and Thin White Duke, our Little Richard redux, our Alien vs. Predator, our Elephant Man, our Great Gatsby, our Lon Chaney, our Ol' Blue Eyes, our Elvis, our Frankenstein, our ET, our Mystique, our Dark Phoenix."
But also . . .
"As a people, we have become past-masters of devising strategies for erasing the erasure. Dreaming up what's still the most sublime visual representation of this process is what makes Jean-Michel Basquiat's work not just ingenious, but righteous and profound. His dreaming up the most self-flagellating erasure of self to stymie the erasure is what makes Michael Jackson's story so numbing, so macabre, so absurdly Stephen King."
And yeah. If you were wondering. Jesus is underneath that crown above. While it's shinier and less truthful than Tate's brutal, beautiful, and weirdly loving final paragraph, the parable at the end of the film Basquiat is too replete with echoes for me not to post it. So, here you go.