REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
Fresh, allegation-free perspectives on Jackson's life provided one of the year's best books: The Resistible Demise Of Michael Jackson is a collection of essays edited by Mark Fisher, who reckons "only Elvis managed to insinuate himself into practically every living being's body and dreams to the same degree that Jackson did." ... Tom Ewing... posits that much of the singer's later work "sounds like multiple drafts of the same song, a crushed and frightened attempt by a desperate man to get the pain out". With no jokes about Bubbles, and only sadness that he ended up with a "permanent Pierrot-grimace sneer", this is a fine attempt to reclaim Jackson's reputation from the tabloids. ~ Bob Stanley, The Times
The new anthology of reflections on Jackson's life and work put together by Mark Fisher makes a hugely worthwhile counterweight to the many rush-released cash-in titles published in the indecent aftermath of his death. ~ http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2009
Mark Fisher assembles a cast of global music critics who in turn examine the person and the spectacle of the King of Pop, as seen through multiple lenses. These perspectives coupled with detailed historic connections enable us to see Jackson as a problematic symptom of his time. ~ Joe Atkins, San Francisco Book Review and Sacremento Book Review
If you have never bought a book about Michael Jackson, have a go with this: The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson is a thoroughly readable collection of pop-cultural essays, which looks at Jackson's career from political, cultural criticism, pop history or urbanistic points of view (to name just to be a few), in a call to look at Jackson without falling into the pattern of "unthinking tribute" or "gossiping character assassination" .
The Brecht-reference in the title is entirely appropriate: It's about Jackson's ascent to the status of King of Pop ... as well as his public dismantling a tragic freak accident rather than products or natural phenomena treat it as processes that are linked in many ways parallel to the cultural and political developments. The phenomenal success of Thriller can perhaps be classified in many respects a classic example of a "black swan", that is - according to Nassim Taleb - an unpredictable event with far-reaching consequences for which there are only post factum adequate explanations....
Mark Fisher, who has edited the book, writes one of the most interesting outposts of left Bloggentsia with his blog k-punk. (His own manifesto Capitalist Realism has also just appeared, but I had no time to read it.) The contributors are an eclectic but thoroughly representative collection of current pop theoretician positions, while Fisher took into account both the generation that Jackson's breakthrough, directly or learned, as well as younger writers who have been born into the kingdom of Pop. (Unfortunately, Geeta Dayal is the only a female voice here.)
Several contributors are themselves a presence with blogs and some of the texts were there in one form or another has already appeared immediately after Mr. Jackson's death, for example, Owen Hatherleys portrait of the Stalinists in Jackson or Evan Calder Williams' balance aesthetics with the metaphysics of Captain Eo of NGOs. That this immediacy and spontaneity of the reflex comes into its own as well as the theoretical and thematic backgrounds, is one of the strengths of this book. ~ , http://www.clausmoser.com/
A satisfying surfeit of intelligent observation; warm, funny and provocative writing; and lack of prurience in this new Zer0 Books tome. 'Shamone' says Jonny Mugwump, our many teeted lizard overlord.
A truly startling comeback.
No, not Michael Jackson, the subject of this collection of newly-commissioned essays, but Ian Penman. However, more of that later.
Zer0 books (founded by the charismatic Tariq Goddard) represent a tangible (as in physical) re-engagement with culture and thought. Positioning themselves beyond the â€˜striplit mallsâ€™ of mass-media and the â€˜neurotically bureaucratic halls of the academyâ€™, there is a genuine punk-like feel to their enterprise - Zer0 FEELS like an independent record label. Utilising an understated but immediately recognisable aesthetic at frighteningly reasonable prices (you could pretty much pick up their entire back catalogue on Amazon for less than Â£40) they have already published a number of works in their short existence (about a year or something) none of which have been less than fascinating. Pulling together younger writers who have been carving out their own singular niches on the internet (Nina Power, Owen Hatherley and Dominic Fox all had excellent works published in 2009) alongside print veterans like David Stubbs and the aforementioned Penman (who has two books coming out this year), Zer0 pull from a multitude of overground, underground and/or ignored corners, tapping into a vein of insight that marries depth with accessibility without sacrificing either.
Collated and edited by Mark (K-Punk) Fisher (who has just published Capitalist Realism and has a further collection due this year), The Resistible Demise of Michael Jackson (and what a title that is) triumphantly justifies every claim they make for themselves. In concept alone itâ€™s perfect - 24 refractions, reflections and collisions with (arguably - although there is only one other contender) the greatest pop cultural phenomenon the world has ever known: an inquiry that covers the Moonwalk (backslide) to Stalin, from Jacksonâ€™s relationship with India to Jacksonâ€™s embodiment of the British experience of pop (and therefore of culture as a whole). Some of these pieces turn brevity into poetry (in 5 pages Alex Williams leaps quite logically from Kant and Lyotard via the morgue to Neverland, Inland Empire and Bataille, Bambi and The Sun) whilst others offer descriptions of Jacksonâ€™s greatest moments that are so exquisite that youâ€™ll be playing them before the sentence is through (Fisher himself especially transcendent on 'Donâ€™t Stop â€˜Til You Get Enough' and 'Billie Jean'). Oh and Steven Shaviro takes Greil Marcus severely to task for several decades of dodgy white hipsterism which is something that has been at the back of my mind for a long time.
Along the way you become aware that despite containing the aforementioned BJ and 'Human Nature' (a song that brings me out in goosebumps just thinking about it) Thriller is not THAT great, that Jackson is actually beyond disturbing in his behaviour around women in the post-Bad videos and that Norm from Cheers is a big Husker Du fan (thank you David Stubbs).
Because of the ludicrously high calibre of writing within (especially considering that Jackson has only just squeak-grunted off the planet he tried to save), the potential danger of cross-over (it suddenly dawns of course that Michael Jacksonâ€™s recorded legacy is a very small one) actually becomes one of the bookâ€™s strengths. There are so many different readings, assessments and interpretations of 'Earth Song' for instance that you briefly become convinced that itâ€™s a truly fascinating piece of art instead of the work of a madman (although naturally those two things hardly need be exclusive).
Also, I for one, love to read writing about dancing and I am entirely ecstatic about Costelloâ€™s misfired dancing about architecture quip - what could be more fun than dancing about architecture? And boy could that man (boy) dance (although Joshua Clover rightly points out that Janet actually had the edge and in fact I would offer that she is also the more musically interesting of the two in the long term).
But in a book that is already stuffed with ideas, two pieces are pieces of art by themselves. In 'True Enough: Michael in Fifty Shards' Chris Roberts (having had the honour of being commissioned to write a book about Jackson the day after he died and having said book being published 3 weeks later) embarks on a journey through Jacksonâ€™s life that can best be described as Citizen Kane remixed by Walt Disney. '...Shards' is a darkly ebullient exploding rainbow. A desperate cartoon that seems to perfectly capture the insanity of Jacksonâ€™s life even though we have no fucking idea WHAT his life was like. But somehow, Roberts DOES. We have Michael searching for the elixir of eternal youth. We have Michael finding the Hollywood celebrity mother he needs in Diana Ross first then Elizabeth Taylor second. There are celebrity dalliances.
â€˜â€œHey Mikey,â€ says Lisa-Marie Presley. â€œI had an unorthodox youth and know all about massive head-stewing fame. You had an unorthodox youth and know all about massive head-stewing fame. We have so much in common. And I donâ€™t need your money. Wanna fuck?â€â€™
The penultimate 'Shard 49' is off-world brilliance with Michael occupying every celebrity corpse of the last 100 years. Itâ€™s like an undiscovered chapter of Atrocity Exhibition. It really is pretty damn good.
But Fisher has one more surprise left, a comeback worthy of the King himself (itâ€™s hardly the last piece by accident).
'Notes towards the Ritual Exorcism of a Dead King' is the first thing Ian Penman has published for a very long time and I use the word "thing" deliberately as itâ€™s hard to define just what it actually is. Starting with a party, sat with some teenagers drinking Malibu, Penman tries to get a reaction on the news of Jacksonâ€™s death, invokes Faust (â€˜Thereâ€™s no â€œretiringâ€ on contracts like these!â€™) collides with the phenomena of the megastar and enters into some dark chaotic war with culture, with the media, practically with himself, collapsing the form of the essay at points as if possessed by Artaud whilst at the same time retaining a surgeon-like precision of pop-savvy:
â€˜(The Thriller video - if thereâ€™s a notable oddity, watching it now, I would say itâ€™s how serious it feels - if that makes any sense.)â€™
'Notes towards the Ritual Exorcism of a Dead King' however, like its subject matter, is permanently on the verge of profound disintegration. Turn the page and,
â€œIt-donâ€™t- matter-if-youâ€™re: black-or-white.
It donâ€™t MATTER
It isnâ€™t matter
I am not matter
I am neither black nor white, I am black and white, black AS white, sometimes black sometimes white, sometimes beyond white...â€
This is the essay as voodoo ritual (exorcism), as spell. It is genuinely strange and at times, more than a little disturbing.
Itâ€™s funny, poignant, deadly serious and dangerous. When Penman gets on the good foot he is entirely untouchable but this represents a new shamanic high. It also justifies the entire Zer0 project - outside of the academy and outside of the tabloids, writing about culture can be so much more than just CRITICISM - way beyond good or bad (black or white). Because you could argue that Ballard was a critic. And Artaud. And Nietzsche. To really engage with culture is to collide with it and out of that wreckage poetry is born...
So this is an extraordinary culmination in an anthology full of exceedingly fine writing about a subject who (who exactly?) will forever remain a fascinating, grotesque and entirely ungraspable mystery. Jacksonâ€™s story, despite his own desperate machinations, is also one eerily devoid of magic - full of desperation, pain and a portal to the crushing rise of postmodern media overload. But itâ€™s also absolutely essential to remember just why all this fuss, why all this inquiry, why the fascination and none of the contributors ever lose sight of those few magic moments because somewhere in his absolute mess of an existence, Michael Jackson also captured some of the most incredibly pure and joyous moments ever EVER to be found in popular music, especially (but not exclusively) on Off The Wall and The Jacksonsâ€™ Triumph - music that is literally soaked in some kind of joy and that somehow managed to infatuate an entire planet and despite everything, despite the horrific and quite insane and warped reaction to his demise, well thatâ€™s something that can never be ignored. ~ The Quietus