Rivkah Writes…

June 28, 2009

Thrill Seeker

Growing up, I never paid much attention to Michael Jackson, although we were practically contemporaries. I always enjoyed his music – could anyone not move irrepressibly to the rhythm of his songs? – yet the paraphernalia of his idiosyncrasies never occupied center stage of my mind. I was too busy dealing with my own burgeoning angst, seeking an elusive perfection – in appearance, in accomplishments – that dog me to this day. Watching the retrospectives of the last few days, though, including videos of the hits I had (believe it or not) never seen before, I am struck by the fact that in our pursuit of perfection, Michael and I ran on parallel trajectories. The difference is, I’m still in hot pursuit, while Michael’s run out of time. And before anyone gets bent out of shape, of course I’m not putting myself in the same category as this musical legend. It’s not my talent I’m equating with Michael’s, just his thrill-seeking striving for perfection.

For some people, myself included, no joy comes close to that thrill of accomplishment. And that’s all well and good. The problem is not excellence per se, but the pursuit of excellence, which becomes a curse in and of itself. Like many tormented perfectionists, Michael was never content to rest on his laurels, to take a step back, to simply enjoy his accomplishments, because there was always another barrier to conquer, another goal to attain, another “first” to dream up, choreograph, and perform. But what’s a superstar to do once he’s created the best selling album of all time, conquered racial and cultural boundaries, used the cultural signifiers of his day to produce cutting edge iconography and videography, raised tens of millions of dollars for Africa, ripped his shirt, given back, and given his all, over and over again? The burden must have been enormous, unimaginable. And so by the time Michael was in his 30s, he had scaled the summit of his innovative powers and reached the dark side.

Despite his crotch grabbing, hip thrusting, chin jutting postures, Michael was clearly confused about his sexuality. Watch his video for “The Way You Make Me Feel.”*  See how he circles his female prey, hurls his desire at her like a challenge, yet neither touches nor dances with the supposed girl of his dreams. Never fully gown up, Michael took up the Peter Pan persona in earnest, turning his home into a theme park, and playing dubious games with children that had the media up in arms. And, as he slowly transformed himself through layers of surgical artifice, the grotesque result seemed to parody the songs that had brought him fame. Here was the “Man in the Mirror,” turning in horror from the “Thriller” he had spawned. Here was what happened when Michael, in truth, could neither “Stop” nor “Get Enough,” when “Beat It” became the command he used to drive himself to further and further feats of the bizarre until there was no turning back. From the pinnacle of fame Michael had reached the pinnacle of notoriety. What else remained but to bow out, tragically?

I am not and never was in Michael’s league, either professionally or personally. My struggle’s just that of your average OCD personality who, as I’ve said before,** can never cut him- or herself enough slack. Every day, though, my unhealthy tendencies are redeemed by a loving family that give me the kick in the butt I need to stay sane – and alive. It’s a shame no one could do the same for the legendary King of Pop.


* “The Way You Make Me Feel,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEU9Q8NlOiY.

**In “The Dream Lives On: In an Open Letter to Susan Boyle” I wrote:

 “As a fellow masochist, I too make incredible demands of myself, get depressed for inevitably falling short, yet would never dream of imposing such demands on my husband, children, or loved ones. To everyone other than myself, I am kind, patient, encouraging, and tender – yet I cannot be that person for myself.”


  1. He was messed up at a very early age and never got out of it. He “was only happy on stage”, a quote from him. I never sang for the crowds he did, but even hundred’s or thousand’s gave a feeling you can’t believe.

    You always have something interesting to say.

    Comment by Harvey Stelman — June 28, 2009 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  2. Your last line says it all about the man who was Michael Jackson. He never had someone honest enough to kick him in the but when he needed it to grow beyond the child he had become. Terribly sad.

    Comment by clbro — June 29, 2009 @ 10:00 pm | Reply

    • Agreed…

      Comment by rivkahwrites — June 29, 2009 @ 10:27 pm | Reply

  3. Hey Harvey! Yeah…crowds can be addictive that way.

    Comment by rivkahwrites — June 29, 2009 @ 10:29 pm | Reply

  4. Hi All,

    This post prompted several comments from people through other websites, so I am going to include them here.


    You make some very good points in your blog entry. Lets not forget the possibility of his own abuse as a child. When someone persues fame as their road to fulfillment, it almost always causes a disaster. Fame is shallow fake love. Famous people become surrounded by others with various agendas and people who want to party. When you are famous, you can have plenty of free time, money, and people offering you drugs. Once you ad in drugs to the mix of unsatisfying fame, most people are doomed, especially if they have experienced abuse in the past. Just think of the long list of famous people who have died early from the disease of addiction.

    Film, television, and the internet are very powerful mediums that can have very negative psychological effects on both performers and viewers. Notable exceptions to this being NPR and PBS.

    I have learned much of this from Dr. Drew Pinsky in the VH1 show Celebrity Rehab and his book “The Mirror Effect”.


    “When Winfrey asked, Did your father ever beat you? Jackson tried to smile as he said yes. Then, in an aside to his father, he added, “I’m sorry. Please don’t be mad at me.” With that wincing smile, Jackson was like a wounded orphan who has walked through fire and has booked a return trip.”

    “He called his ranch Neverland, populated it with an exotic menagerie and surrounded himself with young boys. They were meant to be supporting players in an improved, redeemed fantasy version of his own damaged childhood.”

    “Why must our stars fall so spectacularly and fail us so egregiously? Perhaps it’s because we want them to. Indeed, it may be the primary function of celebrities like Jackson to show us, in their early radiance, what we could dream of being — and in the murk of their decline, what we fear we could become.”


    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:33 pm | Reply


    Thanks for your comments, Bill, and for your reference to that great “Time” article.

    I think that in the brilliant successes of celebrities and other luminaries, we are inspired by the possibilities of what we, too, could accomplish; and by the same token, in their failures and deaths, we are frightened at the knowledge of our own mortality.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:34 pm | Reply


    He was a genius head and shoulders above any entertainer to have graced the stage.
    History will record, just as it did for Burns and other geniuses of their time, Jackson’s impact on literature and the arts and the social consciousness of our generation.
    Of the 50 years this man lived, he gave us 44, most of those living in a fishbowl which our obsession of his lifestyle created.
    Michael Jackson was a citizen of the world who lived without boundaries in his feeble effort to show us what possibilities are available if we his fellow citizens of the world, could only move beyond our narrow parameters.
    Detractors will never take away from his genius!

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:35 pm | Reply


    Very true, Cecly!

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:35 pm | Reply


    Lovely writing. I think many people are trying to find some meaning in this early death and you’ve put you finger on one key aspect. Bravo.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:37 pm | Reply


    Thanks Ziba – that means a lot coming from a fellow writer!

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:38 pm | Reply


    Exactly. The man truly defines “entertainer.” What a tragic loss.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:38 pm | Reply


    Another enjoyable read.. I am listening to Michael now

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:42 pm | Reply


    Thanks Bob! Very sad, yet not completely unexpected.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:43 pm | Reply


    You lead a normal life, which he couldn’t do.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:43 pm | Reply


    Exactly Harvey – you get it!

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:44 pm | Reply


    Not to be mean, but you have left out things like settled out of court on several child sex molestation cases, liked having sleepovers with little boys, etc. These two were in the papers and both are factual.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:46 pm | Reply


    I know, Paul – I referred to it obliquely, but wasn’t really intent on doing an exhaustive study, just a selective tribute.

    Comment by Rivkahwrites — July 2, 2009 @ 11:47 pm | Reply

  17. Hi Rivkah,

    It’s my first time reading your enlightening blogs. You’ve given greater insight into the man I admire yet perplex over. One thing that surprises me is how people of all ages are giving tribute to him as if he were ageless… in an era where anyone over 40 is deemed uncool.


    Comment by Vincent — July 6, 2009 @ 2:58 pm | Reply

    • Hi Vincent – I’m so glad you’re enjoying my blog and happy to have provided insight over Michael Jackson. In terms of everyone paying him tribute as though he is ageless, I think the mark of true talent/genius, whatever you want to call it, is that it IS ageless – it transcends time. For this reason, Michael’s appeal will always be universal.

      Check back often Vincent – I think I even feel another Michael Jackson article coming on (;

      Comment by rivkahwrites — July 6, 2009 @ 6:14 pm | Reply

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