You’d think by now that Michael Jackson would be aware of the popular perception that he’s a freak, and he would do what he could not to encourage anything that perpetuated that notion.
You’d be wrong, if we’re to judge by Tuesday night’s televised version of his “30th Anniversary Concert” on CBS.
I admit it. I was drawn to this show like a moth to a flame, like a commuter to a three-car pileup on the median, like a plastic surgeon to Joan Rivers. I was looking forward to a freak show of epic proportions, which I had heard this event was when it was originally videotaped at the beginning of September. There was every indication it would be the kind of televised disaster you can’t turn away from, like Magic Johnson’s old talk show.
For starters, The King Of Androgyny’s companions in the royal box were Macauley Culkin on one side and Elizabeth Taylor (in a blond fright wig) on the other. What, no Bubbles The Chimp? Where was Webster? As for his parents, Mom was allowed an early appearance, but then her seat had to be given to Michael’s rhinestone wrangler.
Meanwhile, Michael’s look continues to mutate. You know the way a kid draws someone’s face on a piece of paper, and the nose looks like a little triangle? My producer points out that Jackson’s nose has now been carved down to a point just like that. He could open a can with that nose. He reminds me of those bobbing novelty birds you can put on the rim of a glass and they keep dipping down for a drink with their beak.
His physical appearance, complete with bluish-gray skin tone, has achieved inhuman status. It’s perfect that this show aired on CBS, the network of “The Amazing Race,” because that’s what Michael has become. Pardon me for playing the race card, but it doesn’t matter if he’s black or white, he’s an amazing new race unto himself.
Still — and this I really don’t get — girls and young women in the audience swooned when he appeared on stage. Of course, this has been going on with male performers for a long time, even back before The Beatles and Elvis, to bobby-soxers fainting over Frank Sinatra. Even today, girls go nuts when The Backstreet Boys or ‘NSync appear. In each of those instances, I assume that it’s a sexual attraction. Seriously, what is sexually attractive about Michael Jackson -– to anyone? What perverse sexual appeal are these young women swooning over? I’m stumped.
Michael was not alone in the bizarre looks department, though.
As soon as Whitney Houston showed up, I (and the audience at Madison Sauare Garden) gasped audibly at how scarily thin she’s gotten. She looks just like Karen Carpenter did in her last days. I don’t know if she’s abusing crack or anything else, but she certainly isn’t making regular visits to Steak ‘N Shake. Or if she is, she’s going to Purge ‘N Puke immediately afterwards.
But Whitney looked like the healthiest person in the room when Liza Minnelli came out. Is there anyone in show business today more irrelevant than Liza? It’s been a long time since “Arthur” and an even longer time since “Cabaret.” I swear, she looks like a male impersonator. Not a female impersonator, a guy pretending to be Liza. No, this looked like a woman pretending to be a guy pretending to be Liza. In other words, she looked horrible.
At this point, the celebrity freak quotient was awfully high. You line up Liz, Macauley, Whitney, and Liza, and you’re ringing the bell. But CBS did us a great disservice by editing out Marlon Brando (!) in full bloat mode, rambling on and on nonsensically to the point where he was actually booed by the crowd. As a freak show fan, I felt cheated.
On top of that, we didn’t even get to see the other Jackson family curiosity, LaToya, who apparently was vehemently dissuaded from attending. Either that or she couldn’t get through the tight security with her pet boa constrictor wrapped around her loins as usual.
We also didn’t see the best looking Jackson, the amazing-abdomened Janet, or her long lost sister Rebe, who somehow managed to slip down the list of Obscure Jacksons past Randy.
The latter two were there, along with Tito (who’s somehow convinced that he’s still in show business), Marlon, Jermaine, and um, Zeppo, for what was overhyped on the show as “the reunion the world’s been waiting for.” Which of course is a lie. The world is truly holding its collective breath hoping for a reunion of the cast of “Bob Patterson.”
When the brothers performed together, it was a pleasure to hear some of those good old Jackson Five classics, even in truncated form. And once his brothers were shooed off stage and Michael was left in the spotlight to perform solo, you had to give the guy credit for still having the chops.
He flawlessly recreated the “Billie Jean” sequence he did on “Motown’s 25th Anniversary” back in the eighties, complete with moonwalk and cringe-inducing crotch-grabbing. Sure, lots of other people have learned to do that move, but no one else pulls off that walking-backwards-in-a-tight-little-circle thing like Michael.
But it was clear that Michael was lip-syncing the lyrics, because he kept putting his hand over his mouth just as the camera cut to a close-up. Either he was trying to hide it -– and what better way to deflect attention than by subtly covering your lips with your entire palm! -– or he’s having a problem with parts of his plastic surgery falling off and having to be replaced manually.
CBS apparently liked what they saw, though, because they’re talking about starting up a new series called “Michael Jackson Survivor,” in which, each week, yet another original facial feature is voted off his face.
As much as I enjoyed this show, purely from the Freak Show perspective, I had one overriding problem with it.
There’s something wrong with doing a tribute concert to someone who is only 43 years old — especially while he’s sitting there on the side, watching the whole thing like royalty. That sort of lifetime achievement accolade should be saved for someone who is much more advanced in years.
That’s not to say that “Jacko” hasn’t put in a lot of years in showbiz, but until he’s getting the AARP discount at movie theater matinees, he’s too young for a career retrospective. At this point, it’s as unsettling as the concept of an autobiography by the kid who’s playing Harry Potter.
I can’t wait to read the chapter, “The day I hit puberty at Neverland.”