David Lister: A surreal ending to pop's most extraordinary life story

This was not a typical, domestic life of a rock star because nothing about Jackson was typical

So, is this to be the last and overriding memory of Michael Jackson – a pathetic figure, gasping for life after one dose too far of medication? It will be one of the defining memories, of course, but it should not be the only one. For whatever one's musical tastes, it is impossible to deny the cultural significance of Jackson, a significance that makes the tawdry details of this trial (and arguably one earlier trial) all the more poignant.

Jackson, known as the King of Pop, merited that title in the 1980s, not just through album sales, but through the way he altered live performance for ever. His emphasis on dance with high-energy choreography, can be seen in most pop gigs today. Performances on The X Factor would be far more staid had there been no Michael Jackson.

It was his uniqueness as a live act that made promoters so keen to have him, even in his fifties, and even for a 50-date stint at the 02, an absurdly ambitious endeavour he was preparing for at the time of his death. How ethical was it to contract a man, whose health we learn from the trial (if we needed to be told) was poor, to such an ordeal? That is one of the questions that the trial has caused fans to ponder.

The trial of Michael Jackson takes its place in pop history, of course, for it offered a unique insight into the domestic life of a modern pop colossus. It is not a typical, domestic life of a rock star because nothing about Jackson was typical. But it will be a major part of his story for future generations, just as the last tawdry days of a fat, sleazy Elvis Presley have risked overshadowing the images of the lithe, young rock'n'roller.

The trial was the last, and for many predictable, chapter in a surreal and even creepy private life that included Neverland, allegations of child abuse, changing skin colour and the baby on the balcony. But the cultural legacy is that Jackson made the template for modern pop. The mixture of dance, high-octane pop melodies and androgynous sex appeal were the key ingredients of that template. And that is why back in the 1980s there was a saying in the music business: "There's showbiz, there's rock'n'roll, and there's Michael Jackson."

Comments