[Editor's Note: Post-Rockist writer Amy attended a book reading by Chuck Klosterman yesterday evening, just hours after the passing of Michael Jackson. Klosterman is a former senior editor at Spin Magazine as well as the author of many books, including Killing Yourself to Live , a travel narrative detailing visits to locations where famous rock and pop stars famously died.]
“So,” says Chuck Klosterman, instead of saying hello, or thank you to the host, “Michael Jackson’s dead.”
Michael Jackson has been dead for three hours, and Chuck Klosterman has been on the road in Milwaukee, traveling from the airport in a south suburb to the downtown east side, where he’s giving a talk at Boswell Book Company. Consequently, he’s been away from the internet wildfire blazing forth from the news of Jackson’s passing, from initially unconfirmed reports of cardiac arrest and coma to the announcement from the mainstream media and the thunderclap of shock and grief across the world.
“I had the audacity to call my friends, who sit in front of computers all day” to confirm what his driver told him about MJ, Klosterman says. “The man’s been dead 10 minutes.”
Klosterman is at Boswell to talk about his new novel, Downtown Owl, but no one expects him to just gloss over the death of the King. After all, the music critic, pop culture commentator and former senior writer for SPIN magazine wrote a whole book (Killing Yourself to Live) about the deaths of rock icons and the way we feel, as a culture and as personal, existential creatures, as a result. Chuck Klosterman knows we are expecting him to talk about it, so he wastes no time.
“In retropsect, he may have lived the strangest life in American history,” he says – the lost childhood, the pressures of an abusive parent and the rigors of early fame, followed by international superstardom unprecedented by any other artist and exponentially platinum record-breaking albums.
“There will never be another record like Thriller,” he says. “There can’t be.” But after 1987′s Bad, during a prominent decline into eccentricity, bizarre behavior and outlandish tabloid rumors (some of which Jackson himself helped perpetuate), “his only purpose in life became being weird.”
Or notorious, reviled, or suspected of some awful things. MJ was of course acquitted, but “even if he’s innocent, he’s guilty of something,” says Klosterman. “He’s living with llamas or something!”
“It’s been 20 years since anyone said anything nice about him,” Klosterman says. “This is gonna be a weird, difficult death for people. Would anyone here consider themselves a big Michael Jackson fan? Would you say you relate to Michael Jackson?” No one in the audience is sure how to respond. A few people raise their hands. But no one really knows how to articulate how they feel about the man and the music he made.
But in the bookstore, less than five hours after his death — and later that night, in a smoky basement pool bar down the street, where we cram quarter after quarter into the jukebox to load it up with every Michael Jackson song we can find, playing the hits again and again–it’s already clear that in death, the man will be canonized, perhaps even loved once more, if not for the man he might have been, then for the musical legacy he leaves.
“Now that he’s dead,” said Klosterman, “it’s hard to think of him as ever being alive.”