Why Jacko is a great dad
After the screening this month of Martin Bashir’s documentary about Michael Jackson, the world waits with breath bated for the multimedia tie-ins. There is surely a market for Michael Jackson sticking plasters (“guaranteed to keep your nose in place no matter how hot the studio lights”).
Jacko could get together with Bill Clinton to run seminars helping politicians and fraudulent businessmen with their lying-to-camera technique (the title of the first session: I did not have plastic surgery with that woman).But the biggest seller would be the Michael Jackson Book of Practical Parenting.
This could include a chapter on naming your children (give them all the same variant on your own); diagrams of how to dangle your six-month-old over a hotel balcony four storeys up (advanced students can progress to the holding-on-by-the-ankles section); and tips on a family trip to the zoo, in which accoutrements include 12 security men, 15 umbrellas, three film crews, 40 paparazzi and a score of hysterical girls labouring under the quaint misapprehension that Jackson is still worth swooning over despite not producing a decent tune for 15 years.One thing, though: if such a book were ever to be published, spare us the demonstration of how to feed the baby. Bashir did not exactly have to work hard to find revealing footage in his film. Like a gold prospector unexpectedly allowed into the vaults at Fort Knox, everywhere he turned there was not just a nugget, but an ingot. Of all the scenes in an endlessly wince-making film, though, the one that was easily the most disturbing was Jacko, his baby on his knee, unsure of which orifice to shove a bottle into. For several uneasy seconds he fumbled, pushing the teat variously into the child’s nose, ear and eye, all the while getting it caught in the mesh of the veil he insists should cover the boy’s face. Like David Attenborough, obliged to watch a couple of Serengeti lions about to tear into a dazed gazelle, Bashir must have been sorely tempted to intervene in the process and rescue the poor infant. At least he might have been until he remembered the secondary sell-on rights value of his film.It was an all-the-more poignant moment because it was clear at this point that Jackson was so desperately trying to appropriate normality in order to prove what a regular dad he was. This is what I do all the time, he wanted us to believe: this is how little Blanket and I bond; all that hanging out of the window stuff, hey, that’s just part of the crazy times we have together.But as he sat there, increasingly agitated, his knees bouncing at a freakish pace until he could take it no longer and had to leap up and run into another room where he could presumably hand the baby and bottle over to whoever he pays to do that sort of thing, it was evident he had never fed the baby before. It was, as with all his life, just a show.That was just the start of it. Watching the film was like having a hideous premonition of a car accident. You could see in his every well-meaning turn that Jackson was mixing up a cocktail of neuroses for his children. With those masks, those names (Blanket!), the lack of a mother, the way everywhere they go they are the cause of a minor public disturbance, the poor things don’t stand a chance.But then what sort of role model does Jackson have for fatherhood? He may have taken mendacity to new levels (“just two operations to help my breathing”), but on this we can be sure: he was telling the truth when he told Bashir he was horribly treated by his own father. His sister Janet and brother Jermaine have both independently corroborated that Joe was a brute.Physical and psychological bullying were the basis of his coaching technique as Joe Jackson coerced his family of five boys from Gary, Indiana into earning the fortune that would keep him in the style to which he fancied becoming accustomed. This is school-level Freud, but every twitching complex from which Jackson suffers — self-loathing, self-obsession, self-abuse and 150 other terms each carrying the prefix self — is directly attributable to his father: the way his father beat him and sneered at him and made him feel worthless. Poor Wacko ended up cutting off his nose to spite his dad.But that does not mean Joe got his tactics wrong. For the other consequence of their abusive relationship was Jackson’s creative ability, the way he learned to perform in a doomed effort to earn the approval and love his father cruelly withheld, the way he channelled his frustration and rage into his music, and finally found that it seemed to give him the unconditional affection from fans that he had craved from his dad. Joe’s parenting technique may have made his boy bonkers, but it also made him a genius — the psychological equivalent of locking him in a freezing garret.And Jackson is by no means the only such deranged and damaged avatar in modern music. Phil Spector, mad as a goose, up in court on a murder charge, but the brilliant guiding star of the 1960s was abandoned by his dad as a child. To many minds, Spector’s finest hour was Pet Sounds, when he combined with the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, a soul tortured by his hideous father, to produce the most perfect canon of work in American pop. When you start to look around, how many of those who craft the coruscating work that illuminates our humdrum lives can boast a lovely, caring mum and dad?Poor Kurt Cobain had a rotten childhood; John Lennon raged against being left by his father; Pete Townshend, too, recently in trouble for downloading child porn, claimed he only did so to help him confront the demons of an abused childhood. Even — though this might be stretching the term “genius” beyond its natural boundaries — the Gallagher/Oasis brothers suffered at the hands of their dad.However, the sensible advice is, as ever, “Don’t try this at home, folks”: as a parenting strategy, it is far from guaranteed to work. If they Larkin you up, your mum and dad, it is no certainty you will top the charts. The chances are you will simply be disturbed, unhappy and disappointed. Indeed, even if temporary fulfilment is yours, as it has been for Jackson and Spector, once the creative juices have ceased to flow, only madness is left.If, by way of contrast, you want to know what assiduous parenting can do, look no further than Kelly Osbourne — a perfect example of the fact that nothing worth listening to has ever come out of a happy home (Ozzy and Sharon being, in our view, model parents). Which was perhaps what was really so upsetting about the portrait of the Wackmeister: those of us who try to create stable, loving, happy family environments in which to raise our children should realise this — they will probably end up accountants. — Â