Michael Joseph Jackson’s birth was inauspicious. As the eighth of ten children born to a working-class family in the steel town of Gary, Indiana, the odds that he would make a name for himself probably seemed slim.
But sixty years after his birth and nine years after his death, the musician’s career is one of pop music legend. Yet the tragic and morally ambiguous parts of his incredible life can overshadow the raw musical talent which propelled him into the spotlight in the first place.
Unpicking the man from the myth was never easy. In 1985, at the height of Jackson’s success, James Baldwin wrote in Playboy that “the Michael Jackson cacophony is fascinating in that it is not about Jackson at all.”
He continued: “All that noise is about America, as the dishonest custodian of black life and wealth; the blacks, especially males, in America; and the burning, buried American guilt; and sex and sexual roles and sexual panic; money, success and despair.”
Jackson was a controversial figure, bound to the zeitgeist throughout his career. Child molestation accusations and a subsequent trial encapsulated the internet-fuelled tabloid frenzy of the mid-2000s.
Aspects of Jackson’s legacy can seem particularly difficult to wrestle with. Despite never having been found guilty of any sexual offences, lawsuits were still being filed against the late singer’s estate from alleged abuse victims in the years after his death.
But although details of his personal life remain contested, Jackson’s shining musical legacy is still present in a mere glance at the charts. Kanye West, Beyonce and Lady Gaga have spoken of the huge impact Jackson had on their careers.
On what would be the singer’s 60th birthday, The singer emerged from his tough childhood to lead a vanguard of African-American artists into the mainstream, before pioneering music videos as an art form and breaking almost every music sale record imaginable. It’s hard to imagine another musician ever being quite as influential.