Prince, Michael Jackson, Insane Clown Posse and the Shifting Nature of Memories
Memories are slippery things. They squirm. They wriggle. They stubbornly refuse to stay in the same place. They are forever changing and shifting and mutating, sometimes subtly and sometimes in extreme ways.
The world is forever changing in ways that affect the way we see the past as well as how we see the present and future. Take, for example, an event that stands out in my memory for all sorts of reasons: a dance contest, a battle Royale, between what was billed as the world’s best Michael Jackson impersonator and the world’s best Prince impersonator and hot dog lunch at a Gathering of the Juggalos in Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, with a clearly overjoyed Violent J overseeing the joyous proceedings as master of ceremonies sometime in the early two thousand teens.
It’s one of my favorite memories from the Gathering because it embodied the incongruous innocence of Insane Clown Posse’s notorious yearly celebration of arts and culture and Juggalos in general, that poignant yearning for an idealized pop culture past with all the giddy pleasure of being a misfit kid in love with movies and music and wrestling and none of the bullying or alienation.
Michael Jackson had been a huge part of all of our childhoods. Before everything about him became dark and ominous and sinister, Michael Jackson radiated light. He was pure entertainment, Mr. Moonwalk, the most famous, talented, magical man in the world. I idolized Michael Jackson. He seemed superhuman.
The same was true of Prince. These towering giants were not like us. They might have assumed the form of human beings but they clearly were no mere mortals. They were different, special. They seemed to exist on a higher evolutionary plane. They didn’t move or sing like anyone else, with the notable exception of James Brown.
They were each, to put it mildly, eccentric. Strange. Otherworldly. Alien. Not quite of our world. It turned out that beneath the mystery, the talent, the dazzle, the star power they had secrets. Dark, dark secrets. Secret hungers. Secret addictions. Secrets that changed the way we think about them.
They had very different kinds of secrets. As Leaving Neverland reminded a public that would very much like to be able to enjoy Thriller without having to think about child rape that Jackson almost assuredly abused his enormous power as one of our richest and most popular performers to commit awful crimes against vulnerable children in addition to the secret addictions that would end his life prematurely and dramatically.
After enduring the kind of physical pain that comes with pushing your body and soul to the limit he way Prince did in live performances the legendary singer-songwriter also became addicted to pills and died way too young, shocking and saddening a world that never stopped revering him.
Since that wonderful afternoon in the sun the legacies of Michael Jackson and Prince have darkened considerably. Prince, the clean-living, vegetarian Jehovah’s Witness with unbelievable natural stamina who could perform at for hours, seemingly without needing stimulants, died of a Fentanyl overdose after a bleary final few years abusing drugs in ways that endangered, and ultimately cost him his life.
Jackson, who similarly cultivated a sober image before dying of a drug overdose, is largely seen through the filter of Leaving Neverland these days despite the Jackson family’s push to discredit the film, Jackson’s accusers and the filmmaker.
While the legacies of Jackson and Prince have darkened with premature deaths born of secret drug addictions, Insane Clown Posse’s image has brightened significantly over time. The days of the Drug Bridge seem to be safely in the past, the Clowns pulled off a very impressive March on Washington despite having me on as one of the speakers and most recently Insane Clown Posse has been associated with a wholesome family film, the motion picture Family. They’re in terrible danger of getting a good image as stand-up guys responsibly overseeing a loving and supportive community of outsiders.
It could be argued that you never really know your idols until they die, and even then, they retain an air of mystery, particularly if they are icons on the level of Prince and Michael Jackson.
Jackson and Prince’s ugly deaths exposed the dark secrets that haunted their final years while Insane Clown Posse, whose fans have infamously and ridiculously classified as a gang by the FBI, has taken an improbable turn for the wholesome and positive.
Death has made Prince even more legendary. His vaults have been opened and his life’s work monetized and commercialized in a way that is a treat for fans but undoubtedly has the notoriously particular and demanding icon spinning in his grave. Leaving Neverland, meanwhile, has made it all but impossible to ignore the very real possibility that the controversial master showman used our love for him to do unconscionable things to vulnerable kids.
That’s why I like going back to the Gathering. I’ve seen it change and evolve and grow up a little while retaining the child-like innocence at its core. It’s going on its TWENTIETH year, so it’s almost able to drink legally, but is supremely in touch with its inner child, and not in a creepy, Leaving Neverland way either, but in a wholesome Juggalo fashion.
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