Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Of Mozart, Marley, & Michael

I believe that every once in a while, or probably more often than we notice, God, being the all-powerful Creator that He is, creates something or someone, simply to show off, or more precisely to “show us”.

Properly appreciated, the creation should naturally lead the "appreciator" to the Creator. God, of course, leaves us reminders and signs of His power and goodness everywhere, But every once in a while, I believe He gets "impish" and creates a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or a Michael Joseph Jackson, people whose genius has no other explanation other than God decided to breathe into existence a phenomenon that He hopes will make us pause long enough to consider the source. Sort of a "look what I can do".

Mozart’s genius has been legendary for centuries. At 3 he was playing the keyboard. By 5 he was composing. While still a child, he wowed the world with inexplicable feats of performance and composition.

Jackson’s pedigree needs no detail. His special genius was most apparent when he, like Mozart, was still a child. There were other precocious child stars of the time, but none as brilliant and as captivating as Michael Jackson, and certainly none that could compare with him as he matured.

The only other person in the world, during Jackson’s lifetime who could even come close to the same influence and force of personality was Bob Marley. Marley’s genius, too, was beyond natural explanation. His music was beyond rhythm, lyrics, and melody. It was even beyond him. Marley was a force of nature. His music, like Jackson’s, was a spiritual eruption, a channeling of supernatural soul-deep stirrings into sound and motion. This is why, despite their very dissimilar circumstances and styles, we are irresistibly drawn to them, whether or not we are fans of their music or message.

There is a scene in the movie “Amadeus” where Mozart, in the midst of his mother-in-law’s ranting, begins to “hear” music and wanders into the next room, as if beckoned and possessed by a siren, and writes down what he’s “hearing”. The scene captures the essence of men like these. Mozart’s world is crashing down all around him. His wife is threatening to leave him. His father has disowned him. His debts are mounting. His health is failing. And…and all he "hears" is "the music".

Out of mercy, I think, God does not let men like this live very long. Their flames burn so intensely that, in the absence of a mentor to control and protect them, they internally burn to death. Mozart died at 35, Marley died at 35, and Jackson too, perhaps, “died” at 35.

Men of such genius cannot be left on their own if we wish to keep them longer. In the days before Mozart, there were men of similar genius. One could say Bach was comparable. He did not "flame out" because men of his station in that era did not get to choose their own way. A man’s station then was defined and controlled by who and what he served.

Bach, while in a way, enslaved to his station and class, was nevertheless freed from having to wrestle with the demons of self-actualization, and thus at liberty to channel all his personal resources into a creative life that is nothing short of monumental, while living a reasonably normal family and social life.

It was Mozart who broke the mold. Perhaps he suffered from a much too opportunistic father. Bach, while as musically great as Mozart, did not have the burden of being a child star. Mozart was the first child star. He was the Michael Jackson of his age. In short order, he outgrew his father, much the same way, Jackson outgrew his father (and his brothers). Due to their early fame and fortune, both had the material tools and the public support to break free of their familial and social moorings.

And both, while it is common to say that they possessed great talent, were in fact, actually possessed themselves by that talent. Such geniuses need guidance, and too early, they had none. Both then were doomed to early death, and so it was.

Marley, was different in this way. It never escaped "Brother Bob" that he was “Jah’s” instrument. His religion, whatever one may think of it, was always central to Marley’s mission, or at least it became so in proportion to his success. Marley's spiritual progress is easily traceable in each recording, culminating with the plaintive solo acoustic wail labeled "Redemption Song": the last track, on the last album made before his death.

One might wonder why God would “curse” men with gifts beyond their control and which would doom them to much suffering and early death. Of course God does no such thing. God creates only that which is good and beautiful. Both Mozart and Jackson might have had very different ends had not greedy and much less gifted men seized the opportunity that both of these remarkable lives presented.

In any event, history has proved kind to Bob Marley and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but perhaps not so, Michael Jackson. Marley, in death, has been become a superstar of mythological proportions. And Mozart's enduring brilliance has outpaced his trail of personal peccadilloes. However, Jackson, who died at 51, may have lived too long for history to do him the same favor.

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