Time to leave Neverland
God, it’s happened. By the time you read this column in Nouse – my last for this newspaper, by the way – I will have my degree result. Yes, I have sweated my way to Langwith College, clutching my library card. I have jostled with other terrified third years, scanning the noticeboard for the right number. And there it was: my stamp of cringing mediocrity, bland approval, or even (I try to kid myself) soaring excellence.
Back in February, I wrote in the Daily Telegraph that my year group – the class of 2009 – was “generation crunch”. Shovelled into university by New Labour, and blighted by the recession, we face an oversubscribed and shrinking job market, all of us saddled with previously unheard of amounts of debt. We haven’t even reached our 22nd birthdays.
But how far away it all seemed, just five months ago! I wallowed in the comfort of my student loan. I continued to stare vapidly at dozens of applications for graduate schemes. I wrote and revised work ‘timetables’. Then, without much warning, the big day arrived. Now it’s all hitting home: the University of York is not Neverland. And I am not Peter Pan.
Last week, the King of Pop was killed by the very same revelation. That’s right: it suddenly dawned on Michael Jackson that he, too, was not Peter Pan. Aged 50, he finally looked in horror at the real world. Very tragically, it beat him hands down. You think I am joking?
Countless BBC interviews with his spoon-bending friends and former producers confirm only one thing about MJ. He thought he was one of J.M. Barrie’s Lost Boys. (OK fine, he probably only watched the Disney version, but you get my point.)
In a way, Michael Jackson’s Neverland ranch was like university – a childish getaway from reality. Of course, he took it to extremes. According to one 32 year-old visitor, the place “smelled like cinnamon rolls, vanilla and candy and sounded like children laughing.” It had its own zoo, complete with elephants, giraffes and a crocodile. It even had a ferris wheel and a kiddie’s roller-coaster. No wonder it reportedly cost four million dollars a year to run. And no wonder the exalted King of Pop had to sell his kingdom, when the Forbes rich list suddenly announced he was two hundred million in the red.
Michael Jackson spent as much, and then much more, than he earned – around 700 million dollars. His expansive entourage, an unknown number of cosmetic procedures, and his well documented shopaholism all contributed to his financial demise. In one telling example of petulant extravagance, he bought bronze statues of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys – for more than six million dollars.
“We will sit up, our eyes blurry. This is the real world. This is unbearable”
Eventually, though, lawyers informed MJ that he was almost bankrupt. The spending would have to stop, and he needed to pay back his loans. He tried everything. He attempted to record a new album, and failed. He even went to Japan – where his allegations of child abuse had been ignored by their socially conservative media – and asked Tokyo’s high fliers to pay thousands of dollars to spend an hour in a room with him. He mimed along to old songs of his, waving playfully at them.
They loved him, of course. But it didn’t work. He was still near bankruptcy. So earlier this year, Michael Jackson – idol, let’s face it, to our older siblings – admitted that a string of public performances would be the only way out of his financial dead end. Facing up to reality, he ambitiously announced that 50 London concerts were in store. Adoring fans bought the tickets and put images of “Wacko Jacko” out of their minds – the biggest selling pop artist in the history of the music industry was performing one last time, and they weren’t going to miss it.
A heart attack from stress, or maybe one too many doses of his prescription drugs – it doesn’t matter. What undoubtedly killed Michael Jackson was the stress of those upcoming performances. He realised he could no longer be a Lost Boy. He was an adult, a performer. And after years of denial, he couldn’t cope.
Those of us who are graduating are fortunate. We have only been in denial for three years or so. Yet sometime in July, we will collectively sit up in bed, our eyes blurry and our minds confused. This is the real world, we will think. This is unbearable. With any luck though, our young hearts will survive the shock. RIP Michael Jackson.