What Becomes a Legend Most: Notoriety, Music? : Commentary: The hoopla over the Jackson-Presley marriage could further obscure his creative focus. Only quality music-making can legitimize his King of Pop claim.


And we thought Julia and Lyle were the ultimate odd couple of the ‘90s.

This week’s confirmation of Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley’s May wedding takes us beyond the realm of the merely quirky and into the world of the genuinely bizarre.

Here you have Jackson, currently the most famous pop star in the world--fresh from the humiliation of child molestation charges--in desperate need of re-establishing his credibility and image.

He marries the daughter of the most famous pop star of all time--straight from her own heartbreaking divorce--wondering perhaps if she can ever find someone who understands the pressures of living amid the constant scrutiny that comes with being a Presley.


Now that the wedding has been confirmed, most people can’t get enough of the story--even though it has nothing to do with why we care about Jackson in the first place: his artistry.

The danger for Jackson is that all this public fascination could further obscure his own creative focus and destroy any lingering musical credibility.

In recent years, Jackson has seemed as interested in appearing in the tabloids as on the charts. The funny thing is that the whole story of the marriage was laid out weeks ago in the tabloids but that no one took it seriously.

The reason that the mainstream press laid off the marriage rumor wasn’t just that the Jackson advisers all denied the marriage. No one believes celebrities or their advisers anymore anyway.


This was a story that was simply too preposterous.

The King of Pop getting married?

To the daughter of the King of Rock?

If they made it into a movie, they’d have to put it on the Sci-Fi Channel.


The whole affair gives new meaning to the old Elvis hit “Suspicious Minds.”

Among the questions raised about this unprecedented pop merger: Is it love? Is it public relations? Is it New Age therapy? Is it a Scientology coup? (Lisa Marie is a follower.) Will Graceland now become an Elvis Presley and Michael Jackson museum?

If it is difficult to make sense out of the lives of celebrities who give endless, contradictory interviews (yo, Roseanne!), imagine the challenge of figuring out the motivation of people who don’t give any.

How do you begin piecing together the thinking behind this marriage?


Once the jokes run out, you begin by realizing they are two of the most private and famous people in the world.

Their experience in the pop spotlight--regardless of whether Lisa Marie has ever stepped on a stage--gives them a unique bond.

For Lisa Marie, whose birthright and fortune may sometimes seem as much a burden as a blessing, Michael could stand in her eyes as someone who has spent his life with the same set of riches and emotional strains.

Part of Lisa Marie’s unique appeal for Michael is her bloodline. She is one of the few people in the pop world who could make Michael more famous than before--and you don’t dub yourself the King of Pop if you’re not obsessed with fame.


Michael believes one way to enhance your fame is to keep people curious. Elvis Presley and Howard Hughes were equally fascinating to him because they were unique . . . mysterious. One reason Michael has given for not talking to the press is, “Elvis didn’t do interviews.”

But there is a danger in such emphasis on fame--and Michael’s work has suffered from it in recent years. He seems to think that fame, rather than the quality of the music, is what ultimately matters.

Whereas there was a sense of revelation and passion in 1982’s phenomenally successful “Thriller” album, his two subsequent albums were more commercially calculated than inspired.

The albums both seemed designed to protect his market share by appealing to various radio formats and pop genres. No wonder sales slipped dramatically in the United States. Too much of the music seemed artificial and cold.


It was unreasonable to think that Jackson could ever top the 20 million-plus sales of “Thriller” in the United States, but it was not out of line to expect that he could give us another album with equal heart and fire.

What people remember about Elvis isn’t how many No. 1 records he had but his influence on pop music. Elvis didn’t invent rock ‘n’ roll, but he defined it in ways that touched everyone from the Beatles to U2.

Similarly, it’s the music that should matter in Jackson’s case--egardless of the inevitable fascination with his public life.

People close to Jackson are ecstatic about the new tracks he has made for the “greatest hits” album due around Nov. 1. They say it is some of the strongest music since “Thriller.” But these are some of the same people who denied for weeks the marriage rumors.


In the end, it’s the quality of Jackson’s music that will determine whether the title of King of Pop is anything more than an empty marketing slogan.