June 29th, 2009
Most of you were probably exposed to quite a bit of MJ-related coverage this past weekend, but since I was traveling to and from Boston for a family wedding, the media inundation on my brain was somewhat muted. I caught some CNN reports here and there in various airports, but nothing like it could’ve been had I been holed up with a laptop and an evening to kill. But since the first song I clearly remember being “into” as a five year old was the rough-and-tumble crossover hit “Beat It” (and I had the red wrist bandanna to prove it), I can’t help but jot down some thoughts on an artist who made a deep cut in my musical life.
Initially, my reaction to the alarming news was sedate, and my good friends and family would probably be surprised to hear that. But thinking about it now, that was probably due to my being at work, getting ready to leave and hop on an airplane. Preoccupation. As the news seeped through my consciousness, though, I began to feel a definite sadness that an icon representing a crucial era of my life—and those of countless others—was now officially gone. And then the first time I heard his music after hearing the news, I actually felt heartbroken. In the car, I flipped on KEXP and Kevin Cole had just began “Working Day And Night”, one of the criminally underplayed songs from Off the Wall. He played “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem next and dammit if that didn’t hit home. Michael Jackson would never live up to Thriller, or even Bad, but three disgustingly historic and influential albums does make a man great, despite the depressing smears and stains of his later life.
Like you, I also grew annoyed, confused, weary, and eventually dispassionate with each passing debacle that MJ either endured or hurtled upon himself. From the myriad molestation charges, his “sham” wedding with Lisa Marie Presley, to his bizarre Neverland lifestyle and his shocking, seemingly unprecedented face transmogrification that might challenge his music as his everlasting legacy, there was truly never a dull moment in the man’s life. We should know, he existed primarily in public. He lived, thrived, and survived on stage, whether it be an arena with 100,000 screaming lunatics or a hotel balcony while precariously dangling his infant son. Normal was not in his vocabulary.
Yet I will miss him. His music will of course live on, perhaps in greater majesty than before, but music is made by living, breathing humans—there is no denying that. With the man gone, the music becomes a cherished relic of history, an archived link to the past, and that is part of what saddens me. Michael was a true industry iconoclast: no entertainer did more damage to the demographic profiling of music genres than he. Young, old; black, white; wealthy, broke; punk, dance—we all loved him. We all loved witnessing his sick, otherworldly dance moves. Thank god for the music videos. Watching this Motown performance, I was taken back in time. His moves were/are second to none: the clean ankle shimmys, the electric pelvic thrusts, the stop-on-a-dime-and-spin, the hee-hee’s, the hoo-hoo’s, and of course, the Moonwalk. To say nothing of his ridiculous robot. God, that shit is tight. Name your post-MJ dance pop star and he or she has emulated Jackson.
Ok, he was a wacko. Agreed. But as it was astutely mentioned in the comments of this post, freakishness breeds great fucking art. Long live the King of Pop.