Friday, June 26, 2009
"Goodbye, King of Pop"
Of course I could not allow the most significant death of the MTV-toting popular cultural movement to pass without adding a few words. The media coverage has been surprising to some because Michael Jackson was not currently recording music and was fifty (50)but what they fail to note is that the man wasn't just a star but he was the star. Time doesn't allow for too much detail right now but even without his statistical brilliance on the pop charts, MJ is the main reason why the pop/R&B stars can enjoy the vast cross-racial appeal now. Back in the late 1970s--before MTV emerged, black artists were mostly pigeon-holed into one frame, R&B, but when he released "Thriller" in 1982, all that changed. MJ was the first to create the possibilities of men of color in popular music. His albums, singles, endorsements, stage performances all became the ultimate, not just for black men but for everyone. MTV rolled around and the videos that he conceptualized--"Thriller" especially--were larger than life.
Yet, this doesn't answer the question why we care so much about him now. Consider though that most of the current pop acts that people pine for and worship (Rihanna, Usher, Justin Timberlake) are obviously influenced by MJ's "full package" approach to music. He made art and they all strive to do the same, to be mentioned in the same breath as him decades from now. This media storm is even more remarkable when one considers that he was the only one of his peers (that trio of him, Madonna and Prince, all fifty coincidentally)who was not still recording music. Yet people cared time and time again for the sinewy details of his personal life, grabbed up the expensive tickets for his London concert (July) and still could moonwalk.
On top of it all, we cared fiercely to see if he would get the redemption perfectionists like him crave. We wanted a last hurrah, a triumphant show that if necessary he could muster up some of the old magic. We do not like when our stars struggle or show, finally, mortality settling in. We want them to live forever, to excel always, to make the world seem alright. Who watches the mighty Roger Federer just merely to win a match...no, we want an exhibition, a flawless display of skill that is beyond mere human execution. For the music critics, Radiohead occupies that rarefied space currently of enviable love from critics and fans. If they follow up the blissful "In Rainbows" with anything less than ideal or remotely commercial, we will feel a sense of betrayal, a letdown beyond words. Not everyone reaches such idealized heights in our eyes but it brings with it its own set of issues, that we are miostly unable to rationalize.
Michael Jackson leaves a rich musical legacy: great pop music that transcends its time and genre. That immense Beatles catalogue that his children will now inherit. His family and fans are left with a lifetime of good and not so good memories. In the days to come, we will hear the rumours, the possibilities of prescription-drug overdose, the state of his accounts. Endless critics will tear into his child-molestation cases but the truth is that it all plays a part of his life, his legacy.Bob Dylan may be the most culturally relevant musician alive, David Bowie the most vastly copied and Radiohead the most acclaimed band but MJ was the greatest entertainer for the vast part of four (4) decades. Take a second to reflect on that. Bless.
Michael Jackson was fifty (50) years old.