WickedEye's Quotient

6/25/2009 at 22:51

Thrill, Thriller, Thrilling, Thrilled

For some reason I’ve thought often, over the last year, of Michael Jackson. He was so controversial that I was reluctant to post any of my thoughts—so this has been living on my hard drive for nearly six months.

I wish I’d posted it before; but it’s still—it's more than—appropriate now.


One of the few things that makes me feel the true generation gap between myself and my younger friends is their attitude towards Michael Jackson.

He’s an object of fun in the press now. A “freak”, deeply disturbed, with an appearance that gets less human with every appearance in the public eye.

But to my generation, and even those before? Also a legend. A titan. A glorious, glorious star.

Michael Jackson changed American music—and culture—forever. I will always love his music. No revelation of freakish personal habits or psychological imbalances will change that. He is extraordinary, a force to be reckoned with in this or any other time period, and he most certainly ranks in the top ten musical artists of the 21st century, if not the top five.

I’ve said this to younger friends, and have gotten an uncomfortable shrug or the verbal equivalent thereof, followed immediately by a “But…”

But nothing.

I was 8 when Thriller came out. No-one not remembering it can understand the extent, duration, and depth of the utter frenzy he induced with that album. No one had ever seen anything like him before—the way he moved, the way he sang. It was magic, a sorcerer’s spell he cast over the entire world.

There were replicas of that silver-glittering glove in every store—and not just in children’s sizes. Penny loafers flew off the shelves; pant hems shortened dramatically. If you watched MTV for an hour, you’d see one of his videos—depending on the time of day, perhaps more than one. Hordes of women of every age bought his albums in multiples, screamed and cried at his concerts, fought over the tickets. Posters of him were plastered in bedrooms and living rooms and offices and street corners. He met with President Reagan. Gang members wore imitations of his coats. He was everywhere.

And he deserved it.

Deserved it in the same way Frank Sinatra deserved it; the same way the Beatles or Elvis Presley deserved it. He was a phenomenon not just because he was new but because he was brilliant: a superbly gifted entertainer. No one who watched him came away unimpressed; classical musicians, hard-rock artists. His supremacy was undeniable.

And those are my subjective impressions. The facts, if possible, are even more stunning. Thriller sold a million albums a week while it topped the charts. Released nearly 30 years ago, and leading the advent of MTV as a primary marketing vehicle for music as well as most major mass-marketing techniques now in use, it remains the best-selling album of all time.

No wonder the New York Times said, two years after Thriller’s release, that “in the world of pop music, there is Michael Jackson and there is everybody else.”

I defy you to name one pop artist since him of whom that could be said. Just one.

And he didn’t stop. While no album afterward reached the mind-bending success of Thriller
(and no album, his or otherwise, ever will), Michael Jackson won a “Living Legend Award” Grammy after Dangerous. Only 15 have ever been awarded; he shares it with figures such as Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Luciano Pavarotti, and Johnny Cash. He was 35, and he remains the youngest artist to whom it’s been granted.

He. Is. A. Legend. For. A. Reason.

There’s a reason he’s still referred to in the industry as the King of Pop. A reason he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. A reason he holds the Guinness World Record as “Most Successful Entertainer of All Time.”

Do you understand? The unhinged man you see in the tabloids, on the news—to those of you who didn’t live through his successes, that’s all he is.

But it isn’t all of him. Nowhere close. And it is because he is also a giant, a colossus, that the depth of the footprint he’s left on our music, our culture, our lives, is one that even his own psychoses cannot fill in.

His work, and talent, are magnificent, and nothing and no-one—not even himself—can ever take that away.

Postscript: I can’t believe, really, that he’s gone. It feels personal. It is personal. Because some people, though far away and personally unknowable, change our world so much that they change our lives forever as well.

He was one. One of the big ones. I wish he hadn’t been (I had to correct that from ‘weren’t’; I really
don’t believe it, you see) so deranged. I wish he had gotten the help he needed. I wish he’d made more music.

I wish unobtainable things.

I wish Michael Jackson weren’t dead.

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