[6 July 2009]
Celebrity deaths are always a strange occurrence, especially now that we have sites like Twitter. Within seconds, everyone on there was tweeting about the King of Pop’s death. And, as with deaths of this nature, there are the people who will say that we should be more concerned with more important, worldwide events, such as the ongoing Iranian election. While that is undeniably a truth, it’s hard to not be selfish and think about how the death has affected you. And in this case, that’s exactly what I’m doing.
As an ‘80s baby—1985 to be exact—I more or less grew up hearing Michael Jackson’s finest work. I can remember seeing the “Thriller” video around Halloween as a kid and my brother absolutely freaking out – mind you, he’s 3 1/2 years old. I also remember wanting to learn that famous dance, just like everyone else in the world.
But MJ’s music didn’t resonate with me as a child until I heard the whacky but brilliant parodies by none other than “Weird Al” Yankovic. Honestly, how could anyone, especially a young and bored male growing up in Rhode Island, resist the ridiculousness of “Fat” or “Eat It”? Tracks like those not only made me laugh, but they made sure that Jackson’s hits would remain ingrained in my brain.
Yet, my appreciation for him wasn’t totally there yet. And, because of those parodies, it was at first difficult to view Michael as anything but the butt of a joke. It didn’t help that one of my favorite In Living Color skits featured Tommy Davidson as MJ trying to get into Macaulay Culkin’s house. I also loved the other impression that featured Jackson’s likeness destroying a car. And I will never forget the Simpsons episode featuring “Michael Jackson”, who was actually a big white guy who began talking/singing like Michael to deal with his problems.
Although you could find me singing along to the ‘80s hits and others like “Black or White”, it was not until HIStory and its lead-single “Scream” that I began to understand Michael’s genius. Was the video completely insane and bizarre? Yes. But the song itself still gets plays from me and my friends today when we want to hear pop goodness.
As I grew older and eventually became the music-lover I am now, it became devastatingly clear just how talented and hard-working the man was. And that is a statement I doubt anyone could disagree with. All of the allegations and weirdness aside, Michael Jackson made an impact on music and culture that few ever have. It’s for that reason that I cannot help but be at least mildly moved by his passing.
Spurring that emotion in particular is the fact that a song such as the absolutely perfect “Human Nature” remains in my top 10 favorite songs of all time. And it’s not just because Large Professor cleverly sampled it for one of Illmatic‘s finest tracks in “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”. From the lyrics to the keyboards to the subtle drums, few songs hit me as hard as “Human Nature”. Obviously, nearly every other song he graced, especially during the ‘80s and with the Jackson 5, deserves similar acclaim.
Michael Jackson could dance and sing like every damn R&B artist these days could only dream. And now, it’s up to them to try to fill those supremely talented shoes—shoes that have busted out some of the most creative and phenomenal moves ever seen. Rest In Peace, MJ, and I just hope that others decide to let you do the same.
Weekly newspaper reporter by day, music reviewer by night (OK, and by day, too). When he's not writing for PopMatters, Andrew spends most of his time at online magazine Prefix and hip-hop site Potholes In My Blog.