It’s sad to see this particular circus back in town. These clowns have long since worn out their welcome, no matter the changing faces of the ringmasters or the acrimonious animal tamers involved. From questions of paternity to that clichéd concern over drugs, Michael Jackson managed to leave this Earth in much the same way he lived on it for the last 20 years—under a billowing big top of rumor, innuendo, and self-made/ exacerbated scandal. Gone was the youthful grin that wanted to dance us into day and ‘be’ starting something. Missing was any real mention of the amazing music he made. In its place was a 30-mile zone zeitgeist that saw a simmering midway of tabloid attractions lure the fan once again away from the facts and into their horrific house of mirrors.
This is not to say that the late, great King of Pop was perfect. One look at him in the weeks before his death indicates a man still manufacturing his own myth, both artistically and physically. But in the speed to spin any speculation into truth, the biggest part of Jackson’s legacy got left in the dust. It’s almost a given—like Elvis’ influence, John Lennon’s gifts, or Kurt Cobain’s pain. It’s so ingrained in us we need to be shocked into respecting it. We see hundreds of Philippine inmates mimicking the famed dance from Thriller and the most rote parts of our brain processes the homage in like kind. It may not be our Bible, Billy Jean is still not our lover, but we’re all struck by the smoothest of criminals, and no one can truly deny the way Jackson’s incredible musical gifts made us feel.
With that complicated perspective in tow, PopMatters is devoting the next four days to paying tribute to the man who made MTV multiculturally viable, who reinvented dance into something suave and soulful, and delivered an amazing amalgamation of musical styles, sources, and genres. But this is not a pure praise-a-thon. Not every piece will be complimentary. For some, Jackson remains an uneasy ruler, even in the last act finality of death. Others can’t escape the poisonous political era which saw him rise to prominence. There will be those who make it all too personal, reminiscent in a way that shows affection and fandom. And a few will offer up their choicest mix-tape picks, putting together the kind of aural honor befitting a man whose sole driving force was the crafting of clever, creative poptones.
So join us in remembering the life and troubled times of this mythic musical figure. Clearly, for all his talent, for his ability to communicate across generations and borders, timelines and lifestyles, Michael Jackson will forever be an enigma. That he literally personified the term stands, for many, as the stain on the otherwise spotless sonic record. From the time he was five until the moments before his death, he was a part of our cultural path, an occasional sideshow that really didn’t need to be so odd, or so obtuse. During his reign as lead singer of the Jackson 5, he once cautioned about being mindful of “the love you save”. It was a sentiment he clearly forgot before entering this particular center ring one more time. Sadly, he’s now left all alone.
Wednesday, July 8 2009
Unlike John Lennon’s clumsy attempts to appear working class or Mick Jagger’s incessant chauvinist posturing, Michael Jackson had no strong desire to be “authentic” or “real”.
Oddly enough, the Jackson debacle reminds me of another recent death, that of Ronald Reagan just over five years ago.
Michael Jackson is a perennial stranger, an eccentric character with an upbringing which dwarfs any Philip Larkin-esque conception of the fucked up.
"Thriller" was the first 'meta' horror film, paving the way for much of the genre films we enjoy today.
Sometimes it’s not easy to locate the child prodigy and genius musician in those transformations, as though what constitutes a stellar career is only prelude and financial support for his body’s desired transformations.
Tuesday, July 7 2009
Michael Jackson: a man who was made to do everything - except star in films. The Wiz more than proved this.
Despite my limited enthusiasm for Jackson’s music, I became increasingly shaken by the announcement of his untimely and unfortunate death, and the reality that an odd man whose reputation was tarnished by a series of accusations, was no longer in the living world.
With Jackson's death, we must also say goodbye to the era when an individual pop star had the power to saturate and unite.
My God, could that man dance. Michael Jackson moved like the love child of Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.
We lost so much more than another legend June 25. We lost the final man to give us a glimpse into how the world of pop music should be.
Monday, July 6 2009
But Michael Jackson and his brothers opened up and represented the possibilities of a wide, wonderful world for me at a most impressionable moment in my youth.
No case study can come close to approximating the one-of-a-kind wunderkind who became the King of Pop. His story is unique, and will likely remain the triumphant and ultimately tragic cultural touchstone of our times.
Creating a mix CD is different than listening to an album. Instead of listening to artists tell their stories, you use their music to tell one of your own.
I hope his effusive childlike enthusiasm gives him access to heaven’s gate, where maybe he can reconstruct the childhood he once lost.
This is an album so wholly realized in its style and aesthetic that it feels like a continuous loop, infinitely playing in addendum with some blissed out, never-ending dance floor.
Sunday, July 5 2009
The ultimate list of icons to pay performance tribute to THE icon.
Much has been made of Michael Jackson’s identification with the character of Peter Pan, but the late singer had another literary devotion that didn’t make it into his obituaries: He was an Edgar Allan Poe fanatic.
The King of Pop’s life and times reads like a parallel social history of the United States since Ike’s White House tenure.
What I distinctly remember was the incredible sense of awe I felt when Michael took the stage. I was totally captivated. He struck such a defiant opening pose, I was intimidated by the man.
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.
As an adult, I haven’t the foggiest idea of what a “King of Pop” is or does, but as a six-year-old, I was pretty sure Michael Jackson invented music.
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