Michael Jackson was breakfast cereal. Michael Jackson was a bicycle, a summer day, a toy building block, a pack of trading cards. When I was growing up in the mid-‘80s, Michael Jackson was a given. Cyndi Lauper, George Michael, Lionel Richie, Madonna, Bruce; before I was cognizant of genre demarcations, or even the barest scraps of pop music history, I understood that pantheon, and that Michael Jackson was its Zeus.
He ruled from a double-gatefold LP, reclined, white tiger by his side. 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. And I wasn’t even a fan.
Michael Jackson’s death is sure to become one of those “where were you?” moments, to rival John F. Kennedy, the Challenger disaster, Martin Luther King Jr., Princess Di. And due to the slow, sad, crumbling of his reputation — all of the bizarre and sordid elements of his life that made him literally and figuratively unrecognizable from the man he was at his creative peak — some will gnash their teeth, roll their eyes, won’t care at all, won’t understand the overwhelming tonnage of cable news and other media. Fair enough.
There is far more important news out there that should be heeded. There is far too much work to be done in this world. But, though contemporary culture has grown exceptionally good at overdoing it, there is a strong argument for taking just a quick moment to reflect on at least one aspect of how Michael Jackson’s half-century of life on this Earth impacted it. Because it did.
Over 100 million copies sold worldwide, and that’s just Thriller. Consider that, and what it means for the amount of individual listeners that figure implies to have heard and absorbed the same collection of songs, words, chords, ands notes, including its ubiquitous videos and images, over the course of almost 30 years. Impossible. It’s not grains of sand, it’s a beach. It’s not the stars, it’s the night sky. And whatever anyone’s opinion of Michael Jackson (mine included) as a man, man-child, tragic figure, hero, villain, his body of work exists in the world, in sheer physical copies alone, in numbers difficult to imagine.
Never mind whatever melodies are floating through untold brains across the globe at any given moment, and by their influence, via a million other musicians plying their respective trades. For fans of music of any style, any aesthetic, period or ethos, this has to impress, or at least boggle the mind. At the very least it cannot be denied. Michael Jackson is granite. Michael Jackson is an automobile, a rainstorm, breakfast cereal.