I was speaking with friends yesterday and today about the sudden death of Michael Jackson and we recalled many things. I want to take a moment to share some of those thoughts with you.
I can recall being a very young child and hearing ABC 123 from the Jackson 5. To this day just thinking of the title of that song instantly brings up the memory of that song, hearing MJ’s voice in my mind, and the summer in the 70’s. It’s a good memory.
That’s something that I think most of us can say. Hearing some of our favorite songs by Michael Jackson brings us back to memories of our youth, or even more recent days, that are pleasant and fun. Not every singer can do that, not every song. But he did it many times.
I remember that I bought the Ben album back in the days. It was the second album I ever bought. The first was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I recall that album to this day. It was sweet and melodic. It really just touched a cord.
I also recall being pissed at him during the 80’s. I had a girlfriend that was absolutely in love with him. Even more than me at the time. I’m sure other men had a similar competition. One that MJ never knew of, and one that none of us mere men could ever win.
My friends and I noticed something while watching all the news on Michael Jackson’s death. Videos from across his life were being shown split-screen as commentators spoke. And with no delay, with complete agreement, we were able to place every single song the videos were showing. That’s without any sound. No matter how old the video clip or music video.
Imagine the impact he has made that people of multiple generations can sit and see a visual snippet and know the exact song, and generally the year, without ever hearing a word. Something we didn’t even realize we knew until that moment.
Another friend noted that Michael Jackson is the progression of the great singers. There was Elvis, then the Beatles, and now MJ. Looking forward, there is no one yet that comes close to the talent, showmanship, and longevity Jackson had. And I can’t imagine, in a world of throw-away entertainers and American Idol, if anyone like this will come again.
The entire industry of music videos needs to celebrate Michael Jackson. I expect nothing less than a full run of every video and music clip of Jackson singing since his first televised appearance in the Jackson 5 on MTV. They owe him that.
Were it not for the foresight of Jackson, and his commitment to providing fans a complete entertainment experience, music videos of today would not exist. Jackson made mini-movies. He extended the length of time a video could be, he raised the bar on quality, on the production itself. Thriller was not a music video, it was a story. Billie Jean was a story. Remember The Time was a short film.
Before Jackson was making music videos, they were jumbles of catchy imagery that may have had nothing to do with anything. Once he got involved, we got an art form. And MTV was smart enough to break the color barrier they had for every single video he ever did.
Another friend noticed the incredible impact of Michael Jackson. Thinking back through the years of coverage, did you notice that ANYTHING he did was news. If he wore a new piece of clothing it was news. The sparkled socks (which respectfully Donnie Osmond did first – but Jackson did it bigger), the single glove, his hair, the outfits he wore (on stage or off). Hell, MJ just leaving Neverland was good enough to get 30 seconds of news airtime. No one is that big, just him.
When you think of the career of Jackson you have to think big. He started trends in fashion – basically all the clothes of the 80’s. He broke racial barriers world wide – there was no where he could not appear, and people of every description sold-out stadiums to see him. He broke industry standards – almost always having the biggest contracts, Grammy Awards, limits on music video lengths, 750 million records sold, 13 top 100 hits for a single artist, and on and on. He created dance crazes – though he was inspired by James Brown, he had the world trying to imitate his moves and Moonwalk – even to this day.
His music is so ingrained in the world that he is one of the top sampled artists ever. People of all ages have at least one favorite song from throughout his career. Every entertainer since the 80’s has tried to imitate some if not all of his artistry. Every entertainer that is a person of color has dreamed of matching even part of his success, and use his career as a guide path for their own.
All of this came at a high price though. He never grew up, at least not properly. He was reportedly shy. He was reclusive. He was likely a pedophile. He was beyond eccentric (though parts of his tabloid eccentricity may have been his own manipulation to gain greater press coverage). He hated his own face, and possibly race (the multiple cosmetic surgeries and rumored skin bleaching). He was a man with many demons, possibly addictions, and he couldn’t hide for all his trying. I doubt he lived a day without pressure and stress since he was in his teens.
All these things and more are Michael Jackson. He was by definition an icon, a figure too large to be merely like everyone else. He was as gifted as he was troubled. I think he may have been the loneliest person that everyone in the world knew and wanted to be near.
For all his faults and issues, for all the real and imagined deviations and eccentricity, for all the grandeur and splendor he craved and provided to fans, one thing will always be true.
Michael Jackson walked the Earth for 50 years, his footprint has been left on billions of people, and he made the planet overall better in the ways only he could. Such a legacy, such memories, such an inspiration are all things we can be glad of and hope to attain in a small way. I can think of few things better to say of any human being, past or present.