Thursday, June 25, 2009
The King of Pop is dead.
Michael Jackson was probably the most famous person on the planet. More famous than Barack Obama (or any U.S. president before him.) More famous than Princess Diana, Tom Cruise, Will Smith, Paul McCartney, or any other living celebrity (and most dead celebrities.) He was an unbelievably flawed, troubled human being, a man who had no real childhood, who was accused of doing terrible things to other children, who was so obsessed with plastic surgery that he practically changed his skin color, as if he was trying to escape his racial identity in a country with a very troubling history of racial identity politics. Michael Jackson's story is a harsh reflection on America's values and culture, from our obsession with fame and our still uncomfortable relationship with race. More than eccentric, flawed, sometimes frighteningly and dangerously out of touch with what we see as normal human behavior, he lived inside a surreal fame bubble since early childhood that probably psychologically ruined him and turned him into a kind of monster, a modern Phanton of the Opera whose face was often covered in masks to hide the effects of his latest experiments in plastic surgery.
And yet... the music endures. I'm listening to "Off the Wall" on my record player right now, after spinning "Thriller" (still the biggest selling album ever and the only record to ever sell more than an astounding 100 MILLION COPIES) for the hundredth or so time. We've spent nearly two decades making fun of Michael Jackson's many disturbing flaws, after spending the two decades prior to that enjoying the brilliant pop music he gave us.
There are books that could be written analyzing how Michael Jackson reflects some of ugliest sides of America's character. But I prefer to listen to the amazing tunes he produced and remember the Michael Jackson before all the scandals, plastic surgeries that made him nearly unrecognizable, and increasingly bizarre, Howard Hughesian isolation from the rest of humanity. I prefer to look back the pop genius who gave us "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," "Rock With You," "Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man In the Mirror," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You," "Smooth Criminal," "Thriller," "Beat It," "Billie Jean," "P.Y.T.," "Jam," "Black Or White," and "Dangerous." I prefer to remember the man who turned the music video into an art form and pop culture event with production values that rivaled the biggest movies (directed by some of the best filmmakers in the world.) I prefer to remember him when his weird tendencies just made him a more interesting artist. I prefer to remember the man whose Moonwalk dance moves made us believe he was sent from a different planet. I prefer to remember the musicians whose songs helped me develop a lifetime love and passion for music in my formative years. I prefer to remember the perfect version of Michael Jackson we all had in our heads until a couple years into the 90s. Because the reason he was the most famous person in the world was because he made music that everyone in the world loved.
Whatever else he did in his strange life, he was, and will forever be remembered as, The King of Pop.
And now, sadly, shockingly... The King is dead.