Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson

I think the fact that I wasn't the biggest Michael Jackson fan in the world makes me eminently qualified to write a post today about the man's impact. I own two Jackson albums--Thriller and Dangerous--just like everyone else in the world, and when I was little I remember pretty vividly going to see him in 3-D at Disney World.

Part of the reason I say I wasn't the biggest fan in the world has to do with simple math. I was just over two months old when Thriller was released. I bought that album years later, but the first album of his I purchased was Dangerous. Thriller sold 25 million copies the year it was put out, and it went on to sell approximately double that in the decades that followed.

The music I love is varied, but John Lennon is a hero of mine, and Led Zeppelin occupies three of the six slots in my car's CD changer. Still, like everyone else, I know the words to a half dozen Michael Jackson songs.

For a kid of the 1990s, as I was, Michael Jackson was the most famous person in the world. I remember news stories would, every so often, have a poll about whose was the most recognizable face on the planet.

Michael Jackson would beat out the sitting American President every time.

He was an uber-celebrity, he was the King of Pop. He was the greatest musical performer generations of people had ever seen, and one could argue that the pantheon is arranged in an order that resembles the following: Elvis, The Beatles, and Michael Jackson. Throw in Dylan and Zep, and I think I'd agree.

He defined the music video and was the first African American to get regular airplay on MTV. Later in his career, Jackson's music videos premiered on basic cable, in prime time.

And now he's gone and once the haze of respect for the recently departed clears, the media will have at him. The tell-all books will be written, the crazies will come out of the woodwork, and he'll be in the news constantly.

And there will be plenty to write about. He was one of the most controversial figures of the past three decades. He was incredibly strange, and aloof, and especially in the last ten years, increasingly creepy.

But last night, the focus was on the music. And I bet the focus will remain on the music for the next couple of weeks. And I hope that when people remember him, that's what they remember. Because he was unlike anything anyone had ever seen before on stage. He was an icon, and he's influenced a generation of artists, and he will influence many generations more.

So here's to the King of Pop.

Have a good weekend, all, and take a moment to play a track from one of Jackson's albums. I know I will.


Scott said...

Not a fan in the slightest... before a few weeks ago, the only song I could've named was... well, I don't know, but I might have tried "Moonwalk" because it's the dance that I know is associated with him.

I know the words to approximately zero of his songs.

I don't have any of his songs or albums.

So I guess it's pretty much expected that I'm not affected much by his death... it seems like a lot of people are taking it to heart, which I don't understand. I mean, yes, someone died, but it's not like any of us knew him personally, or that he had some kind of profound personal impact on our lives. He just sang and danced.

To paraphrase Zaphod... he was just, like, this guy, you know.

Anonymous said...

The thing is tarepanda, he DID have a profound personal impact on a lot of people's lives. Some people identified with or were deeply touched by his music, some people saw him as a beacon of hope in a culture torn by racial intolerance, and some people were inspired to become dancers or performers because of him. He was an outstanding showman and entertainer. While I realize not everyone is a fan of his work, I have difficulty believing that you would not comprehend the impact he has had on others. Anyone who has ever been emotionally moved by a piece of music, or has been in awe of a theatrical performance, already knows the power musicians and entertainers can have over us. Music is an art, and art is a way of communicating personal thought and emotion. The whole point of art is to touch people, move people, or make people think. To call it "just" singing and dancing is to debase the very nature of its purpose. If you truly cannot understand how music and art influences people, then you must also think Michelangelo "just" painted a ceiling, Shakespeare "just" scribbled words on a page, and the Parthenon is "just" a decaying building... and that is sad to me.

Scott said...

Firstly, for the record, I'd just like to say that my first post was from my perspective, hence all of the "I"s.

I can look at or listen to art and admire it, but I don't think I've ever been in a position where I've had some kind of profound, life-changing experience from a piece of art. And while a lot of people may think that certain things are awe-inspiring, I honestly don't think that many people have made humongous changes in their life because of art, either.

It's a bit hard for me to imagine going nuts over someone I've never met, let alone talked to. For any kind of meaningful relationship to exist for me, it needs to be two-way.

One thing about celebrities is that they seem to inspire crowd frenzies. People get into it because people they actually KNOW are into it, and it just goes from there. You feel bad, your friend feels bad, you both feel bad together, so you feel worse... and now multiply that by a ton of people.

I have a lot more admiration for the works of Renaissance artists than I do for Michael Jackson, personally.

AJG said...

Very interesting conversation, guys, and thanks for reading and weighing in. Just to throw in my own two cents, I'd say a couple of things.

First, tarepanda, I absolutely agree with you on the whole "hero worship" aspect of our society. That's just something I will never understand, either. I don't get why people cry when they see certain celebrities or are rendered speechless when they come in contact with a sports star or whatever, and I guess I just never will.

But I also agree with anonymous' point that entertainers, artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, etc., can have a profound impact on the lives of others.

I think that books such as Catcher in the Rye and people such as John Lennon and yes, Michael Jackson, have certainly had a great impact on other people's lives. There are many musicians out there that are musicians today because of the effect of The Beatles, or the Stones, or Stevie Wonder.

But, on another level, I look at it like this. Music, especially, is something that many people connect to on an emotional level.

Why? Well, for a bunch of reasons, but I think at the most basic, music and specific songs become attached to moments in people's lives.

And with someone like Michael Jackson, I think there are millions of people who remember where they were when he Moonwalked for the first time. And those people remember trying to emulate Jackson's dance in front of their friends.

And maybe they connect more to the personal, happy memory of being with a group of their friends and Moonwalking (or trying to!) down an elementary school hallway the next morning than they do with the person who has died.

In any case, it's an interesting topic, and I encourage others to weigh in.