Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Tribute To Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

In the irony of ironies, I was just reading the short article in this week's Rolling Stone titled "Michael Jackson's Troubled Comeback," by Fred Goodman, which detailed the bumpy circumstances of the legend's upcoming batch of 50 concerts in London, a massive event which would curtail his financial and legal woes and announce his return to music prominence. Within an hour of putting down the magazine, he was pronounced dead. Surely in the wake of this much will be said about the changes in appearance, the court cases, and the general eccentricity that had come to define his life, as it should; it was all part of his legacy and made him even more famous. But it wasn't what made him an icon in the first place, and in my tribute piece I'd like to focus on the true nature of his legend, what made the man with the fancy white glove so newsworthy in the first place.

People always say "such and such was/is the Michael Jordan of their field," as a way of indicating that that individual was/is the absolute best and most transcendent in their given arena. And if that's the case, then Michael Jordan was the Michael Jackson of basketball. Jackson was the single greatest entertainer of all-time, perhaps the most influential man in pop music history, and still amongst the most famous men in the world. I'm only 21, so I wasn't even alive during his apex, but like everyone else will, I feel the need to pay my respects as Jackson's impact was so far-reaching it touched my generation, too, and will affect the ones after mines. I'm not writing this for any reason other than what he meant to his genre, what he meant to the game. He changed it. He reinvented the concept of the music video and almost single-handily helped spawn the success of MTV, turning these short clips into short cinema. The Thriller flick was simply a work of art and remains the gold standard for all that have come after it. His live performances and dance moves were revolutionary and his best songs remain the seminal work of any solo artist in pop music. He spearheaded the Jackson 5 phenomenon as a child, his career spanning four decades. But his influence will carry on forever, in every music video, dance sequence, and pop song, in Justin Timberlake, Usher, and every other similar performer in stark or subtle ways, in the dollars he generated and his overall body of work.

And even through all of the travails of his life and his increasingly infrequent activity he was still capable of delivering the goods. The video he did with Chris Tucker for "You Rocked My World" earlier this decade? He still had it, what he had - the distinct voice, the unmatched charisma, the megawatt star power - one can never lose, and he was going to prove that this summer. Now, he won't get the chance.

We all knew Farrah Fawcett was losing her battle with cancer and that Ed McMahon was an 85-year old man in the hospital, so those two deaths were saddening but not jolting. No one was prepared for this one. Michael Jackson was a young man and in seemingly fine health. I am not shocked, Jackson's life was always kind of tragic (and again I will leave those details to someone else), but obviously this is still something I was not ready for. All I had planned for tonight was to watch the NBA draft on ESPN, but that event seems trivial now. In my lifetime all I can compare this to is the death of Princess Di, which I was too young to understand the significance of at the time. This tragedy is different, but similar in its way, worldwide news of the highest order, and this time, I get it. And now I can say with regret that I know what it was like when Lennon died.

The header to that RS story read, "The singer's upcoming 50 concerts will make him rich again - if he holds up." But the writer didn't mean it in that way, and what a sad day it is.

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