Michael Jackson has stunned me all my life. I couldn’t even tie my shoes when Off the Wall came out in ’79 (my favorite MJ record) but I know I heard it. I know it made it into my consciousness because when I was older and played it seemingly for the first time, I found that I knew every song. The melodies were old dancing friends, the lyrics, arcane chants waiting to be remembered. Everything Michael did in the 80’s and into the 90’s was a huge event. The records were obviously colossal, the video premieres that accompanied them defined the art at the time.
“Thriller,” “Beat It,” “Billy Jean,” “Smooth Criminal,” “Black Or White,” “Man in the Mirror,” each one fundamentally influenced the entertainment industry and set trends in music, techniques, art direction, choreography, etc. The man owns dance moves, he has patents on specialized shoes. Michael’s videos were as big as movies, even bigger in some cases. His actual film appearances were less impressive, and there are surprisingly few examples. “The Wiz” is an early classic, but Michael is nearly unrecognizable – of course that would become a hallmark. His cameo in “Men In Black II” is inexplicable. On the other hand “Ghosts” and “Moonwalker” are the kinds of fantasy kids stories he seemed to inhabit with glee. My favorite is obviously the Coppola/Lucas 3-d adventure, “Captain EO.”
But more important then Michael’s ineffable influence on music (and every copy cat hard on from Justin Timberlake to whatever their names are) is his immeasurable impact on our culture. Through his art (and charities) he’s also shaped people’s lives in some not insignificant ways. And there is absolutely no one like him on Earth.
It’s easy to get lost in this wretched salvo of dispatches, rants and commentaries about his demise. Michael crashed Twitter and AOL when he died. I was once thrown out of a bar in Williamsburg for somewhat violently defending him. It wasn’t even about the allegations – anyone who is both strange and devotes their life to children is a great target for blackmail – it was about his genius as an artist. Unfortunately, a lot of fools these days don’t understand that, and sometimes need to be straight. By the way the bartenders were pouring vodka on the bar and drinking it up through coke straws so, well I tried my best to educate them. People don’t realize where that one beat or that look came from in the first place, let alone that the odd, perfectionist man who devised it was Michael Jackson.
His song “We Are the World,” penned with Lionel Richie and backed by the supergroup (to end all upergroups) USA for Africa, was appreciated even in my Republican household. It’s still one of the best things anyone’s ever seen.
Goodbye Michael. He sought to better the world through music. Really, nothing else need be said.