Sunday, June 28, 2009

More than just an obligatory post about Michael Jackson

Scot turned to me and said that he didn't quite get all the hub-bub about how revolutionary Michael Jackson's career was. This is a guy who isn't real in touch with pop culture now, and was probably less so as a kid. But the question caught me off guard... everyone knows why Michael Jackson was a big deal!

A good many reminders lie therein: first of all, I'm getting old. Secondly, a lot of people either are too young to remember why he was such a big deal, or, sadly, perhaps were around at that time but all that has been overshadowed by the 10-15 years of pure freakishness that followed the culture-changing talent.

Knowing my initial answer of a dog-whistle-high, "Seriously!?" probably wasn't helpful, I explained. While I'm no music historian, I was 11 when Thriller came out. I'd been too young to really get into the start of all the commotion, Off the Wall, which came out in 1979. But Thriller was a musical phenomenon that swept through culture like a tsunami. White kids in the 'burbs listening to "black music?" It's gently referred to as "crossover" but it was an 8.9 on the racial Richter scale in a large section of US culture.

And it seems so hard to believe; we're talking just over 25 years ago.

MTV was this strange new idea -- music on television? -- and few artists really produced videos per se. And what MTV did play was WHITE, without exception. The success of Jackson couldn't be ignored. What would MTV be playing today without him?

Not only that, he cranked out amazingly elaborate mini-cinema, greatly affecting the future of music videos as an art form.

At one point, Thriller was selling a million records a week around the world. It is the best selling album of all time, without serious contender.

So if you cannot remember, or never were exposed to the performing genius -- the lyrics, the amazing range of voice (low tenor to falsetto), the coreography and dancing (my God, the dancing!), the clothes, the never-seen-before blowout concerts... then get over to LimeWire or YouTube or somewhere and watch some of the following:

But do remember... it was the 80's for some of them.
  • Thriller (Dark... scary... Vincent Price does the voice-over at the beginning, and this video cost $500,000 to make -- many times more what most would spend to make such a thing at the time)
  • Bad
  • Black or White ("It don't matter if you're black or white." Remember the morphing!? Amazing even today.)
  • Keep It in the Closet (Naomi Campbell... wow)
  • Dirty Diana (one of my favorite Jackson songs, it has a lot of concert footage in it, too)
  • Scream (with Janet Jackson; black, white, futuristic and amazing)
Edit: MTV has them all right here. (Doesn't work in Firefox on Mac for some reason.)

To understand just how deeply Jackson was an entertainer, you have to see him off stage. He is so low energy, and seems barely able to raise his voice enough to be heard answering simple questions. This same person becomes an explosive powerhouse on stage and film; something truly happens and he becomes something different.

I'd much rather remember all this great stuff then a bunch of tabloid trash about a very troubled human -- how else can you explain being one of the world's most talented and popular entertainers, the world in the palm of your hand, literally, and you end up broke, addicted to pills and likely dying from an unintentional drug overdose? (Or maybe not unintentional.)

1 comment:

  1. I was in college when Thriller came out. My friends and I would sit for hours in the TV room of our dorm building waiting for the video to show on MTV.

    I hope whatever demons were chasing him throughout his life have been vanquished and he can be at peace.