And so, as every media outlet across the globe has been blanket reporting for the last hundred hours straight, the King of Pop is dead. I suppose rationally speaking we shouldn’t be that surprised, given all he has been through and his legion of rumored health and drug issues, but the news still came as a shock last Friday morning. Even in spite of his last, horribly wasted decade, the bright lights of his prodigious talent managed to touch arguably more people during his lifetime than just about anyone else in modern entertainment history. He certainly has a rightful claim to be one of the three most significant acts in popular music in the twentieth century, alongside Elvis Presley and The Beatles. The word ‘iconic’ is thrown about loosely in this modern hyperbolic world, but Michael Jackson was, regardless of all his faults and absurdities, an iconic figure.
Jackson’s body of work and the sheer ubiquity of his contribution to pop music have ensured that he will be remembered for his talent first, and his history of scandal second. This is exemplified by the similarities in affect of the media’s treatment of Jackson’s death to that of Princess Diana’s. Strangely enough, both figures, in death, seem to enjoy similar levels of reverence in the public eye. There will no doubt be a lot of people all over the world who will always remember where they were when they heard the bad news. I was just about to start eating breakfast at home on Friday when the story started breaking across morning television. I don’t own a single Michael Jackson record right now, but Friday still felt like a bit of a bad dream.
I am a “rock” person, but there was still never any avoiding Michael Jackson.
There was a copy of Thriller in my household growing up, and of course as a card-carrying member of the music television generation, I was exposed to the title track’s magic at a young age. Weird Al Yankovic’s “Fat” and “Eat It” served as humorous lead-ins, growing up, to Jackson’s Bad album. I can recall playing as Michael Jackson in the Moonwalker game on the Sega Megadrive at some stage as a young adolescent, and indeed, generating a lot of static electricity but very little result whilst attempting to moonwalk on the carpet of the family home. I bought a copy of Dangerous on cassette tape, and was astounded at the cutting edge video clip cuts from that album, and intrigued that someone like Slash would collaborate with Michael Jackson (or maybe that someone like MJ would work with Slash). Jackson’s 1995 collaboration with his sister Janet, Scream, was as cool a tune and music video as anything he has ever done. Indeed, even the HIStory misfire included some worthwhile cuts, including quite a cool reading of The Beatles’ Come Together.
So, yes, he was a cartoon character; a garishly distorted caricature of his former glory by the end. But maybe that’s just what makes his passing so ultimately affecting… cartoon characters shouldn’t be able to die, just like that. Especially not characters with the whiz-bang genius of Michael Jackson.