Beat it, Haters

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2009 at 5:16 pm

I am a Michael Jackson fan. Always have been. I’m not the least bit ashamed to admit that, and I shouldn’t have to be.

He was a brilliant talent, a shooting star of epic highs and terrifying lows, and now he’s gone.

His death is only the second celebrity death of my lifetime – Princess Di being the other – where I will forever remember exactly where I was when I heard the news.

I was sitting down at my gym cafe, in fact, when I saw that Michael Jackson had died. In front of me were 3 flat screen TV’s, each showing a different station. The MJ news was on all of them. I was surrounded by ten or fifteen people, all uttering variations on the same theme: No way! I can’t believe it.

Michael Jackson is dead?

The reason for the disbelief is obvious – Michael Jackson was a significant part of our cultural fabric. He was bigger than life – a star the likes of which we’ll never seen again, anywhere. When someone like that suddenly disappears, it’s surreal; it’s as if a giant hole has been blown right through the American landscape, leaving a flapping, empty void. We’re talking about a guy who put MTV – MTV! – on the map, a guy who defined popular culture for close to four decades, a guy who made it possible for black entertainers to enjoy crossover success in a white world.

Sure, in his later years Jackson was a complete freak show, a circus act borne out of childhood abuse and the isolation of immense fame. But there are countless famous freaks in the world and when they die, they’re not going to receive the MJ treatment. They just won’t. We won’t see anything like this again for a long, long time. Why, you ask? I’ll tell you:

Because Michael Jackson was the single greatest entertainer of all time. Period.

People can argue all they want about Elvis, or Sinatra, or John Lennon, but it’s useless. MJ trumped them all. He was, before his tragic psychological decline, the most famous person in the entire world. His live concerts were a marathon of screams and fainting seldom seen since the Beatles’ European Invasion. His albums are absolute classics, Thriller maybe the greatest of all time. He influenced every single major popular music artist that came after him – Justin Timberlake, Usher, Chris Brown, Britney Spears, Beyonce, Kanye West – none of them would exist today in the same way if Michael Jackson had never made Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad. Michael Jackson was, inarguably, the defining musical talent of the 80’s generation.

I should know – I grew up listening to his music. “Beat It” was the first song I remember loving. When it would come on the radio, I’d run to my stereo, cassette tape in hand, ready to record. His songs were innovative, they were genre-bending, and they were brilliant. And they are equaled in force only, really, by his dancing. Jackson’s dancing was otherworldly, his feet a blur of activity, impossibly smooth and quick. I used to practice his moves in the mirror, trying endlessly to master the moonwalk. I tried dress shoes, socks, bare feet – nothing worked. To this day, if someone guaranteed that he could teach me the moonwalk, I would gladly hand over a considerable check. Who wouldn’t? It’s only the coolest move ever.

My childhood is dotted with MJ moments. I distinctly remember watching his halftime performance at the 1993 Superbowl. It was an infinitely bigger deal than the game, even at the time. I remember his performance at the MTV video music awards in 1995 when Slash came out and shredded the “Beat It” guitar solo. And I remember wondering later, when the child molestation accusations emerged and MJ was thrown into a very different spotlight, what it all meant and why this huge star that I watched and listened to would do such horrible things.

And, at the end of the day, MJ never really did escape the scandal that trailed his every move and sullied his reputation. He was the Barry Bonds of child molestation – never proven guilty, but as far as the public was concerned it didn’t matter. So I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be all broken up about his death. I didn’t know the man, no one did – not even his family. Frankly, by the end even I – huge fan that I am – couldn’t ignore his overwhelming weirdness and the mounting criminal evidence against him.

But I’ll mourn his music, and I won’t apologize for it.

Michael Jackson’s death jolted me – it felt like the door swinging shut on an era. And I think it’s the fallout from that jolt that we’re all seeing today. His death and the coverage that followed is, at its essence, an epic manifestation of America’s disturbing fascination with celebrity. Jackson, at his peak and during his decline, represented both the best and worst of what we have to offer here in this country. Now he’s gone, and his level of superstardom won’t be attained again.

Michael Jackson was, really, the last true legend we had. There will never be anyone else like him. For that, and for all the music we’ll never get to hear, I’ll miss him.

  1. You should read the Iliad. That is a legend. What Michael Jackson was is a marketing genius, and he managed to sell you good.

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