OBITUARY: Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

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There will be well over ten million words said about the man, and I realize you can read opinion anywhere and everywhere, but these are mine.

I probably got into his music first in the period they moved from being The Jackson 5 to The Jacksons. I loved to dance but never had any dance ambitions, but here was this young kid who was doing some incredible moves on TV, one couldn’t help but be impressed by someone dancing like a robot to “Dancing Machine”, it seemed futuristic. But the music was funky. “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” and “Blame It On The Boogie” was everywhere in the second half of the 70’s. But then came Off The Wall.

It was not his first solo album, in fact it was his fifth, but it was his first as an adult. It would become the biggest album of his career up until late 1982, but from the summer of 1979 to the fall of 1982, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”, “Rock With You”, “She’s Out Of My Life”, “Girlfriend”, and of course the title track, plus a number of album tracks, including “I Can’t Help It”. That album was considered to be the equivalent of Stevie Wonder‘s Talking Book, an artist known for being a child star but progressing into adulthood with a string of hits and a wave of success that no other young artist had at the time. Growing up in Honolulu, my radio listening habits were the Top 40 stations on AM radio (KKUA and KIKI respectively) and as much as they played MJ, these songs were great. It was a world before MTV, before Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous, before TMZ, and obviously before Thriller.

Once Thriller came out, things would never be the same. It was superhype at its very best, but… most albums have a shelf life of six to nine months, a year if you’re lucky. Thriller held up for three years, and people were still buying it. I don’t need to tell you what happened during and after Thriller, that story is well documented, but some have argued that pop success brought him the world. In the end, the world would eat him up.

He was not perfect, but the moment actress Elizabeth Taylor called him “The King Of Pop”, it was as if he had taken advantage of it and created a pedestal for himself. To be famous… it’s a concept that’s interesting but not something I would want, at least not on an MJ level. But I don’t know if I would’ve built the pedestal and walls so high. He did eccentric things in the last half of his life, much due to his enormous success, and it has almost become the main focus of the entertainer. By 1984 he reached a level that everyone wanted to aspire to, and he was truly one of the most successful musical artists in the world. That kind of fame seemed powerful in the 60’s and 70’s, but things moved to sinister levels when it seemed the public demanded (and perhaps deserved) more. I think in the end, he just couldn’t take it. To paraphrase the man himself, he didn’t want to stop but this time I think he had enough.

When the news of his death was official, I found out about it online. I was in the car soon after running some errands and I was trying to find a radio station locally that would stop and speak of Michael Jackson. It was NPR who broke the news, but on the other radio stations, it was business as usual. It would be a few minutes before I heard one of the big Top 40 “urban” stations stop and tell everyone that he did. Then the DJ goes on to say “we don’t have any Michael Jackson songs in the system, but I’ll find a way to get some songs to play”. In case you don’t know, most big stations no longer have any physical records or CD’s, everything is a digital file and stations can run itself uninterrupted for a week or two without anyone knowing. 15 minutes later, the station played its first MJ song, about 75 minutes after the official word of his passing. It was an embarrassment, but then again I do live in a “small market” town. I am certain that if I lived in a bigger city, I would have heard everything from tributes to phone dedications to interviews. Then again, maybe it wasn’t a surprise that local coverage was close to nil.

Michael Jackson was an incredible performer, an artist, musician (he did play on his albums), and producer who was a perfectionist. But he wasn’t able to control the imperfections of a world he always seemed to love, with occasional bursts of hate that showed he was indeed human. He allegedly did things that no one should be proud of, but those may have been some of the demons that pulled him down. At least now, he doesn’t have to show and prove when he had already done more than enough to mark his place in history.

r.i.p.

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