Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson- His Legacy

Above; Michael Jackson as he began preparation for his 2009 shows in London for his comeback tour. All 50 shows were sold out.

Some of the older people will ask "why all of this fuss about an entertainer's death?" Some under the age of twenty-five may ask the same thing- they only remember the garish freak show Michael Jackson's life became in the last two decades of his life; the 1993 civil suit alleging Jackson's molestation of 13 year old Jordy Chandler, the admission that he often shared his bed with young boys, a sensational 2005 criminal trial alleging Jackson's molestation of young boys (he was found not guilty on all counts).

There was the quicky marriage and divorce of Lisa Marie Presley (1994-96); the quicky marriage (and divorce) to Debbie Rowe (1996-99); the birth of his children and the dangling of infant son Michael II from a Berlin balcony, and his plastic surgeries, the skin lightening makeup, and the wearing surgical masks routinely. And the unchecked spending; the King of Pop made millions and spent the vast majority of it in a heartbeat.

And after the excellence of OFF THE WALL (1979), THRILLER (1982), and the success of BAD (1987) and DANGEROUS (1991) he released INVINCIBLE (2001) which sold 8 million copies but is generally regarded as a commercial failure and an artistic bomb.

One can't talk about the life and legacy of of Michael Jackson without mentioning those sad last decades. But for a period spanning four earlier decades, from 1969 to 1991, Michael Jackson emerged as a teeny bop idol and morphed into the most influential artist alive. The 1980's can truly be defined as The Michael Jackson Decade, much like the 1950's and the 1960's could be called the Presley and Beatles Decades, respectively.

Musically, I'm a rocker. In the 1980's I was more into Van Halen, Yes, Genesis, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, and Springsteen than Michael Jackson and his music. But I could not, nor would I ever, try to diminish or play down the talent and influence he had in the the world of pop music. The 1980's belonged to Jackson, and his influence is felt today in Usher, Justin Timberlake, and scores of other young performers. There was an artistry in the man that was unparalleled- he produced two nearly perfect albums in OFF THE WALL and THRILLER, and his collaboration with Quincy Jones was the most successful marriage of producer and artist since George Martin and The Beatles.

But Jackson was more than a music icon; he became a figure as important in American race relations as Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, or Oprah Winfrey. He wasn't regarded by most as an African-American entertainer but as an American superstar. His celebrity transcended race. And much as Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, Jackson broke another hurdle; he became the first black artist to have his videos shown on what was then an all white MTV.

Many young people born in the 1980's or later would be shocked if they could get into a time machine and go back to 1981 and watch MTV at that time. It was Duran Duran, David Bowie, The Go Go's , Hall and Oates, The Motels, and the Cars; it was whites only. With the exception of J.J. Jackson there were no black Vee-Jays; sex symbol to be "Downtown" Julie Brown would show up in the middle of the decade of the Eighties.

Michael Jackson and THRILLER changed all of that- he sang with Paul McCartney on "Say, Say, Say", and Eddie Van Halen played the guitar intro to "Beat It". His album produced seven Top Ten singles (out of nine tracks) and eventually sold 50 million copies worldwide. Michael Jackson's videos became a fixture in the regular video rotation on MTV; his success opened the door to Prince and Lionel Ritchie, and eventually to rappers, starting with Run-DMC and Tone Loc.

The release of the mini-movie video for the song Thriller was an event that was debuted on HBO, with a documentary film on the making of the Thriller video following it up. No video in the history of music was so anticipated, watched, or praised; it was directed by A-list Hollywood director John Landis.

Jackson co-wrote We Are The World (with Lionel Ritchie), and was a driving force in assembling the dozens of artists who performed on the song and in the video, and in the orgainization of USA FOR AFRICA in 1985.

Along the way Jackson won 13 GRAMMY AWARDS.

Jackson didn't just open the door a little more for artists of color to mainstream America- he smashed the door into splinters and ground it to sawdust.

If he never did another thing after the success of THRILLER, it would have been enough to make Jackson an icon for the ages.

Much like John Lennon and Marilyn Monroe, I think I'll always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of Michael Jackson's death. I know I'm not alone.

And that is probably the measure of who is and who is not a cultural icon.


The Kid In The Front Row said...

That's a really great blog, really interesting. Thanks for writing it.

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Thanks "Kid"....tell your neighbors, wake the kids, call Grandma and Grandpa...I need more readers. I'm like Billy Idol, dancin' with my seh-elf!

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