When first hearing the news, initially the first thing that when into my mind was that “Nah, it can’t be true. it’s a lie.” Then when, other news sources (CNN, Yahoo, etc.) began to confirm the story, it was shocking and total disbelief for me. It was bad enough to hear about the death of Farah Fawcett a few hours earlier and now the news that Michael Jackson is gone. I was too young to remember when Elvis Presley passed away in 1977 and I was in second grade when John Lennon was assassinated in1980, and in my lifetime the deaths of Sammy Davis Jr. in 1990, Tupac Shakur in 1996, Notorious BIG in 1997, Aaliyah in 2001, Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes in 2002 and James Brown in 2006 were huge, Jackson’s passing was was the biggest on them all.
My earliest memory of Michael Jackson was when he was with his brothers in 1979 with the song “Shake Your Body Down To The Ground.” As a six-year-old, I couldn’t remember any of the the words in each verse, but I do remember singing ( at least try to sing) the chorus of the song around my house after hearing in on the radio. Another memory took place on Christmas 1982, when my mother bought us for the family gift the Thriller album. It was a total surprise for us being that the album was just released a few weeks earlier that month. Who knew that it was going to be the biggest selling album of all time (According to SoundScan: 100 million and still counting.)
The last memory was five months later in May 1983. My brother and I had to go to bed because we had school the next day, but my mother asked us if we wanted to stay up and see Motown 25 ( NBC was showing the television special that night.) Of course we said yes and we watched the show. You could not believe what you saw on in that special, seeing Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Four Tops performing on stage, as well as The Jackson 5 reunion and Michael’s classic performance of “Billie Jean.”
His performance was something that my classmates and I talked about at school the next day. This was the days before TiVo, Internet, Youtube, MySpace, Facebook and any other social networking sites where someone would post the video clips online immediately. Unless you had the money for a VCR ( and not too many of us did back then) you had to see it live because if you missed it, then you missed a great performance.
1984 was the year that everyone wanted to be like Mike( this is before another future global icon with the initials MJ who would make a name for himself around the NBA later on that year with the Chicago Bulls: Michael Jordan.) It seemed in that year alone, anything record Jackson sang on, whether it was his songs, any collaboration (See: “State of Shock” with Mick Jagger and “Say Say Say” with Paul McCartney) or just provided background vocals (See: Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me; with his brother Jermaine on “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming” and his sister Rebbie on “Centipede.” that song was going to be a hit. If you were a Michael Jackson fan in 1984, the height of “Michaelmania” ,you wanted to do to not only dance like the man but also dress like him as well. My funds at the time didn’t allow me to buy the “Beat It” jacket; the “Thriller” jacket; a chance to go to the Victory Tour, or get myself a jheri curl ( it crossed my mind, but I never did get one-but my friends did though–man, seeing those care free curl activator bottles and the plastic caps that went along with it brings back memories though.) But my funds did allow me to buy the 45s of some of the singles that were released off the “Thriller” album.
“Billie Jean” was the first music video shown on MTV that was done by a black artist. It is hard to believe now when you see the channel, but MTV did not show any videos from black artists (even though Rick James, Evelyn Champagne King, Gap Band, Ray Parker Jr. ,Earth Wind and Fire had already made music videos, the network wouldn’t show them because there were not rock videos. )Walter Yetnikoff, President of CBS Records, issued an ultimatum to MTV, either they will show “Billie Jean” or they will never receive any more videos from any artist on the CBS Records music roster and the network will be exposed for their policies. MTV gave in and began to show Billie Jean on a regular basis. Jackson was able to change the concept of a music video. It went from a promotional tool to something of a mini-movie. The challenge was thrown to every artist out there in the music business: if you just want to sing in your video, that’s fine, but if you want your video to stand out, you had to either act and/or dance in order to get some attention from the public. Jackson’s appeal crossed racial, gender, age, and social economic boundaries. The blueprint for his success was the label he started out his recording career with: Motown, where Berry Gordy’s plan was to have R& B music acts that would crossover to the pop charts.
A flawed Genius
The man was a great singer/ songwriter, a fluid dancer (he was a student of James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Jackie Wilson, Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly , the Nicholas Brothers, plus he added elements of Hip-Hop, Broadway, Jazz and Tap to his dance repertoire) :a humanitarian (he donated time and money to charitable causes along with visiting sick children in hospitals, clinics and shelters here in the United States and all around the world); smart businessman ( buying the Beatles catalog was an excellent and sound investment.) and a excellent on stage performer ( as a music act, you better bring in every night and give the audience their money’s worth- a lesson that Jackson always followed in each and every concert.)
Unfortunately, the last 15 years has been fodder for the tabloids. Whether it was about his plastic surgery
( Did he go took far- yes!) his questionable behavior in public ( Should hie used better judgment when he was in the public eye-Yes!)his spending habits ( Did he spend beyond his means in the later years- Yes!) his entourage ( did he surround himself with people that really did not look for his best interest, especially those hangers-on that were only around just to bleed money from him- Yes!) his “disappointing” album sales after Thriller ( According to SoundScan: 1987’s Bad album sold 8 million copies in the U.S and 30 million worldwide with 6 top 10 hits including 5 songs that hit No.1) 1991’s Dangerous album sold 7 million in the U.S and 32 million worldwide with 6 top 10 hits. and 2001’s Invincible sold 2 million in the U.S. but 10 million worldwide with 2 top ten hits- pretty good for an album that had little promotion by Sony Music; wasn’t part of a world tour and virtually ignored by mainstream pop radio.) and his two well publicized court cases involving young children (the ironic thing is prior to the 1993 case, Michael was on a media tour with the super bowl performance that January, doing print and tv interviews and showing up on award shows- then the stuff hit the fan that summer and that was it. The 2005 case was very evident that it really took its physical and emotional toll on him.)
The Legacy lives on
Despite the media pretty much tried and convicted him for having a bizarre personality while documenting his trials and tribulations on a regular basis; Despite the media also saying that he is a has-been in today’s music landscape; despite being a polarizing figure in the court of public opinion; and despite being the punchline for jokes for late night comics, Jackson has always maintain a loyal following not only here in the United States but also around the world. His impact in the music industry throughout the years has created a new generation of musical acts and dancers who were definitely influenced by Jackson whether it by his singing style with the voice inflections or dancing style, where the moves are precision-like and tight.
Jackson was on his way to perform a series of concerts in London later on this month and sadly, we will never know how it would have turned out.
Was the man a saint? No. Jackson had a horrible childhood and as a adult, he developed an addiction to plastic surgery, and as what we have learned recently in the news, to prescription drugs. But the man was not the monster or freak that the media made him out to be. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion about Jackson, but memo to United States Congressman Peter King: “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” Lastly, while there are worthy contenders out there to be the next King or Queen of Pop of today’s music landscape, there will never be one like Michael Jackson- end of discussion.
Rest In Peace- Michael Joseph Jackson- The Greatest Of All Time
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