It’s usually about 12 years old when kids truly get involved with pop culture and music at an intimate level. When they begin spending their own money on movies, and albums, and magazines and grow past their backyards and start peering into a world much larger than themselves, using television and radio as a reference point. About the time I turned 12 this album came out:
Needless to say, throughout the next 15 years of my life I would be following Jackson’s exploits whether it be on the covers of tabloids in the checkout line at the grocery store that highlighted his bizarro nature – some of articles true, some of them not – or the media fueled frenzy of each album release. Both “Bad” and “Dangerous” had a year or more worth of hype beginning a couple of months before the album drop and continuing through each successive music video and single release from the album. It was around the time of the “HIStory” album that I began not caring anymore. The pomp surrounding its release followed by the mediocre first single, “Scream” was all just too much, for both myself, and apparently a lot of other casual fans. If it had been any other musician “HIStory” would have been considered a success with millions of copies sold, but in Mike-terms, it sold horribly, and I guess I’m one of the reasons why. The whiny-ness of his duet with Janet, “Scream”, the child molestation charges – it was all too much for me to bother caring anymore.
Here is the overwrought teaser trailer that was run constantly on MTV prior to the release of “HIStory”
Even the official capitalization of the first three letters was so egomaniacal, that anybody, including Michael Jackson who not only had the balls to enshrine HIMself in such a way, but to release a promo video where he is portrayed as, I guess, the good Mussolini amidst Third Reich imagery, better have something really good as a follow-up. Instead we got “Scream” and its accompanying music video which was mediocre at best, in spite of being the most expensive music video ever made at the time. Go look it up on Youtube if you must, but it truly is underwhelming.
By the time “Invincible” came out, from which I still have not heard a single track, and his ludicrous appearance with Al Sharpton accusing Sony of racism because his album didn’t sell well – (I guess, it never occurred to him that he could become passe’) – I no longer even cared that I didn’t care.
But either way, through “Thriller”, “Bad”, and “Dangerous”, I enjoyed the hell out of his music and his videos. The artistry of these three albums cannot be denied and if you’re young and are only familiar with the hits – go buy these albums now – you will realize how much of today’s top-40 music is influenced directly by his music.
I was only 9 when his first solo album came out, “Off The Wall”, and so when I became interested in music at 12, I ignored it as old. Such is youth. So hyped about the new stuff I didn’t have time for the old stuff. As a younger man I actually saw a progression through these first four albums, his main body of work, and ranked their goodness in order of their release. Now older, wiser, and more tasteful, and untouched by any hype that accompanied their initial releases, I have actually reversed that ranking – the songs on “Off The Wall” have a genuine-ness, a trueness, an un-hypedness, that make them better as a whole than anything that came after. This is not to diss the later work – just to say that as it progressed it becomes more and more concerned with the event of the music, and less and less concerned with the music itself. This is also not to say that “Dangerous” which is his weakest of the first four albums is still not an awesome album in its own right – tracks like “Jam”, “Gone To Soon”, “Give In To Me” and even the Free Willy song, “Will You Be There” in spite of its corny, blush-worthy lyrics are keepers, and the fact that they’re all on the same album is a testament.
In my small town in Connecticut, white bread through and through, when I was 12 years old, all hailed Rock and Roll. The kids still praised Led Zeppelin – Van Halen was tops, the coolest, and Michael Jackson’s street-cred among the cool kids rested solely on Eddie Van Halen’s appearance on “Beat It”. They would argue endlessly whether this made Jackson cooler or Eddie Van Halen less cool. It never occurred to them that a musician could step outside their comfort area and into a new genre without losing or gaining cool. This was a more insulated world, a world before the internet, a world before even MTV – when MTV was just beginning to penetrate homes. A world where not everyone had cable, so the kids who didn’t would spend the night at the houses of those who did and stay up until 4AM, until their eyes would no longer stay open, watching some of the worst music videos ever made in hopes of seeing some of the best music videos ever made – “Beat It”, or “Billie Jean” or… fucking “Thriller”.
I think just about every kid and teenager of 80’s has at least one great memory of Michael Jackson and their own interaction with his music, his art. Most of us probably have several. Before it all went bad…
The childlike qualities that were his downfall, were also part of the reason for his success – every once in a while the pitiable innocence of the apparent grown man-child would be able to harness the unfettered, unselfconscious joy that sometimes it seems only children possess. And I suppose this is the Michael that Kevin Smith had in mind and was trying to capture when he wrote this strange little dance number into his film Clerks II – which seems to make a more fitting goodbye than anything else I could write.
Here are a couple of other short eulogies I enjoyed: