It has been two days since Michael Jackson has passed away, and I am still not sure how to feel. This is arguably the largest loss of an American celebrity since Elvis Presley. Anyway I walked, people would be discussing it. Any store I went into, his music was playing. 9 of his albums are in the top ten on iTunes. Tickets for his comeback shows are being refunded. He was on the front page of every newspaper, both here and abroad. It is nothing short of a new wave of hysteria, with every story, joke, and anecdote being retold.
But what was Jackson’s ultimate impact on the cultural landscape? I am still at a loss to ultimately answer the question. I was actually going to do an in depth analysis of his albums in the week leading up to his July 13th show in London. I was going to examine his lyrics, the progression of his music, and the themes he explored. I was going to try to guess what his set list was going to be. And I was going to at least attempt to determine once and for all the answer to the above question.
I will not get the chance now. I could conceivably do so at a later date, but it seems a little besides the point. If I tried, the only thing I could do now is examine them in relation to his passing. That was not my intent. I was one of the people who wanted Jackson to succeed in London. Finally, he managed to come out and almost seem like a person not plagued by scandal but ready to be strictly a performer and entertainer on stage rather than in the tabloids.
Even if we don’t have those concerts, we have the music. It is the music that has ultimately survived everything that was thrown at Jackson in life. Even his worst album (Invincible) is better than many pop musician’s best. Whatever his personal problems (and I do not really wish to discuss them here) he was always a great song writer first.
I do not know what the future holds for his enormous back catalogue or what people will do for tribute. There are rumors that there are 100 songs that have yet to be released. Trust me, they will be in the next month or so. There will be tribute concerts and many dedications in every publication imaginable. But most of it will ring hollow. These are the same publications that scrutinized him at every possible turn, and ultimately did him far more harm than good.
How else do you explain Neverland Ranch? As time progressed, he felt nothing but retreat from being a public spectaclewas an option. That is ultimately what he was seeking. He had this dream world of a childhood that was unattainable. Many feel that the entire “didn’t have a childhood” arguemnet to explain his behavior is inexcusable. Perhaps. After all, none of his brothers did the same thing. But then again, they faded from the public light as Jackson’s star rose. Jackson was always in the spot light from his youth onward. But when he tired of it, it was not something that he could easily retreat from no matter how much he tried. Jackson was as much a victim of the media as its friend, at least in terms of the number of magazines he sold.
Maybe this also explains why he wished to return to the stage. Neverland was closed, the stage was the only place left that Jackson knew. Perhaps by showing his strength on stage, Jackson hoped to erase whatever his dream was. Of course, this is all merely speculation. Without seeing the concert, I guess no one will ever know what he intended. But he has left behind a legacy perhaps no one will ever be able to match. Every single modern pop artists, the putrid and the incredible, point to him as an influence. No matter your opinion on his personal life, his influence is undeniable. Even the personal life had a tremendous impact…through Jackson, every reporter and citizen became a pop psychologist who examined celebrity ticks and traits to try and determine what their motivation was for their behavior. Go into any supermarket and look at the magazine selection and you will see.
For now, let us close with paying respects to the man. Thank you for forty years of wonderful pop, rock, and soul. Thank you for Thriller. Thank you for your videos. Thank you for your charity work. And thank you for the uplifting songs, even when your life was cloudy. When asked what you wanted to happen to you when you die, simply said you wanted to live forever. Thanks to your music, you will.