According to the LA Times, Michael Jackson has died. Well, what choice did he have?
Although he was supposedly organising a world tour, we all know that would never have got off the ground. Not only would he never again reach the levels of adulation that he reached at the peak of his career, there were very strong doubts over whether he would have a career at all.
And yes, we all know why.
Those rumours, those reports, those stories, those court cases, meant that most people had made up their minds about him and the simple truth was, not enough people were going to feel comfortable about showing up at a Michael Jackson gig to bop along, or even (especially) feel very comfortable about letting their kids go along either.
And let’s face it, no-one was exactly hanging out for the new Michael Jackson song or the new Michael Jackson film clip, so the possibility of him simply having a recording career that anyone cared about was pretty remote too.
Could he have reinvented himself and staked out a post-plastic surgery career as some sort of middle-aged crooner with a regular gig in Vegas and on the talkshow circuit, with maybe the odd criticially acclaimed CD release, the occasional song picked up for a movie soundtrack, or even an unexpected cameo in, say, some Sophia Coppola or Cohen Brothers’ movie somewhere down the track?
It’s all very tragic. Or comic-tragic. Or something. Someone on my Twitter feed this morning said something like they would rather remember the incredibly talented kid than the weird adult he became and that’s probably not a bad instinct.
At the end of the day, he was an amazing performer, an innovator in his field and across mediums, and a great songwriter. Though I must admit, finding nice things to say about him feels a bit like that line people sometimes use: well at least Mussolini got the trains to run on time. Sort of like, yeah well, there were all those accusations and court cases, but hey, the guy could moonwalk!
Anyway, it’s easy to forget how big he was, what a phenomenon. I was out of music retail by the time Thriller came along, but I’d seen plenty of the adulation people threw at him from back in the Jacksons’ day. Destiny and Triumph were big albums. And it wasn’t just that people came in and bought these albums; they rushed in and grabbed them and held them to their breasts as if they had been given the keys to eternal life. They wore his clothes, or their versions of them, and they did his dance steps as they brought the records to the counter to pay.
When Thriller was doing it’s thing, I was in Readings in Hawthorn one day, as non-Michael Jackson a record shop as you could imagine, but even they had a big display of the ubiquitous disc. I said to the manager, who I knew through work, that I was surprised to see MJ getting such prominence in such a store and he looked at me like I was mad. “Tim,” he said. “If you aren’t selling Thriller, you aren’t in the record business.”
So we will all sit back while the news cycle does what it does. The stories, the rumours, the stories and rumours no-one would publish while he was still alive. I guess we’ll eventually find out how he died, and will anyone really be surprised if it turns out to be self-inflicted?
Michael Jackson is dead and for American music, for music generally, that is a big deal.
I always really liked this song.
(If someone can find a better version, let me know.)