Monday, 29 June 2009


So the death of Michael Jackson was a shock. Well, it wasn't really was it ? I mean, from the earliest eccentricities in the early 80's, of having a vicious chimp as an omnipresent chum, through the ghastly mutilation of his face, to the unproven child molestation trials - this was a man with self-destruction programmed into his very soul. By the time I watched his quite astonishing performance at Wembley in '88, I was certain that he wouldn't go the full term.

But what soul he truly had. The music of his early years remains the most emotionally charged legacy for me, and although I was unimpressed with his output from Thriller onwards, Michael's place in musical history will endure. I've never listened to 'Lookin Through The Windows' without being wholly affected by a voice that seemed to 'know' how we all feel in the throes of adult relationships - he was just 12.

The 'Off The Wall' album was inspirational. Although much can be attributed to Quincy Jones, it almost single-handedly brought black and latin rhythms to a mainstream white audience. It was the largest selling album by a black artist at that time, and it was very not mainstream. 'Rock With You' remains one of my favourite tracks ever - try and find the very rare but unequalled gem of the Frankie Knuckles remix from about '94 - a stunning showcase of how his voice touched even the most dulled of nerves back in his early career.

But as with all high profile entertainers, he suffered from the media's obsession with hyperbole. Off The Wall was the new 'Heartbreak Hotel' highlighting that he was something special at a time when the media had just lost it's other 'whacko' darling, Elvis, and it really fed regally on every aspect of his life. I'm not sure that anyone could remain normal under the strain that the media weighed down on Elvis or Jackson. I saw a headline in one of the quality papers on Saturday - 'Death By Showbusiness' and from the record-busting sales of the Thriller album and video onwards, he didn't stand a chance. No one in the entertainment industry had been subjected to the kind of pressure and scrutiny since Elvis. Sure, neither helped themselves with wild excess and daftness, but we mere mortals can only guess how we'd cope.

There are of course many parallels between these two icons.

Presley was pretty much solely responsible for breaking black music into middle class white America which is known for its conservatism. Jackson was stage 2 in the same process. Just as we'd become accustomed to black music being customised and corporatised to comfy white tastes, he went out on a limb with Jones to bring those swervy latin rhythms to the same audience. When the largest ever audience watched the terrestrial broadcasts of the 'Thriller' video, MTV still refused to show it, opting for safe white artists. Under pressure from Jackson, his record company forced MTV's hand by threatening to boycott it by withdrawing its other artists. The safe door was bludgeoned open and the devil's music stampeded in.

Elvis and Michael were both prolific in their early careers, changing music radically, but never again (in my view) recovered from, or regained that profundity of being who they really were as artists. Thriller, like the film-making phase of Elvis career, cast Michael as a the white audience's new toy, rather than leading the musical way himself. It was an album which was tailored for them without challenging them. It rewarded them for buying 'Off The Wall' but broke no boundaries other than stellar sales.

Jackson, as did Presley, fell into the hands of unscrupulous business partners and, it seems physicians. Both made and lost huge fortunes, both were notorious for gob-smacking decadence, both started to believe the media's deifications, both were embarrassingly out of touch with all other human beings, both died under questionable medication.

I mourned the passing of neither. When Elvis died, I was 15 and he seemed to me to be a bit irrelevant to music, a fat relic of a time gone by. I asked my 15-year-old son what he thought of Michael's death and he said all he knew of him was that he was weird. And that's the point here - he hasn't made a seriously good track since we were kids ourselves. All the world sees is the madness, the mutilation (I can't even bring myself to include a later pic here), the dodgy court cases and pay-offs. I'm never interested in the lives and opinions of entertainers - just their art.

So, we'll be subjected to all the hype and feeding frenzy of the media which loves a high profile death, a funeral with all the nauseating sentimentalism of the vile Diana, endless plays of 'Beat It' yet none of the beauty of the purest vocals and dance of pre-Thrillerism, the years of court-cases to sort his estate, his father's shameful and premature promotion of the new Jackson label, and the unabating conspiracy theorists amongst life-free fans. 'He's not really dead'. Yeah, we know...

Finally, dying at 50 for whatever reason, is pretty rubbish, but again it's a challenge to us all to fill what maybe our last day with all we can. The world has been relieved of a cringing embarrassment, a long-lost soul, an unrivalled song and danceman...that's all.

David x

1 comment:

  1. Excellent stuff. You hit the spot once more.