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(not-so-)brief thoughts on Michael Jackson kicking the bucket

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(not-so-)brief thoughts on Michael Jackson kicking the bucket

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right., er
So I've been encountering enough 'ZOMG MICHAEL IS DEAD HE WAS A GOD AMONG MEN- A GOD AMONG MEN, I SAY' that I have a vague desire to shank a bitch. See, it bothers me because there were SO MANY people who were cheerfully ragging the hell out of the guy and had nothing to say about him that was positive while he was alive.
I'm sure some of this is nihil nisi bonum (speak only good of the dead): any reasonable human wants to feel like they've shown some proper respect to the deceased. I think more of it, though, may be that the memory of the global populace has been engineered into an organ that is dwarfed by the vermiform appendix.
'He was the first global superstar'- really? What about the fact that people all around the world know Beatles songs- what about the fact that Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley ever walked the earth? What about the fact that I've seen Scooby Doo dubbed into 6 different languages on various hotel television sets? I think the error in logic being committed here is not that Michael wasn't internationally famous, from the get-go, but that he was the first artist in the world to benefit from the increasing ease of communication on a global scale. I'm sure Elvis would've been huge in Southeast Asia during his lifetime, if Southeast Asia had any sort of communication infrastructure prior to the 80s, for instance. So to some extent, at the least, Michael's global prevalence was not that he was More Talented Than Anybody Ever Before- but that he happened to be at the peak of his game at the same time that media was past any prior level of saturation.
'He was one of the first people to break the race barrier in pop culture'- given that Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone all managed great international acclaim in their lifetimes, before WW2, I have to humbly disgree here. Heck, just in Rock & Roll- where's Chuck Barry in your estimation, people? Jimi Hendrix? Little Richard?

Seriously: if Michael Jackson was such a great talent (full disclosure here: I do genuinely believe the guy was a stunningly talented musician and performer in his prime, I do think it was sad as hell watching his life fall apart around him, and it was AGONIZINGLY UNFAIR that he passed away just as he was gearing up for a comeback), does that make anyone else who was a global superstar somehow Less? Sure, it's fine to say 'I don't wanna speak ill of the dead'- but keep it in scale, people. Michael Jackson was a talented, wounded person (some psychologists would suggest that these two facts go hand in hand, but that's another barrel of monkeys), but his passing doesn't lessen anyone else's talent. It's a little phony, from my point of view, to sing Michael's praises to the heavens and shout them from the rooftop- but to discount every other performer out there who's ever worked in the same field, had the same challenges, &c.

Michael Jackson's dead. That's sad. Billie Holiday's death will have happened 50 years ago on the 17th of next month. Ella had a long run, though diabetes was slowly destroying her body for the last decade or two of her life. Nina Simone... hell, just listen to the woman's voice, it'll tell you everything you need to know about the trials she struggled with. Jimi Hendrix's death was nearly forty years ago.

Just keep a sense of proportion out there: Michael being gone has not somehow magically transformed the world into a place where Michael was the only artist who ever did anything.

In other news on the MJ front, I've been reminded that Mr. Jackson did something truly genteel that has, sadly, manifest in the world. Remember many years ago when EMI were selling the rights to a bunch of Beatles songs and Michael bought them out from under the surviving Beatles, Paul McCartney being the second bidder on them?
Michael, as it turns out, left the song rights to Paul, in an alteration to his will made many months ago.
This is the Michael Jackson I choose to remember: the guy who was able to take some very bitter animosity and provide a resolution that wounded nobody. I hope McCartney and he were able to bury the hatchet before Michael passed away, too: how crap would you feel, as Paul McCartney, to actually inherit this, from someone 16 years your junior? I know that'd be difficult for me without some closure and a chance to apologize for having been a jerk over what just boils down to money.

Requesiat in Pace, Michael. I actually do hope there's some manner of afterlife, just so that the peace you so sorely needed in this life can be yours there.

Even Adolph Hitler is in on the act, here.
  • I have to admit, I was a bit anxious about how you might react: I know you're a damned big fan. Glad the point came across and you're not offended. :)
    • People tend to react to things within their own frame of experience.

      I know he was a brilliant and amazing talent, but he wasn't the only incredibly talented black person. By being in the right place at the right time, it is as you say. TV and video made it possible for his fame to spread further and faster than Elvis or the Beatles.

      A lot of performers owe a lot to him, but he's not the only influential entertainer and performer with charitable history.

      You were respectful, and it wasn't really MJ you were displeased with so much as with people who were trying to make him out to be something superhuman.

      • Well less 'make him out to be something superhuman' and more 'unable to remember that there was a universe before 1980'.
        Josephine Baker singlehandedly undid segregated seating in Vegas casinos, refusing to play for segregated audiences, say. Ella's manager refused to accept segregation in her audiences, as well- to the point where she and he were hauled in in Texas, once.
        While sure, Michael did a majestic job of appealing to people on both sides of the race divide, I don't think he could have if Ella's manager and Josephine hadn't said 'uhm bitch puh-leez'. They did help to build the bridge that he moonwalked across, & it seems important, to me, to remember that Michael got where he was with the help of other African-American performers who came before and did their little bit to push the door enough wider that nobody really had a fuss about a hugely talented guy walking through it, at long last.
  • Not to mention Ray Charles also not dealing with segregation.

    People just don't do the research.

    • I'm rather fond of the 'memory smaller than a vermiform appendix' comment I came up with, truth be told. ;)

      It's appalling that people just... pay no attention to history, to me.
    • Then there's Sammy Davis Jr.'s battle to desegregate Vegas.

      To add to your point, Wasn't Nat king Cole of world renown?

      On a non-singing front, wasn't Sydney Poitier an international star?

      I totally agree. The world didn't start in 1980.
  • Thank you for mentioning the haunting billy, the delightful Ella, and the glorious miss Baker.

    I do think MJ rightly gets credit for being a major part of intigrating MTV, but MTV isn't the world.
    • I might even give him credit as the first black guy who got to be a pop music star regardless of his skin tone: seemed to me as if he was a pop music star first, and black second.
      This was probably the same savvy marketing that broke him huge in Asian markets, but it still bears mention.
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