I don’t really want to write about this, but a few things have come to mind over the weekend, and for what it’s worth, here they are. Behold, the cathartic power of writing:
- Michael Jackson was not that great of a musician. Sure, he had some great songs, but most well known artists have some great songs. His music was innovative and formative of the 80’s era, but let’s remember we’re lionizing someone who hadn’t written anything memorable in nearly 20 years, only released a few albums over a very long career, and never truly realized his potential. In terms of both musical quality and actual cultural impact (as opposed to perceived cultural impact), tons of acts–from Lionel Richie to Madonna to U2–are far more important, and that’s just from the 80’s. The best thing we can really say of Jackson’s talent is to remark that he was an amazing dancer–it was often angry and sometimes disturbing, but his skill there is undeniable.
- I remember when “Black or White” came out, some people accused him of ripping off INXS’s “New Sensation.” I bought it at the time, but that was dumb. The resemblance is superficial–certainly not amounting to the kind of sampling that irritates us all. MJ may not have been perfect, but he sure didn’t need to steal ideas from Australian pop bands.
- His guest stint as the voice of a Michael Jackson wannabe on The Simpsons–yes, that was really him–was truly cool. If I remember him well, it’ll be for that. That and letting Weird Al parody a couple of his songs (Prince famously told him no).
- I don’t know if he ever molested any children, but it’s likewise undeniable that he put them in positions that did bother and scare them. He may have loved them, but his clueless self-obsessive behavior hurt others. It’s hard not to ignore that. During the recent NBA finals, I couldn’t appreciate Kobe Bryant’s awe-inspiring performances because I couldn’t stop thinking, “You know, that guy who just made that incredible shot is probably a rapist.” Same thing here.
- How much does it suck to be the ghost of Farrah Fawcett right now? Her untimely death (genuinely untimely, not one brought on by years of voluntary prescription drug abuse) got about five minutes of headline time before MJ took over and the world went into full time worship mode. Her inspiring, dignified battle with cancer? Might as well have never happened. Remember when Mother Teresa and Princess Diana died within a week of each other in 1997? Remember which one got a hundred times more coverage? Did we learn nothing? Even worse, it’s unlikely that the passing of TV pitchman Billy Mays will unseat Jackson any time soon.
- If MJ hadn’t died, how would we all feel about him today? I’m not saying that we need to go out of our way to disrespect the dead, but honoring him now is just dishonest. The world is full of real heroes who have recently died, and many more who still struggle on. Let’s spend some time on them, and less on trivial pop culture trends, OK?