Despite the fact that Michael Jackson had all but fallen off my musical radar since the “Black or White” video, I am a bit taken aback by the news of his death an hour and a half or so ago. News spread fast over the internet–I actually found out via my brother’s twitter feed–and by the time I turned on the nightly news, broadcasters on every channel balanced their praises of his contributions to pop culture–the moonwalk, the white glove, the Thriller video–with the legal troubles of the past decade or so.
As I flipped around various stations, many were already running retrospectives (I wonder how famous you have to be for them to have a “ready-to-go” montage in the event of your untimely death?) and talking heads were prattling off statistics of album sales and awards. They were reminding us of his bizzare behavior, his plastic surgery. They were standing by for more information on his death at an impending press conference.
His passing didn’t really hit me until I tuned into MTV, which I’ve been glued to for more than an hour now (likely the longest I’ve watched the station since The Real World Seattle). Instead of toting Jackson’s accomplishments or foibles, they’ve chosen simpily to allow his work speak for itself. They ran Thriller in its entirety–that zombie dance break never gets old. They’ve shown classic videos such as “Rock With You,” “Bad,” “Beat It,” “Smooth Criminal” as well as lesser-known efforts such as “Liberian Girl.” As a child of the 1980s, these videos remind me not only of how ubiquitous his music was during my adolescence, but also the extent to which Jackson influenced the popular culture in which I grew up. From “We Are The World“ to “Pepsi: the choice of a new generation.”
I’m still waiting for them to show “Speed Demon” from Moonwalker–which is probably my single-favoire moment in the Jackson videography. I chalk it up to, my obsession with Will Vinton and claymation. Those bridges that the rabbit speeds over, those are all in Portland, Oregon–my hometown.
MTV has also played a few live performances. Seeing Jackson transition from song to dance to song reminds me of what we used to expect from “pop” performers in the days before computer enhanced vocal tracks made lip-syncing the norm. After a highly physical (and ridiculously precise) dance break full of kicks, leaps, and spins, a nearly breathless Jackson could still hit the high notes. That audiences expect so little today is only amplified further as MTV runs adds for the new Jonas Brothers movie. (Now I’m starting to sound like a middle-aged man, “Back in my day…”).
It looks like MTV is trasitioning to news coverage, now. I’ll listen to Kurt Loder for a bit, but probaly transition to YouTube. While there is no denying that Jackson’s eccentricities make celebrating his legacy in full a somwhat dubious enterprise, I hope you’ll watch a few of the links embedded above or go directly to MJ’s YouTube Channel and recall what made him such a remarkable entertainer.