The death of Michael Jackson earlier today is bound to bring out strong reactions in folks. I’ve heard plenty of jokes today. (The best one: I’m grading these Responsible Liquor Service tests we have the servers at our restaurant taking, and my fellow manager, Jimbo, asks about the results. Pretty much everyone is passing, I tell him. “You know who else passed? Michael Jackson.” Ok, you had to be there.) Somewhere around 1985 or so, Michael’s life began to become a freakshow, and he was clearly ill-equipped to handle it, and eventually devolved into an almost Howard Hughes-like state of insanity. Yeah, I said “insanity”; I think there’ll be little doubt when Jacko’s life is dissected in future years that the last two decades of his life were a spiral into deep psychosis that sure seemed a lot like schizophrenia.
So yeah. Jokes. Outrage expressed by thirtysomething males on message boards about the “dead child molester” (this outrage coming, by the way, from a community that has little trouble with counting down the days until the 18th birthdays of the Olsen twins and Emma Watson). I’ve even seen one galactically clueless nitwit express the idea that Jackson and The Jackson 5 were on a musical par with Donny Osmond. I mean, I can understand if Jackson’s music isn’t your thing, but most grown adults eventually develop critical thinking that underscores that personal taste is not universal taste, and a recognition of empirical elements of quality. I suppose though that it is easy to look back through the last 20 years at the freakshow of Michael Jackson’s life and lose sight of what the whole big deal about him was in the first place.
The thing is, though, you look at Jackson’s career as a member of TJ5 and right through his early solo work, and you’ve got one of the most monstrously, astonishingly talented artists of the modern recorded era–hell, there are few albums in the past 30 years that sound as immediate and winning as Off The Wall. Some will look at Neverland Ranch, sexual abuse acquittals, and the endless creepiness of his physical appearance and say “I don’t get it.” To me, that’s like looking at Fat Elvis in a gold lame cape sweating through a set at Caesar’s Palace in 1975 and wondering where the rock and roll greatness is.
The greatness came earlier. But greatness it was, and for all the crazy self-induced nonsense that marked MJ’s descent into madness, there’s a reason he was the King Of Pop. Rest in peace.
Regardless of outcome, the 60% of Iran’s population under the age of 30 will not let go of the simple idea of freedom. What amazing times we live in.
Got news from Rob Morton on Monday that over the weekend an artist whose work I’ve praised here on the blog passed away. Jeff Hanson was only 31 years old, and apparently died after taking a bad fall to a concrete floor in his new apartment. His music was sweet and beautiful, reminiscent of the late Elliott Smith (my old friend Darren from the Euclid Records days said of Hanson: “He was like the Elliott Smith you didn’t feel compelled to worry about.” If only…) but with a little less of the edge of lurking psychosis that fueled the sharpness of Smith’s music.
As incredible a talent as Jeff was, and as haunting as his voice was, what was even cooler was that the guy was a genuinely nice fellow. He wrote me an email or two over the years, and he and I threw down a couple of beers at a live show a year or so ago and he was also one of the funniest guys I’ve met in the industry. Like, really funny, in an effortless way. When I saw him play it was during football season and the Packers were making a nice run in Favre’s last season and he was mostly interested in *that*; guy loved The Pack. He was way too young to have left us, and while I guess we should be thankful for the wonderful body of work he left, I can’t help but think that he’d have continued to evolve as an artist and eventually find a much wider audience…and I feel very sad for the opportunity lost.
I’m getting tired of inscribing names into the Pop Narcotic Marble Index. Y’all take care of yourselves. Please?