Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Death Becomes Him

Really, at the end, there was precious little else for Michael Jackson to do but die.
He had accomplished all he was going to accomplish in this life.
He would not create another monster musical hit; he would not wow the world again with another singular dance move.
Those times were long behind him.

His days of performing live were over.
Sure, he had just announced a series of 50 London concert dates, but one needs no further evidence of his complete disinterest-dread, even-in the whole process than when he tells the gathered throngs, "This is the final curtain call." He appears, not excited as you might expect, but rather reluctantly resigned to an unwelcome fact. Namely, that he needed the money.

By this time, Neverland Ranch is gone. Jackson is living in rented accomodations. He has not released an album of new material since 2001's Invincible. He has settled a lawsuit claiming sex with a child for $20 million. He has been cleared on another similar charge. He has dangled his child from an upper level balcony. The album that turned transformed him into a mega star is nearing 20 years old. But for 50% ownership interest in a massive collection of popular music, it's over. And I believe Jackson himself recognized this, even if his most ardent fans failed, or
refused to.

Ironically, he will not leave much of a musical legacy. For all of his incredible popularity and record sales figures, Jackson never managed to earn himself a prominent place in music history.
His songs are not classics. They garner little radio airplay. The music he made was not groundbreaking. They lyrics he wrote were, ultimately, forgettable.

Stranger still for a man who possessed in greater quantities than most genuine musical talent.
He could sing.
His vocal on I'll Be There from his childhood days with the Jackson Five are proof enough of that.
Sadly, after the unprecedented success of Thriller, he would choose to sing no more. Instead, his vocalizations would become more of a series of chirps and hiccups as he attempted to deliver to his audience the product they demanded: a timid, skinny guy breaking bad.
I guess it worked for him.
But, ultimately, that success, that adulation, that fervent following would count for very little.
Other than a steady income stream, it seems only to have served to isolate him.

Blame Thriller.
How to explain the success of the best selling album of all time?
It was the perfect storm. The stars were aligned.
Jackson was already a success. Off The Wall had sold 7 million copies.
But suddenly everything changed.
Thriller appeared at the advent of the music video, courtesy of MTV.
Thriller also appeared at the advent of America's obsession with celebrity.
Jackson was the perfect spectacle: he was talented, mysterious, and strange.
And people could not get enough of him. So he gave them what he could. And at the end, he had nothing left.

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