I missed the two highpoints of Michael Jackson’s career–the Motown era singles band with his brothers happened before my time and I was in my twenties and a confirmed hard rock/punk/Springsteen fan unable to acknowledge “dance” music when Thriller and Bad broke so large.
His death is sad, as is anyone’s, but I’m not going to go out and buy any discs (I own none) nor will I spend any time listening to the non-stop hype circus that is bound to start now–his finances, his kids, more allegations of unseemly behavior, drugs etc.
In fact, I once argued that January 11, 1992 was one of the most important dates in American music–the date that Nirvana’s “Nevermind” pushed Michael’s album “Dangerous” off the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. But the two albums that he made after that one both made it back to #1. It cannot be argued that folks didn’t like Michael.
It can be argued, however, that he wasn’t much of a musician. His stage shows, dancing and videos were all cutting edge. But he only had three good albums. (“Off The Wall”, while not a huge seller did reach #3 on the charts and was probably his best effort.) He was the first modern media star–his music a pastiche of the talents of studio hired guns and svengali producers. (Eddie Van Halen still jokes that he never got paid for the guitar solo on “Beat It”.)
So, his death hasn’t caused the paroxysms of grief I felt when John Lennon was killed, Kurt Cobain killed himself and Bob Marley, Joey Ramone and Joe Strummer died. Those folks were important to me and to the music I loved.
Michael Jackson’s death is sort of like Elvis Presley’s. Both were talented and important early in their careers and then became the biggest stars on the planet–a fame that crippled them so badly that they couldn’t continue to create. They both showed us one last glimpse of their greatness on TV (Elvis’ 1968 Christmas special and Michael’s performance on Motown 25.) Then they both faded into oblivion–shattered and unable to even function as normal human beings.
I guess that is why we mourn. Michael Jackson died a long time ago, we’re just realizing it now.