Friday, June 26, 2009

King of Pop

Michael Jackson died today. This makes me sad...more sad, in fact, than I would've expected. For all his mistakes and shenanigans, Michael Jackson remains a central figure in the evolution of American culture over the past 30 years. The day the music died? Maybe not, but there is a silence that has(or should have) nevertheless spread over our nation today. He was the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Einstein of his craft...a virtuoso who stands alone in the gaze of history...a master of his context. Too melodramatic? Perhaps, but I'm sticking with it.

There are some estimates that put Michael Jackson's total album sales at well over 500 million for his career. Thriller alone is the highest selling album in history with over 100 million copies. These aren't just statistics from a bygone era, either. Jackson was lined up to do 50 concerts in London this summer, and they were all already sold out.

Of course, unfortunately, Michael Jackson's name will be inextricably linked with a set of child molestation accusations. As disturbing as those issues are, they really seem almost understandable for a man who has had such a tumultuous and overwhelming life. He was thrust into the limelight at the age of 6, and he was undoubtedly destined for, at best, an unusual life. A highly abusive father and a childhood of touring and recording seems to have caused a warping of his perspective on how to live. Perhaps one of the lessons of his life is that one person can't handle so much...stuff.

I am indeed sad today in light of this tragic end to a tragic life, but it's more than that. I'm somewhat surprised to realize how close Michael Jackson's music was to the memories of my childhood. My mom frequently listened to Off the Wall while I sat shotgun in her Chevy Cavalier, circa 1986. My first cassette tape was Bad, and I listened to it so much that the tape actually wore out. I remember being truly disturbed by the video from "Thriller" with that eerie Vincent Price laugh at the end. Through good times, sad times, fearful times and confident times, the King of Pop provided a soundtrack for my life; I am grateful to him for that.

Michael Jackson, may you truly rest in peace. God knows you never had any peace in life, so I hope the universe is...understanding enough to give you some peace in death.

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