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Michael Jackson

Hey Soul Mates,
A few weeks ago, while driving to Anaheim, I threw in the Jackson 5's Greatest Hits. By the time the disc was done, I was nearly in tears. The dozen tracks on that CD are filled with hooks and heart. They remind me of my childhood. Of (truly) simpler times. Of cutting out a Jackson 5 single off the back of an Alphabits cereal box. Of playing the Jackson 5 cartoon board game. Of putting Jackson stickers on my dresser. The first fan club I belonged to? The Jackson 5's. The first concert I ever attended? The Jackson 5. The first LP bought for me and my brother? ABC by the J5. The first LP I ever taped to cassette? Thriller. In particular, the J5's hits are filled with joy & innocence. They are pop masterpieces aimed at an ageless audience.

My mom and dad knew how much I loved Michael Jackson in particular. Birthdays or holidays would be punctuated by the gift of the latest record, 45 or 8 track from the Jacksons. I remember haggling over Thriller with my brother. I wound up with Janet's album. Nate kept Thriller. I've never thought of myself as a good dancer, but I'd do my best to be Michael in our living room. Dancing and shouting along to the records. At the first concert I ever attended, my dad made sure I was sitting on the aisle, so when the brothers came running through the audience I could shake Michael's hand. You never forget moments like that. I was 5. I'll never have another moment like that. Period. Thanks, Dad.

My mother and I used to comment upon Michael's appearance throughout the 1980's. I used to want to be Michael, but my nose was too small, my hair too straight, my skin too light. Then... about 1985 we crossed the image line. Suddenly Michael's nose was narrower than mine. His hair was jheri-curled and then straightened. Something I'd never achieve in the Florida humidity. And I was darker than Michael Jackson! I used to think he got odd looking in 1987. But I am wrong. He still looked pretty handsome then. It really wasn't until 1994 that his appearance became unsettling. There are pictures of him currently that look normal. There are. I think that media enjoys distorting the image further, which isn't helpful.

Many of you have heard me cover State Of Shock. That's one of his rawest grooves. And the fact that Mick Jagger is singing with Michael... mm! mm! HMM! I've always loved that track. Then I found a demo of Michael singing it with Freddie Mercury. Only Michael had the vision to duet with these people on such a potent track. I've always felt that State Of Shock (released in 1984) is the perfect musical representation of my taste. Rock, Soul, Mick, Mike, Groove, Church, Crunch. My love of Michael only began to wane in the Fall of '84 when Purple Rain planted itself on my record player for the next year.

Michael OWNED a decade. There was little that he did that wasn't a global phenomenon. Off The Wall; Triumph with his brothers; Thriller and it's record 8 Grammys; The Moonwalk on Motown 25 (Damn. The Moonwalk. Every kid I know at school saw that live on tv. And every last one of us was trying to do it the next day!); The Pepsi sponsorship; The Victory Tour (very expensive tickets. Thanks, Mom); (it's a crap song, but) We Are The World; The Captain EO 3D movie at Disney; Bad; the '88 Grammy performance of Man In The Mirror; Being one of the first celebrity voices on the Simpsons; videos directed by Scorsese, Landis, Singleton, Coppola. From 1979 to 1992, he was Pop Culture. Sure he was mocked in his prime, by Eddie Murphy most notably. We all began to scoff at the glove and Bubbles over time. But as it was happening? Michael was untouchable.

Anyone who knows me knows I like to say that Michael Jackson died in 1991. 1991 was the release of Dangerous. Although it's chock full of hits, Michaels outsized personality overshadowed the album's songs. A ferociously talented being became unrecognizable. From here the quality of the music lagged. He was in trouble with the law, pain killers, cancelled tours, odd marriages... I reckoned he had been replaced by a robot or returned to his home planet. Anything to hide my own disappointment in a hero. Certainly his sales have dipped in the past decade. Nevertheless, I have continued to support Michael's art. I possess a copy of just about everything he ever recorded in one format or another. Vinyl, 45s, CDs, eight tracks. His music is timeless. Vibrant. Listen to I Want You Back and that's all you'll ever need to know about pop music. You could say the same thing about Billie Jean, The Way You Make Me Feel, Beat It, or ABC. Everyone on the planet over the age of 10 knows all of these songs by heart. But in time, even Michael couldn't reach the highwatermarks of his heyday. Unrealistic expectations do in most artists, including the trailblazers. To paraphrase, "He had the poor taste to not die young." Instead, we are confronted with our own hopes and fears about the public figures, the popular stars we embrace.

Child molestation is not to be taken lightly. I believe Michael is innocent, until proven guilty. Sadly for celebrities, and everyday folk, there are poisons in the universe; people who would take advantage of, blackmail or abuse the trust of them, simply because they have fame and/or money. And we must protect children. That's what makes this case so insidious. Could Michael have been dumb enough to put himself in this position again? Is he guilty? Is this a opportunistic family of leeches? You had to figure that this problem would rear its ugly head again. That makes the case difficult for many of us. Anyone between the age of 20 and 50 has a vested cultural interest in this case. How to separate the man from the myth from the reality? No one this legendary has ever stood trial. No black person this well-known has. OJ's stature was bushleague in comparison.

I wonder what Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist would have thought. We made a god, only to tear it asunder. Or, he thought he was powerful enough as to be beyond the law. Or, damn... he's only human. It's not our fault that Michael is unbalanced. But, his is a singularly abnormal existence. No celebrity, NO celebrity has ever shown brighter than Michael Jackson in his prime. Apologies to Mozart, Michelangelo and Muhammad Ali. He is the only megawatt star; the most famous person to walk the planet that wasn't the basis for a religion (although some fans would beg to differ). Michael's face and his music are more well-known world wide than any other. Outside America, the point-of-view is even more Michaelcentric. For some time, he represented the great American dream. Poverty stricken black youth succeeds where no one else had dared to tread. He's the Jackie Robinson of the MTV era. That's no joke. That's the tragedy. There were no black faces in the videos on MTV. He opened the door for all modern black entertainers. He set the standard for the music video. MTV at one time named their Video Vanguard Award the "Michael Jackson."

The music, the art, should manage to live on with impugnity. The tracks that Michael released are among the most ambitious and melodic pop songs we've ever heard. Do what I did, put on some headphones and crank up those original 80's discs. Especially Thriller. You'll be amazed at what you hear with fresh ears 20+ years on. The tunes are immaculate. The performances are without peer. And that's without the benefit of video. These songs are part of our vernacular, our fabric. So for the last two decades, they've been taken for granted. To listen to them anew is to rediscover genius. I had forgotten cuts like PYT, Human Nature and Baby Be Mine. You have to be really jaded and work very hard to dislike Thriller. The world worked itself into a frenzy over this album and made MJ an icon for the ages. Oh, this note today from the MJJ website: "[T]he artist's legendary mainstay on the R&B/Hip-Hop Catalog Chart Thriller amassed its 320th week on the chart shifting an additional 14,000 units for the month." That's this past January, 2005. That's incredible. I for one bought a new copy (the 2001 re-issue boasts superior sound to the original CD pressing and bonus tracks) of it last week.

A month ago, Bad was in my walkman for a week solid. I listened to it walking back and forth to work. It was like reuniting with an old friend. And still remembering every move. Michael's music is like that. Bad makes me sing along. I Wanna Be Where You Are can still make me cry. The Love You Save can make me dance. Beat It is burned into my psyche. I know this blog rambled, there was a lot to express and this is just 1% of it.

Michael's alleged victim deserves his day in court, as does Michael. We'll hear the gory details and the judgment. Regardless of the outcome, Michael's musical career has waned. It's going to be difficult for many to make the break and remember what they once loved about MJ. How will you remember Michael when it's done? How will you feel about his art? I for one will still cherish the music, but for me the man has been gone for quite some time. And that breaks my heart.

Love, Power, Peace and justice for all.
Mama Say Mama Sa, Ma Ma Koo Sah.

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