Putting to one side all the circumstances and events that are being updated by the minute by every major US and global media outlet surrounding the death of Michael Jackson (around 8.15am EST) following a cardiac arrest; the music industry has yet again lost one of its all-time heavyweights to a premature shock passing, just as it did with Elvis Presley and John Lennon.
In the entertainment world where the death of every big name star tends to see an understandable hyperbole inflating their career achievements; the real risk for the deeply troubled and accident prone Jackson; is that his cumulative florid personal issues can actually camouflage what a massive and defining talent he really was. Yet in reality he’s simply too big a phenomenon for even the most tawdry skeletons to ultimately undo all that he has done creatively and business wise. After all you are talking about a man who once purchased The Beatles publishing, still owns a chunk of it and when the digitally remastered Beatles CD’s are released later in the years – will see tens of millions continue to now flow into the Jackson estate. How ironic when you consider he’s spent recent years fighting off his creditors.
Yet in so many respects as will become clearer as effusive tributes help pinpoint what made him a pop genius – it wasn’t just his brilliant song writing and string of hits and mega selling albums that made him a pioneer. Like Presley he broke through all kinds of social and cultural barriers as he went about melding various strands of music into his own unique musical language. Not for nothing does he boast the best selling album of all time in 1982’s Thriller; along with probably only Madonna for competition as the greatest selling singles artist of all time.
By every creative measurement that elevates you into pop’s absolute pantheon of immortality; let alone the staggering sales statistics of his glittering if ultimately tragic career – we are talking about an artist who has every right to be talked of and included in the most select company. When you consider he has only The Beatles alive and dead; Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as music icons to keep him company; while not even others like Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen or Madonna can share that lofty mantle. In keeping with winning 13 Grammys and an estimated 750 million albums sold during his lifetime that will now instantly inflate by tens of millions in the weeks ahead – Jackson was music’s first video star. The original poster boy for the MTV generation.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
Beyond the bizarre cosmetically “enhanced” ageing “king of pop” persona, and his disastrous personal life plagued by child abuse scandals that has seen the last two decades of his career become a kind of strange companion in its sad decline with Elvis Presley’s final years at least artistically and health-wise; Jackson commanded a fanatical and enduring fan base which at its core has never really gone away. Now those much anticipated and for some unlikely comeback concerts at London’s 02 Arena in July have turned to dust; will cause chaos and financial loss. But then they are merely material losses and hardly measurable against the shock and loss his death now means to so many fans.
Inevitably his private life is now going to be forensically re-examined with all kinds of people no doubt coming out of the woodwork with their own stories to tell or sell; but what can’t be denied is the passing of possibly pop’s most complete performer who once had it all.
When your career starts at four and you become a household name before the age of 10 as the seminal and youngest member of the Jackson Five; only to then leave that legend in the shade, looking back now it’s hard to comprehend just what Michael Jackson mania became during the 1980’s. He didn’t just rewrite pop’s marketing manual to become unquestionably the biggest star on the planet by the 1980’s – his genius was there for anyone to see and hear in his music and videos; and even with his flair for dance choreography there seemed nothing he couldn’t do as a performer. While he reached his creative and commercial peak with Thriller and its bevy of hit singles and its now iconic extended 13 minute promotional video of the title track; for all that his private life will now be picked apart and weighed against his other worldly contributions.
But for all his undoubted human fallibilities particularly relating to the child s-x allegations; it must also be remembered this was a kid who with a domineering father pushing him into an adult world from a young age and becoming the family cash cow – normal never really existed.
With that in mind and the traumatic effects of such an unnatural upbringing, and cognisant of the many wondrous things he accomplished including his Ethiopian Heal the World contribution and support for so many other worth causes; his human flaws can’t outweigh or trample over his profound gifts and especially a musical legacy like Presley’s without peer.