I’m not going to lie to you; when I heard that Michael Jackson was dead, my initial thought was, “I’m glad.”
In 2009, Michael Jackson’s name was more likely going to be found as a punch line than on the top of any music chart. He was equally regarded as an iconic genius and a deranged madman, and possibly both, depending on who you asked. Time had not been kind to Michael, so that’s why his death came as a relief to me.
I was going to say, “I’m old enough to fully appreciate the importance of Michael Jackson,” but that’s not completely true. I’m not old enough to remember the Jackson 5. I’ve barely got memories of AM radio, so I can almost make out a time before Michael was a solo star. But I can definitely remember before Michael was a full-blown megastar.
I remember watching the video for “Billie Jean” at my grandmother’s house with my cousins. Actually it wasn’t just my cousins—it was with aunts and uncles who remembered Michael as part of the Jackson 5. Michael Jackson was one of a handful of artists whose videos were enjoyed by kids and parents alike during those summers in Iowa.
I remember his videos being events and what that felt like. Michael Jackson was the first celebrity that my generation emulated. Whether it was the jacket, the glove or just the look, either you tried to co-opt it or one of your best friends did.
He was the first star that MTV made, which, in turn, made MTV all the more viable. He laid the blueprint for pop success in the music industry, a blueprint that lasted 18 years until the digital revolution.
And I won’t even get into the global perspective and how large he was to the world. Literally, the world is mourning him today.
But he was as flawed as everyone else. He began to believe his own hype, which derailed his career. For whatever reason (my belief is it was his resemblance to his abusive father), his body dysmorphic disorder ravaged his face. While I was never fully dissuaded, allegations of molestation were never substantiated. In all honestly, I kind of wish he had died 15 years ago.
His death came at the right time. He hadn’t fully sullied his legacy and he still had legions of fans to mourn his passing. The generation he had the most impact on are in or nearing the prime of their life, so they fondly remember him as the icon of their youth.
I can’t front—I don’t own a Michael Jackson CD. As much as I wish I could, I can’t put one of his albums on right now because out of the 2,000 CDs I’ve got, none of them have his name on them.
That’s the beauty of Michael Jackson, and that’s how I’m choosing to remember him. He’s a superstar from a bygone time, when news of someone releasing a new video meant it was found on MTV, not YouTube, and didn’t refer to sex tapes. He’s an artist from a time when vinyl still mattered (I’ve actually got all of his records back home in Tucson), and not in an ironic or throwback sense. He’s an artist from when an artist could release an album that not only appealed to listeners from different backgrounds, but different generations.
He wasn’t the greatest because he was perfect, he’s the greatest because what he accomplished cannot be duplicated.
Michael Jackson was the greatest and I’ll miss him.