Michael Jackson's Artistry Will Never be Matched or ForgottenIt would be so much simpler if legends did not have feet of clay. When the great chess champion Bobby Fischer passed away last year, I wrote about his "mixed legacy." Michael Jackson passed away on Thursday at just 50 years of age and I am sure that most people know both that he was a great singer/dancer and that he tarnished his good name with sordid conduct, including a repudiation of his natural appearance by repeatedly subjecting himself to plastic surgery until he had completely changed his face; you don't have to be a psychologist to understand that despite all of his boundless talent and tremendous success Jackson was a tormented soul. That torment does not diminish his artistry but rather adds poignancy to it, a poignancy that is compounded because he died so suddenly and at such a relatively young age.
This has been a bad month for 1970s icons. David Carradine, star of the TV series "Kung Fu," died recently in Thailand, while Farrah Fawcett--in many ways the face (and body)--of that decade passed away within hours of Jackson's death. Jackson started out so young that even though he was only 13 years older than I am his professional music career began before I was born. My earliest memories of Jackson stem from his 1979 "Off the Wall" album, particularly the songs "Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You," which was officially released as a single on my eighth birthday. Just a few years later, Jackson became a pop culture phenomenon around the world with his "Thriller" album, a classic that produced seven top ten singles, including the title track. The video for the "Thriller" single transformed the whole music video genre and earned heavy rotation on MTV. I didn't have cable TV at the time but I saw the "Thriller" video for the first time in school; one of our teachers, Miss Allen, had videotaped it and she showed the video during class. I don't know how many people had cable TV in 1983 but I'm pretty sure that most people did not have VCRs--the school had only gotten them fairly recently--so that was a very exciting school day!
While Jackson was certainly a talented vocalist, he set himself apart with his charismatic and fluid dancing style. Michael Jackson's dancing was captivating and beautiful, intricately choreographed and yet seemingly spontaneous; the touchstone of genius is to make the difficult seem effortless. I've always wondered what it must feel like to move so gracefully, much like I have always wondered what it must feel like to be able to soar to the hoop and dunk like Julius Erving.
Two of Jackson's later videos--both from the 1991 "Dangerous" album--featured two of the greatest basketball players of all-time. Jackson teamed up with Michael Jordan to make "Jam":
Magic Johnson made a cameo appearance in "Remember the Time":
posted by David Friedman @ 6:15 AM