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Time to Rein in the Michael Jackson Hyperbole

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Whitney Houston: "This is such a tragic loss and a terrible day. The incomparable Michael Jackson has made a bigger impact on music than any other artist in the history of music."

My response to Whitney and seemingly every other person in front of a television camera this week: Uh, yeah… no.

Look, I loved Michael Jackson too. I had a poster of the Jackson 5 over my bed when I was a kid. I saw him do the moonwalk during an epic (lip synced) performance of “Billie Jean” (taped – does anyone even remember that?) from the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special. I’m saddened by his untimely demise. No matter what craziness he brought forth into the world, the image of that angelic, young boy with the unbelievable voice, moves, and interpretive genius far, far beyond his years means that I’ll never totally discount him. But can we all take a step back and slow the hyperbole train down just a little bit?

Can we just stop for one second and remember that the man, who anointed Michael Jackson the “King of Pop” was Michael Jackson? Remember that huge statue of himself he ridiculously floated down the River Thames?

The day you die is the day that pretty much everyone gets a pass. The news was even full of appreciation for Richard Nixon’s political genius when he died, and the man was as close to the devil as any politician the United States has ever produced. So yeah, Michael deserved his day in the sun, maybe even a week or so, but let’s not all go completely crazy and start saying that Mozart couldn’t hold a candle to him.

I even just witnessed Kurt Loder say that Michael was a lot more financially savvy than people gave him credit for, which is a pretty amazing statement for someone, who passed away owing his creditors somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 million dollars!

We didn’t lose a Kurt Cobain. We didn’t lose a Buddy Holly. Michael Jackson was without a doubt a completely spent musical force. His last album (Invincible) came out eight years ago, was widely panned and mocked, and my guess is that you didn’t buy it and can’t name three songs off of it. Its predecessor (Dangerous) came out a full ten years before that and despite sales that would make most artists celebrate for the next decade was viewed by his record company as a major disappointment (Yes, you can sell ten million albums and still lose money if you spend 30 million dollars promoting it). His last epic video “You Rock My World” was noteworthy mostly for the fact that it featured Marlon Brando and Chris Tucker, and yet Michael’s appearance was leagues weirder and funnier than either of them. This was not a guy, who was about to have a Johnny Cash career renaissance.

Michael was without a doubt one of the most famous men in the world. When it comes to musical acts at their peak, only Sinatra, Presley, and the Beatles were ever that omnipresent a part of American life. In 1983, he was probably also the hippest man in the world. Thriller came along at just the right time to vault the video revolution into hyperdrive, and, despite the fact that every single person in America seemed to already own the album, each new single flew up the charts as if it were a new polio vaccine.

From 1969 to 1983, Michael’s career was almost universally without flaw. After Thriller, face it, Michael Jackson was lost. Despite all the money in the world; despite the fact that every producer and songwriter alive was dying to work with him; despite unbelievable levels of singing, dancing talent and charisma – he became more and more irrelevant to the point where for the past decade, he was more of a joke than a respected artist, incredibly dependent on the fact that his worldwide audience outside of the United States seemed willing to forgive even his greatest peccadilloes and remember him at his apex. Admit it, there was a reason those 50 comeback concerts were being held in England and not the United States.

Chris Rock: "Remember when we was young, everybody used to have these arguments about who's better, Michael Jackson or Prince? Prince won!"

It took Michael four years to follow up Thriller with the album Bad, and he was already becoming something of a parody of himself. Whereas the video for “Beat It” was electric and straight from the streets, the video for “Bad” (directed by Martin Scorsese no less) comes off as a pale silly imitation phoned in from Neverland, and whereas no one would ever mess with the full 14 minute video of his epic video for “Thriller”, I can’t remember a single time that all 18 minutes of “Bad” ever appeared on MTV.

The once in a lifetime pairing of Jackson and Eddie Van Halen on “Beat It” was followed by a less than interesting pairing with Slash on 1991’s “Give in to Me.” While we can all sing every note of Van Halen’s ground breaking, cross over insuring “Beat It” solo, I’ll bet my life savings that you can’t even hum three seconds of the melody of its inferior, copy cat follow up.

I saw some musician or other on some channel or other (the coverage has been about as out of control as the last twenty years of Mike Tyson’s life) lauding the “incredible” John Landis directed video for “Black and White.” The speaker rightfully acknowledged the incredible morphing effects at the end of the video as being revolutionary for the time. They supplied the heartwarming (if a little clichéd) message that all races were truly alike.

But that wasn’t really the end of the “Black and White” video. The real ending  was four minutes or so of Michael desperately attempting to appear cutting edge by laying waste to a bunch of parked cars, with a series of absurd screams that was so poorly received that the sequence was eventually cut and rarely shown on television again. His appearance at the beginning of this sequence as a black panther was a laughable political statement that negated the entire raceless message that preceded it. I haven’t watched all thousand hours of television coverage on Jackson’s career, but I certainly didn’t see anyone mention this.

Despite the fact that every new Jackson release seemed to promise some epic statement, Jackson has never produced anything on the level of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. The man was entertainment personified, but aside from a vague notion that we should all get along and an admirable love for children that turned into an incredibly uncomfortable affection for young boys, who really knows what was going on in his head. Where did the anti-Semitic lyrics in “They Don’t Care about Us" come from? How did he go from being Paul McCartney’s best friend to stealing the Beatles catalog out from under him? I don’t know and neither do you.

When Michael tried to make a big statement on songs like “We Are the World” and “Man in the Mirror”, the results were sappy, trite, and fairly unlistenable. “We Are the World” was an admirable effort to follow up on Bob Geldof’s Band Aid project, but it’s hardly revolutionary to come out against starving children, and Jackson never again came close to using his worldwide popularity for anything else, but promoting his own legend. In fact, after his last acquittal on child molestation charges, he was delusional enough to compare the day of his “not guilty” verdict to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Jackson is getting a lot of credit for forcing MTV to play Black artists and opening the door that enabled numerous African American audiences’ access to a wider audience, and he did. But one has to remember that it was Walter Yetnikoff, then president of CBS records, who forced MTV’s hand by threatening a boycott.

"I said to MTV, ‘I’m pulling everything we have off the air, all our product. I’m not going to give you any more videos. And I’m going to go public and fucking tell them about the fact you don’t want to play music by a black guy.’" This doesn’t necessarily lesson Jackson’s accomplishment, but again he was and would remain merely an entertainer, when he could have perhaps been so much more.

Sadly, it’s readily apparent that Michael Jackson, the man, didn’t really have very much to say, and that musically and stylistically, his attempts to keep up with artists who remained vital over the next two decades like Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Prince, became more and more bizarre, pathetic, and depressing.

Michael Jackson made some great music in his life. He even recorded some fantastic material after the nuclear uprising that was Thriller. But he was not Elvis Presley; he was not John Lennon; he wasn’t Marvin Gaye, and he wasn’t Stevie Wonder. He was a wonderful little kid, whose innocence was destroyed by fame and an abusive father.

He was a man, who lost touch with the world after his crowning achievement. He is definitely one of the 100 greatest musical talents of the 20th Century. But seriously, Whitney and everybody else need to come back to earth and take their foot off the pedal.

The truth is that all of us spent the last 26 years waiting for another "BIllie Jean" moment, and for various reasons (fame, drugs, insanity, abuse, isolation) it never happened. We were all rooting for Michael, but for well over two decades his music was awaited with anticipation and dread much like the fervor that accompanied another great MJ, during his less than inspiring time with the Washington Wizards.

I’m not filled with hatred for Michael. You won’t ever catch me deleting the 40 or so songs of his from my iPod. But artistically the last 25 years were a gigantic, soul crushing let down. The work before that puts him in the pantheon of greats, but sadly nowhere near the top.

Please don’t shoot the messenger.

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About keithcrime

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Please don’t shoot the messenger.

    …that goes for the editor too. Holy, moly…

    -Glen

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “How did he go from being Paul McCartney’s best friend to stealing the Beatles catalog out from under him?”

    Because Paul told him how much money there was in it, which he knew from all the catalogs Paul owns from other artists.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Slowly the less nice side of Jackson comes out, and where normally I would reserve my negative comments for a few days, I’m making an exception – a well deserved one.

    In the case of Micheal Jacskon, life imitated art. Jackson imitated the character Voldemort of the Harry Potter series of novels. Voldemort was a man who molted more negatively with each evil deed he did, and in the end, wound up looking like a snake. So did Michael Jacskon.

    Whether Jackson was davka a pedophile, or whether the fault for his behavior lie with his father (as another sage commenter at this magazine has asserted) is not for me to say – but the evidence was that he sexually abused boys, seducing them. He was a Jew-hater, calling them leeches and releasing a song, “kick me kike me”. Any white musician who had released a song saying, “dont treat me like a nigger”, would have been hounded from the industry. And all of you reading this, whatever your race is, know that I’m right.

    I feel sorry for his three children in the loss of a father, but the truth of the matter is that I get the feeling that they are better off with him dead, unable to influence them negatively. Like Michael Freund, I’ll save my sympathy for someone more deserving.

    Blessed is the True Judge.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Ruvy, I know that facts and you aren’t really on speaking terms because you love to cast all events to suit your massively outdated mindset, but let me toss a few in your general direction, futile as the exercise undoubtedly will be.

    1. Your statement that Jackson imitated a character from the Harry Potter novels can only be completely made up, not least because Jackson’s lifestyle pre-dates the books.

    2. There is no evidence that Jackson abused boys. He might have, but there is no evidence.

    3. There is no evidence that he did actually call Jews leeches. There was an allegation that he said that in a recorded telephone conversation, but it has not been proven.

    4. He didn’t release a song “kick me kike me”. He released a song which included those words in one line. You can read the full lyrics to “They Don’t Care About Us” for yourself. To my mind it reads as a song about hatred of all kinds, not a slur against Jews, although your propensity to play the victim may disagree.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    I feel comfortable reading the comment you wrote Chris. You maintain your image in my mind of a man who defends Jew-haters – along with the BBC and all the shitheads who would do in Israel. You’ll not erase that image; you’ve reinforced it with 95 percent of the comments you make about the Middle East and the BBC. As to your points:

    Technically, Jackson never released a song called “kick me kike me”. True enough. I will not argue that issue. That was careless wording on my part, a thought unclearly expressed. I ought tro ha ve said he released a song with the lyrics, etc….. The song you cite has these lyrics in it. That’s about as far as you get with your point by point blathering. The point my remark is that no white man could have gotten away with a similar comment about blacks without being kicked out the industry.

    It is irrelevant whether a man’s life precedes a book or not. Rowling did not imitate Jackson in her book. She created an opposite of Harry Potter, a man who feared death so much he deisred to “eat” it so it would cease to be. But Jackson appeared to imitate her character, “Voldermort” in looks and in doing evil deeds. End of discussion.

    There was no conviction in a court of law that Jackson was a child molester. Or, to be precise, if their was, it was overturned. It is the court of public opinion which has convicted him. But there were reams of evidence. Remember Chris, evidence is offered at a trial to prove fact, it is not fact in and of itself.

    And there is evidence that he called Jews “leeches”, accoerding to my link, “The tapes were played on ABC’s Good Morning America program, and Jackson was heard saying, ‘They suck…they’re like leeches. It’s a conspiracy. The Jews do it on purpose.'” Read my link and research it if you wish (I’ll be shocked if you actually do). Remember, evidence is offered to prove fact. It is not fact in and of itself. I’ve drawn my conclusions from the evidence presented. You are certainly entitled to draw yours.

    I bid you a pleasant afternoon.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    I’m sure you feel comfortable, Ruvy, but let’s be honest, if you can; it is you, and you alone, that is maintaining the images in your mind, not me or anybody else. I really don’t care one tiny little bit if your image of me is erased or not, simply because I have no respect for a way of thinking that is so divorced from actual reality.

    I’m sure a bald statement of fact won’t be enough for you, because you appear to want to hold on to your pre-determined little grudges like some weird mental safety blanket, however, I am opposed to all forms of generic hostility as a matter of principle.

    Similarly, I am committed to facts whatever they may be, whereas you are committed to an ideology, which by its very nature can not accept information that contradicts it. The only result of that is you end up looking ridiculous and smug, even proud of your posture.

    Your point about the music industry is simply false; anybody can start a record label these days, indeed, it has been an easy thing to do for over 30 years now. Given that, it is impossible to kick anyone out of the industry, which is why there are racist and fascist bands around.

    I don’t know how to more completely reject the meaningless stuff you have now written twice about Jackson and Harry Potter.

    The first time you said Jackson “imitated the character Voldemort”, which we already know can’t be possible because of the timeline, to say nothing of your total lack of access to the thoughts of the late pop star.

    The second time you add the even more baffling assertion that “Rowling did not imitate Jackson in her book”, when nobody had said that she did.

    I’ve no idea what leads you to assert that “Jackson appeared to imitate her character, “Voldermort” in looks and in doing evil deeds” and doubt that you can actually support such nonsense.

    You then continue with yet more baffling doublespeak, namely “There was no conviction in a court of law that Jackson was a child molester. Or, to be precise, if their was, it was overturned.”

    The facts are that there was no conviction. Nor was there any evidence in his one trial; there was a lot of testimony from a clearly unwell woman but not actually any credible evidence. Similarly, the court of public opinion has not convicted him at all, as the public reaction to his demise so clearly demonstrates.

    Finally, I have followed your link, and the article it links to; these are media reports from Jewish sources that, like yourself, have precious little credibility as unprejudiced (note, unprejudiced as opposed to unbiased) sources.

    Even if he did say that, once, it pales into insignificance when compared to the persistent and determined messages of hate coming from many different sources, not least your own hate-filled heart.

    You don’t actually draw conclusions; what you do is snatch at odd little snippets and mould them to fit your pre-determined ideas. This is an obvious pattern with you whether discussing politics, culture or spirituality. To my mind, that is an offense against the common humanity that unites all our species.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Having read a great deal of your nonsense, in all sorts of posts, Chris, makes me feel more comfortable that you whine at the very legitimacy of my remarks and even the right to make them. If you didn’t and if you accepted them in silence, it would force me to re-evalute the low image I have of you.

    I’ll not bother to respond to further “remarks” of yours. Of there are problems with comments and such that require professional attention, I’ll contact you off-line as usual.

    I bid you a pleasant afternoon.

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Ruvy, thanks for demonstrating, yet again, that you have no response at all to rationality except to flounce off in a big sulk.

    I have in no way “whined”; your remarks have no legitimacy, your total inability to support them at all is ample proof of that; you do of course have the right to make such comments; I do not care at all either way what any mystical wafflers think of me; and technically I was responding to your comments, but let’s not trouble you further with facts, just stick to the superstitious stuff you rely on so amusingly.

    And your trite signoff reeks of hypocrisy…

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “Any white musician who had released a song saying, “dont treat me like a nigger”, would have been hounded from the industry.”

    How about a white musician who released a song saying don’t treat a woman like that? Is that close enough?

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Ruvy, would you mind reading the headline again?

  • http://www.EurocriticsMagazine.com Christopher Rose

    Can’t believe that slipped my mind, El B. “Woman is the Nigger of the World” wasn’t it?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    That’s the one. Although I am sure Ruvy will find some wiggle room to declare his position still right on the matter.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Ruvy, would you mind reading the headline again?

    Matt, I was looking for the appropriate place to express my feelings. It seems that Joanne Huspek provided it….

    I’m outta here.

  • zingzing

    if someone can read “they don’t care about us” as jew-hatred, someone is obviously literate, but has no reading comprehension. it’s obviously a song very much against hatred.

    but, a hater always sees hate.

  • e

    “The once in a lifetime pairing of Jackson and Eddie Van Halen on “Beat It” was followed by a less than interesting pairing with Slash on 1991’s “Give in to Me.” While we can all sing every note of Van Halen’s ground breaking, cross over insuring “Beat It” solo, I’ll bet my life savings that you can’t even hum three seconds of the melody of its inferior, copy cat follow up.”

    Give in to Me does not sound anything like Beat It. The tempo and mood of the songs are completely different. I think the reviewer is confusing Give in to Me with another song.

  • Martha

    I grew up listening to the Jacksons. But Michael’s albums after Off the Wall (1979) did not really thrill me. Thanks, Brad Laidman, for an interesting article.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/heloise Heloise

    So, what are you saying? He should have died like 15 years ago? He reached apotheosis early on carried on the wings of music. I can’t say that of Holly or Kurt. I don’t buy your argument at all. The measure of a man is his fresh fruit.

    I am hearing that the MJ fruit is rotten not fresh. If you compare MJ to the master artists of say the Renaissaince Michaelango and later Picasso, then you still don’t have an argument. Because Picassco had seen his best days decades before he died, but no one killed him or condemmend his late work as not so freh.

    Heloise

    Shout out to the BC crew. Good cov of MJ.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/heloise Heloise

    I posted a bushel of blogs about MJ some positive some negative. The visitors preferred the negative ones 3 to 1.

    I don’t see why he wanted 3 white children. I don’t get it. Now his mom has to raise them and they are his inheritors.

    I just think the scales of justice are sagging a bit in MJ’s mind. I say “Michael you’ve done enough” he wanted to adopt two kids from each continent. Enough already.

    Heloise

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/heloise Heloise

    Ruvy why do you constantly raise the Jewish martyr flag? MJs death is NOT about you Ruvy. It’s not about what he said about Jews. Who freakin cares what he said?

    The man was illiterate in so many ways. He could not read music, was not articulate in spoken language and had a poor formal education. He was ripe for scams and they were rife in his life.

    But he was financially secure. But spent way more than he made. It was to make up for the loss of real self-esteem that only comes with a good father. It was about MJ and his dad, not about MJ and the Jews or the black muslims. Okay? Get over it.

    Heloise

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Voice of reason.

  • Brad Laidman

    My argument is that post thriller he released 3 albums in 27 years and went mad. I’m as sad about it as you are.

    The Holly and Cobain argument is that had they lived they still had great music in front of them – esp Holly who produced tons by the age of 22 – michael’s career as a producer of new music was over

  • http://softmelon.wordpress.com RAYN

    Well said. I had the same thoughts when one news agency compared his death to that of John Lennon.

    Again it’s a case of yes, Michael was talented but not THAT talented. His music and lyrics are childish thus matching his life.

    In all fairness, Farrah Fawcett should be getting more coverage for that poster alone!

  • Debbie

    I think your article although curious, is completely absurd and mean. No one was disappointed in his recent songs. He was the greatest singer and dancer that the world has ever known or will ever know.I think your just jealous of him.Too bad you couldnt make as much of yourself.Tell all that bull to his millions of fans. See if they agree with you. But of course your right,and everyone else is wrong. Where do you get all this stuff from? do you just make it up as you go along,when your in a bad mood? Yes, he has beat the beatles,Elvis,Marvin gay,and surely Prince. How often do you even hear about Prince? Who else preformed like MJ? Elvis is a close second.

  • Brett

    I’m sorry Debbie, but your post is absurd hyperbole. MJ will never be thought of as greater than the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Elvis, or Prince in musical terms. And if you’re talking popularity, the Beatles and Elvis have him beat on that score. And, while he was a very good singer, he is not even close to the greatest ever. This is exactly the kind of thing that Brad is talking about in this article.

  • Debbie

    What one of those is as great a showman as Micheal? Can you at least agree that he was the best showman? You must admit that Micheal put on a hell of a show. Don’t you think he had the best imagination. Look at “Thriller”, stage affects,outfits,and his shows.
    The beatles had imature,stupid movies,not even a good plot.They didn’t dance around or leave the stage on a rocket,like Micheal did.Hey, I loved the beatles. I even had a beatle wig.
    I still love Marvin gays music. But did he put on a show with the effects Micheal did?
    Elvis, well he did dance, but didnt exactly do a “thriller”.

  • angela

    Hmmmm…I would say that Elvis was not as great as everyone would have you believe. He copied the musical style of many black artists of his day because white america would rather hear black music without the black people. He was also known as a racist. I believe he said the only thing a black person could do was shine his shoes. Furthermore, if anyone can be noted as the King of Rock n’ Roll, it would be Chuck Berry. He was the true king. I am by no means racist because I believe that in the Hip Hop industry Eminem is killing in sales and I love him for his honesty. However, today we must also note,is a more level playing field. As for Michael Jackson, he is the King of Pop, and a true showman. This man broke racial barriers that have never been broken. Does anyone recall when MTV refused to play black music and videos? Well, Michael Jackson’s video was so innovative, they could not refuse. I would say a smart business decision on MTV’s part. Also, to say that Farrah deserves more recognition than Michael is truly absurd. I am aware that she worked to help those who were victims of domestic violence. However, Michael Jackson spent a lifetime visiting children’s hospitals, soldiers, and third world countries in an effort to boost morale. Furthermore, over his lifetime he gave more than 300 million dollars to various charities. I do not believe that one individual should get more notoriety than another because each life is just as precious and important as the other.

  • LadyScorpio

    Seems I joined this discussion quite late, but I’ll still add my 2 cents.

    Clearly the comparison of Michael Jackson to all of the “great white” artists that existed or passed away before him, is more a comparison of black and white than it is about genuine artistry. Like it or not, Michael Jackson was the greatest, most influential artist in HISTORY!!! He was adored by people of every race, creed, color and nationality. Visit Africa, South America and Asia and tell me which artist is most revered. It ain’t Elvis, Buddy, Kurt or the Fab Four. It’s Michael Jackson!!!!

    It’s only in his homeland of America where he became despised and relentlessly ridiculed. And from some of the comments I’ve read, he still is…even in death. The rest of the world saw him for what he was…the greatest entertainer of all time!!

  • CherelleDay

    Thank heavens someone with brains and writing talent came out and said it like it is. Talented, accomplished entertainer, innovative in his prime – yes! “The King is dead” NO.

    Thank you Brad.

  • Elvis is the KING OF ROCK AND POP

    wacko jacko is nothing

  • Lisa E

    3 Songs from Invincible:
    Butterflies,Cry, Don’t Walk Away. I can sing all of them.

    Also, Give Into Me is a better song than Billie Jean. It has greater dynamic variance and more soul. It’s a more mature composition.

    I think what the article writer is missing is what Michael Jackson did for the genre of pop music. He pretty much invented the modern era of singing AND dancing really well with a host of perfectly synchronized backup dancers. Previously this was seen only on Broadway or movie musicals – he made it funky. And he wrote many of his best songs. On top of that, his choreography and dance style, while influenced by street dance, was honed and professionally polished to make a unique style that continues to be used in music videos to this day. Speaking of music videos, he pioneered modern style music videos that tell a story rather than just show a band playing music or a series of random images. Lastly, he was an excellent singer with a huge vocal range, great voice control and several different styles of tonality. Lastly, he was very inventive when it came to turning a concert into an visual and auditory experience. Listen to Thriller again. It doesn’t sound 30 years old. Today’s pop artists are still struggling to make stuff of that quality.

    Mozart > Michael Jackson > The Beatles < Marvin Gaye, Elvis, Price and many many people the world over would agree with me here.

    I think that if the author really studied Michael Jackson’s life and body of works he would see that this is not Hyperbole. Obviously he is unfamiliar with much of his music and I believe this article is the result of not being educated about the man.