Bad Day For Icons: RIP Michael Jackson

Ken AshfordIn PassingLeave a Comment

Unlike Farrah Fawcett, this was a total surprise.

I'm not sure I can add to the testimonials and news coverage about his career.  I only note that when I came home from the performance this evening (the Michael Jackson kick choreographed weeks ago into the curtain call took on a special poignancy, however brief), I turned to MTV, a cable station which I haven't watched in over a decade.  Along with Madonna, Michael Jackson was MTV.  But they were showing a reality show.  Lord, how times have changed.

I wish I could express to the kids out there (and I'm even talking about people half my age) just what an impact Jackson had on pop culture, music and dance.  I suppose it was much like Elvis in the generation before me.  Michael Jackson was the last of three megasuperstars — Valentino, Elvis being the other two.  Nobody — nobody – has ever reached that level of fame since.

Yes, there were the eccentricities.  The scandals.  But his talent was undeniable. 
Jackson was already famous when he performed on the now famous "Motown: Then and Now" TV special which aired on May 16, 1983.  He wasn't the headliner.  It wasn't an "event"; just another TV music special.  He performed with The Jacksons, and he sang a song called "Billie Jean" from his new album Thriller, the follow-up to the very successful Off The Wall.

What happened then has been compared to The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  Suddenly, he taken the concept of fame to a new level.

He rocked the house on that Motown special, and performed this — thing — which became known as "the moonwalk".  The entire nation couldn't believe it's eyes.  Yeah, he was lip-synching, but it made no difference.  The performance made the nightly news the following day.  And for the next several years, Jackson dominated popular culture, most especially the "YouTube" of the day: the music video.

Here's the performance in the Motown special that brought Jackson to a new level.  If you want to know the public image if Michael Jackson just before that show, go here.  Then come back.  He was pretty good, huh?  But superstar?  No.  

So now to the Motown special.  Remember, this was the first time most of saw the moonwalk, the kick, the half-kick, the white glove…. even the beginnings of the crotch grab are in there.

Astounding to think that was more than 25 years ago.  (Sidenote: Fuck, I'm old).

For my money, this was his best song — Black or White — a great blend of hard rock, dance and rap.  Also had one of the best vamps/hooks evah.

He still had it in his later years. Here he is with Britney in 2001, singing another fave of mine "The Way You Make Me Feel".

It doesn't get better than that. Never will.

Sadly, his odd behavior and color-changing caused people to forget about him, or be sick of him, or both.  He still cranked out some nice new stuff — Stranger In Moscow, for example, can stand on its own as a strong soul ballad.  But he'll always be remembered for owning the early-to-mid eighties.

Knowing MJ, I suspect he's got some odd provision in his will that he be frozen or something, and that might bring forth chuckles or whatever.  I'll leave it to others to decide what accounted for his oddness – early fame, super fame, or really ugly and brutal child abuse (I think the last one can never be entirely dismissed).  But for the time, it's important to remember just how much he shaped my generation, our culture, and the world.

One more for the road, and a happy smile to boot.  You know a better 9 year old performer?