Clash Comment - Michael Jackson Dead At 50

Comment on the death of King of Pop, Michael Jackson...
Michael Jackson 1987
Waking this morning to the news of Michael Jackson’s death filled me with muddled emotions. I was shocked by his passing, reportedly from a heart attack, but this sensation soon gave way to something approaching anger – at having one of the world’s finest pop writers taken before his time, and also at the questions which will now forever remain unanswered.

While Jackson’s death at 50 years old is saddening – he won’t see his children grow, and maybe have children of their own – there’s no doubt that the man as a creative force was past his prime. He leaves us in opposite circumstances to Kurt Cobain, another voice of the same generation – not in terms of manner of death, but because Cobain certainly had more to give, whereas Jackson’s last album of critical note was ‘Bad’, released 22 years ago.

A high-profile (and high-endurance) comeback was on the cards in the live arena. The 50-date stretch at London’s O2, due to begin in the middle of July, could have refreshed Jackson, stirring him into producing an eleventh album that could match his ‘80s successes of ‘Thriller’ and ‘Bad’. Ostensibly a money making exercise, with Jackson set to earn in the region of £50 million, the live dates were nevertheless set to be hugely significant – to fans and the artist himself. Who knows what could have happened next, if he enjoyed the performances and was stimulated enough to step up his studio game.

And as for the allegations regarding child abuse: nothing of such severity sticks without a certain amount of truth involved, and the 2003-broadcast documentary Living With Michael Jackson opened the public’s eyes like never before to the darker side of Jackson’s past. While he was acquitted of several charges of abuse in 2005, his $23 million payment to another accuser in 1993, made to avoid “a long, drawn-out affair, like O.J. [Simpson]”, left a question mark hanging over him up until his death. Was he a paedophile? Was he not? Should he be sitting in a cell right now, like Phil Murdering Fucking Bastard Spector? Now, we may never know for sure.

What’s certain is that Jackson’s legacy should be all about his music, which – from 1979’s ‘Off The Wall’ through to ‘Bad’ – was near faultless until the proverbial shark was jumped with the self-indulgent Moonwalker movie of 1988. The film’s cringe-worthiness was absolute, and while next album ‘Dangerous’ (1991) was a huge commercial success, none of its singles sparkled quite like ‘Smooth Criminal’, ‘Beat It’, ‘Billie Jean’, ‘Rock With You’, ‘Thriller’… the list goes on and on. Jackson’s final studio album, 2001’s ‘Invincible’, contained only flaccid reminders of his former glories – it sold well enough, shifting around ten million copies, but comparatively even that level of success was perceived as a failure.

Ultimately, Jackson’s death leaves a massive hole in the pop world, but less so the wider one beyond it. When he was at his best, few could touch his talent, and the man made a positive impression on millions of people around the world. Those who cherish his music will today feel distraught, some as if a member of their own family has died. Others will take a moment to consider his massive influence on today’s chart artists – Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears are among the stars to have expressed their sadness. Some will say good riddance, but they’re sure to be a minority – while his star descended due to the weight of so many court appearances and various non-music-related mishaps, Jackson’s best songwriting remains forever bright.

I won’t be dwelling upon his death – once this is published, that’s it for me; that confused annoyance has subsided. Many more important people than Michael Jackson will have died by the time we turn our calendars to 2010, and artists new to us now will become just as significant as the years pass. But you can’t deny the man had an ear for a tune, a cracking voice and a decent dance move or two. It’s enough – just enough – to ensure his legacy will not be tainted. MD

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As an aside, I wonder what Steven Wells would have written on this.

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Michael Jackson TV on MUZU.





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