Update: On second thought, I think I was premature in suggesting that MJ’s music couldn’t outpace MJ’s scandals. I’ve spent the afternoon and evening – like most people – revisiting his music and legacy and all the personal craziness more or less seems like someone else entirely. In other words, there was MJ on record and there was MJ the man but my emotional response to his music hasn’t let the two blend together.
That is the transcendent power of music, something that MJ, with few peers to match, excelled at throughout the best years decades of his career. Later this week, I’ll try to do up something more proper in terms of a selection of some of my personal favorites from his catalog.
By the way, I have to say, it is strange and sad to be in a world where Isaac Hayes, James Brown and Michael Jackson are no longer with us (amongst so many other legends).
RIP to them all.
If the news is indeed true that Michael Jackson has died today, a mere 50 years old, it’s hard to greet the news with anything but a mixture of sadness and ambivalence.
After all, how many other artists have seemingly done more damage to their own legacy than MJ? He went from one of the greatest talents that pop music has ever known to a surreal freak show to an accused pedophile. This is someone who’s contributions to music should have transcended most of his personal foibles (pedophilia excepted) but instead, his tabloid exploits managed to become an inseparable part of his image and thus, memory.
Marvin Gaye was apparently a real disturbed man and Miles Davis admitted to slapping his wives but those details are often treated as distinct from their musical lives. In MJ’s cause, his “career” has become a conflation of everything; music takes up only part of it.
That’s hardly unique to MJ – Elvis comes to mind immediately too – but Elvis’ musical majesty, in my opinion, never ran as long or as consistent as MJ in his prime, a period of time that at least begins as early as the first Jackson 5 singles (and that’s pre-Motown, mind you), lasting to undeniable triumphs of Off the Wall and Thriller, and including a few key, post-Thriller songs.
I don’t enjoy those songs any less but there’s always a stain below the surface, a reminder that simultaneously invokes a memory of “damn, he was good” immediately followed with, “damn, what a shame.” I don’t think there’s much he could have done, had he lived longer, to escape that taint (let alone redeem it). I suppose it’s out of sheer affection for his music that I wish it could have been different even though some might argue he didn’t deserve such a salvation of his reputation. History will tell. For now, I’m content to simply listen.
In lieu of a more organized/formal post, here’s a rush job on tunes to listen to.
(“Big Boy,” an early, early J5 single on Steeltown)
(“2 4 6 8.” The numeric sequel to “ABC” recorded for the Jackson 5’s second Motown LP.)
(“Never Can Say Goodbye.” Stone. Cold. Classic.)
(“I Wanna Be Where You.” Off of Jackson’s solo debut, produced by Hal Davis and Willie Hutch.)
(“I Can’t Help It.” Quiet storm at its best.)
(“Butterflies.” From his 2001 Invincible and one of the last great songs I heard from Jackson. Shout out to Floetry for the OG).