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Jessica Duchen
Friday 26th June 2009
Tribute to a Contemporary Genius...
As the Standpoint bloggers' equivalent of a sort of minister of fun/culture department, or whatever, I guess I can't get away without offering a tribute to Michael Jackson, who as you know has died of a heart attack aged only 50. Tragically young for these days, frighteningly sudden and a shock to everyone. I hope that the sudden demise of someone who was certainly an icon of his day will help to draw public attention to the dangers of heart conditions - for more info please visit the site of the British Heart Foundation.

Now, here is a video of Michael Jackson.

I never 'got it' with Jackson. Please use the comments box on this post to leave your tributes and tell me why he was such a genius? I'm ready to be convinced.

Meanwhile lots of commentators are going to write pretentious claptrap about him today, so I shall join in. Here goes.

I can't help feeling that the extraordinary thing about him was not so much his art as everything its popularity told us about our times - where health and happiness are bartered for excess profit, where image has stabbed substance through the heart, where consumers will swallow without question whatever our controllers shove down our numbed and flabby throats. Michael Jackson touched millions, probably billions, of people worldwide. The King of Pop, certainly - just as MacDonald's is the king of food? Could it be that the death of Jackson, coinciding with the credit crunch and this massive recession, represents the end of an era?

Here's an idea for paying tribute. We're not here forever. We've a few brief decades, at best, to sit on this poor old planet and do something. What are we doing with our lives? For a few minutes, stop moving, stop the noise, stop the anaesthetic, and think about it.

 
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JGAmusic
June 26th, 2009
10:06 PM
Slight correction: Michael Jackson didn't have a heart attack. It was a cardiac arrest, which means his heart stopped functioning altogether. I only mention that because the celebrity doctors seem to be trying very hard to educate the public to the difference between the two.

Ejohn200
June 26th, 2009
8:06 PM
Jessica: In response to an earlier comment, Usher, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Ace of Base, Spice Girls, and the illustrious Billy Ray Cyrus all had albums selling over 20 million copies. As anyone with any appreciation for the brillance of Western culture, specifically its musical tradition can tell you, these "artists" are prima facie evidence that man may be suceeding in reversing billions of years of evolution, opting instead to settle on becoming a lot of obese horny monkeys. Album sales means very little, André Rieu comes to mind here. Michael Jackson, however, cannot be blamed for the tradegy that is the MTV culture. Jackson was a trailblazer whose important works continue to be a source, if not the source, for many of today's disaster acts. In essence, Jackson represented the best that pop could produce. Imagine a boy band album with really good music. It is almost impossible. The Jackson 5 had about a half dozen songs that are as good as anything on the radio today. Coldplay has never made a record as good as "ABC". An elven year old Michael Jackson can hold his own with Chris Martin. Today's boy bands are all really bad imitations of the Jackson 5. Even so, the Backstreet Boys have two albums that sold over 20 million copies. Both albums should be sold with a noose. In his solo career, Jackson made records with a sound that was in large part quite new. It had its roots in Mowtown and R&B and other places, but Jackson was an innovator. Many of the beats on his records, mostly the early ones, have been used by countless artists. Many of the most prominent Hip-hop artists have rapped over Jackson music and sold millions of records. What is Justin Timberlake if not an awful imitiation of Michael Jackson. The problem with Timberlake and the rest of the MTV crowd is that they can't move on from Jackson because they don't have nearly as much creativity. How many modern pop acts' touring shows consist of back up dancers executing some pretty athletic routines. Jackson really created that. The concept of spending millions of dollars on music video with big time directors was created by Michael Jackson. Imagine Martin Scorsese directing a Britney Spears video. He worked with Jackson for a reason. Jackson saw the potential of music video. Today, music videos mainly feature women in bikinis whoring it up. The videos are so bad, even MTV won't play them anymore. This wasn't always the case. Finally, it must be noted that Michael Jackson was probably the first African-American to be fully recognized for his genius. Yes, there were countless African-American who made even more important contributions to modern music than Jackson did. Even though Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis are masters whose works are in the pantheon of Western Civilization, they never really received adulation they deserved. Even though African-americans created rock, pop, R&B, Mowtown,...etc, it was Elvis,the Beatles, and The Rolling Stones that were the true mega stars of music. Geniuses like Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy were not going to become the faces of popular music. In the early 1980's it was truly a big deal that the biggest star in the world, by far, was an African-American. All Jackson's issues with his appearance cannot change who Jackson was when he first became a phenomenon.

Tommy
June 26th, 2009
2:06 PM
The only thing that matters is the music. Thriller, Beat It, Billy Jean, I Want You Back, I'll Be There, Can You Feel It, Don't Stop Til You Get Enough, Man in the Mirror, Black or White, Scream - all terrific records, beautifully produced, brilliantly performed. I really do believe that Thriller sold 63 million copies because it was a fantastic album with great songs on it. We are fed plenty of acts that tap into the culture of the time and are marketed aggressively. But generally speaking, albums only sell more than 20 million copies if the songs are good. Simple as that. Take away all the other crap in Jackson's life and you're left with the records. They are the pleasure that will last forever and that's how it should be. Anyway, just getting things going...

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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