>First, a minor gripe: I wish BBC News wouldn’t report this as Breaking News over 12 hours after it actually happened. A minor issue, but still annoying.
I watched the coverage of events unfold last night, partly online on Twitter and partly by listening to KABC Radio in LA (a local LA station). There is a faint air of surreality about the whole situation. In fact, in my misty recollections this has more than a little similarity to the time when Elvis died in August 1977, when I was a mere seven years old.
Why is it so important? Well, for a start he is a figure of Elvis-like proportions. He did for black music what Elvis did in the 1950’s. Jackson was the first black musician to take black music firmly into the white pop mainstream. Other Motown acts did gain success, but didn’t quite mange to break through the wall that existed between white and black music. And he was the first to do it in such an all-encompassingly global way; even more so than Elvis who didn’t, let’s be honest, venture outside of America all that often.
The scale of Michael Jackson’s musical career is really quite breathtaking. Thriller alone sold over 60 million copies worldwide and almost single handedly defined the way the the music industry marketed albums. And though Thriller wasn’t the first music video, like Queen’s Bo Rhap before it, it redefined the template for the music video that persists even to this day.
Thriller’s successor, Bad, has sold around 30 million copies. And this was considered a failure! There are only a few albums in the history of recorded music that have sold anything like this many copies. And these are the albums that are, to reuse an already overused phrase, iconic: Tubular Bells, Dark Side of the Moon, Rumours and a few others. It was all downhill afterwards of course, though all of this is comaprative. for anyone else, the performance of his later albums would have been more than successful. But not for Michael Jackson.
All of this was, of course, played out against the backdrop of an increasingly complicated and fractured private life. To go over all of this here would be pointless, suffice it to say that much of his life up until his death was an ever-increasing cycle of stress. We will also probably never know excatly what really went on regarding the court cases and the allegations about his behaviour around children. I don’t particulary think that he was a calculated paedophile, just a very messed-up and unfortunate man. His whole life has been spent in the glare of publicity, under the intense scrutiny of the world’s media. Is it any wonder that perhaps he ended up at a stage of arrested emotional development? Indeed, very few people ever have to experience the levels of adualtion he experienced. Perhaps only really Elvis, Muhammad Ali, The Beatles really understand this level of atention. And some of thos ecoped better than others. Individual members of the Beatles had varying levels of success, Elvis was not so lucky.
Perhaps the saddest thing is to reflect on a whole sequence of ‘what might have beens’ and to wonder if things coul have turned out any better for him, not to mention his children. An unfortunate parable of our times, it seems.