King of Pop, Michael Jackson, 1958-2009
Jackson, who died Thursday in Los Angeles at age 50, was the most gifted pop entertainer of his era and somehow the lastcontemporary singer being able to actually sing.
Though his seemingly bizarre personal life often made him a figure of curiosity and ridicule, his lasting legacy is hisit is an extraordinary body of work that he leaves behind. Commercial success is one measure of achievement, and Mr. Jackson had certainly had his share.
In many cases in pop music, commercial success doesn’t necessarily indicate artistic merit. Not in Mr. Jackson’s case. Hisbody of work is notable for its quality. From his earliest days with his brothers in the Jackson Five in the 1970s, through theremarkable peak of his solo career in the 1980s, Mr. Jackson’s music is characterized by risk, invention and musicality. Early on he sensed the upcoming importance of video clips (think "Thriller") and was the first to use morphing in his clips.
It bears remembering and repeating that the reason Mr. Jackson was so popular was because he was so good. “Thriller” isn’t merely a commercial smash, it’s a brilliant piece of pop. So is its predecessor “Off the Wall,” as was his “Thriller” follow-up in 1987, “Bad.” Even when surrounded by the kind of extraordinary musicians Quincy Jones brought together in the studio toMr. Jackson, the singer was the centerpiece, his talent up to the challenge of the demands for greatness.
No one who ever saw him perform doubted his enormous talent. I saw him live in Cologne in the mid 80s. From my perspective, I witnessed his remarkably effortless talent as a singer, dancer, entertainer and personality. His voice washis delivery dramatic—and every minute he was on stage he seemed to be having a wonderful time. It seemed to that night that he was born to bring joy to us.
The most casual pop fan has heard the stories of the abuse he claimed to have suffered as a child, his many plastic surgeries, sexual indiscretions, short-lived marriages, health woes, financial troubles. In the public forum, Jackson had been a caricature for a good long while. But now is the moment to put all those grotesque tales aside and concentrate on his work. Think of Jackson onstage, moonwalking, silver glove glittering, spotlight reflecting off his sunglasses, stardust twinkling amid the curls of his hair. Think of his incomparable intensity as he sang and danced. Listen, even if only in your mind, to the music he made with his brothers or as an enormously successful solo artist. Don’t let anything conflict with your memory of his greatthe joy he brought to us for most of his life and ours as well.