As everybody knows, Michael Jackson passed away yesterday in Los Angeles (1958-2009). He was rehearsing for his big comeback tour, something which even a casual fan like myself hoped against hope would be the return to form that everybody was always looking for. Twenty-seven years after his biggest album (which just happens to be the best-selling album of all time), he was still one of the biggest stars in the world, an international mega-celebrity the likes of which we will never see again. I remember my whole family going to see the "Victory Tour" from 1984. My mom even bought my sister, step-brother and I matching red vinyl jackets!
This is a tragedy and a shock, though sadly, I cannot say I am surprised. I always predicted an early Judy Garland-style end for Michael Jackson. Lost in the pop-fame hall of mirrors, I certainly couldn't see him getting old, gracefully or otherwise. The sad thing is, there is a whole generation who never knew him as anything other than a tabloid freak and late-night punchline. Hopefully the long view will prevail. Whatever negatives you can say about him (and people have said and will say plenty), the man was a genius of a performer, with a vocal and dance style that wove a myriad of influences into something truly unique - crossing lines of race, sexuality and musical genre in the process. He will truly be missed, and my prayers are with him and his family, especially the kids.
Here is a link to the infamous 1983 "Thriller" video, directed by John Landis. This was the first long-form video, and constitutes a self-contained mondo musical. I remember being scared silly by this when I was 10, even as I chuckled at the campy Vincent Price rap and thrilled to the dance moves and fantastic Quincy Jones-produced beat. Where this leaves the planned "Thriller" Broadway musical is unclear (hopefully they will quietly drop the idea).
Here's my personal favorite Michael Jackson song, "Smooth Criminal." A great track and another lavish video.
And speaking of amazing dance moves, here's what was, for me, his single finest moment - premiering the "moonwalk" dance in a live performance of "Billie Jean." He only does it twice, and briefly (first at about 3:30) but you can hear people crying out in surprise and delight when he does. The next day it was all anybody could talk about. Kind of like today, actually.