June 30, 2009
Losing Michael Jackson hurts in a very unique way, mainly because he is enrichly tied to who and what we are intrinsically and as a culture.
“…A major strand of our cultural DNA has left us. RIP MJ. I think we’ll mourn his loss as well as the loss of ourselves as children listening to Thriller on the record player…” -John Mayer
How is Michael so tied to who we are? Because for anyone who loves Michael, he is the center of so many specific memories and moments in our lives, both past and present. His performances, his videos, his music, his interviews, the historic moments; they’re all earmarks of a specific time and place. Just a glimpse of him automatically jumpstarts a flood of memories, taking you back to when you were a certain age, with a certain someone, feeling a certain way. He is symbol of what we were and are, where we were and are, and what we did and do. Losing him feels like losing every ounce of those memories. A sign of your childhood, a symbol of your existence on this earth is gone. It’s like losing your baby pictures in a fire, or having a family heirloom stolen. Many have said that Michael was like a family member and it felt like you knew him. It’s hard not to feel that way when you don’t recollect a time without him. That’s part of the reason why this moment is so hard to absorb and describe. For many of those who were born after 1968, there was NEVER a moment without Michael. THREE generations don’t know life without Michael. We always had him and he was always there.
“…Way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama, Michael did with music what they later did in politics and television…”-Al Sharpton
For the previous generation, this loss especially hurts because they were there to MEET Michael. He was like a peer, a brother. He was their age, and for African-Americans, their color. For the African-American community, seeing Michael on television was like seeing themselves, which had a monumental impact. Hot off the heels of the civil rights movement, while blacks were still largely excluded from mainstream media, Michael was a sign of change. Much like Barack Obama was to the generation that saw him get elected, Michael was a sign that if you dreamed and worked hard enough, you could achieve, despite racial barriers. This little boy and his 5 older brothers gave young people something to hope for and relate to.
"…I would not be the artist, performer, and philanthropist I am today without the influence of Michael...In so many ways he transcended culture. He broke barriers…His legacy is unparalleled. Michael Jackson will never be forgotten." –Usher
Artistically, Michael did with music what should be done with music. Michael was cross-genre, cross-culture, and cross-generational. This was proven in the days after his death, as news footage from around the world showed fans celebrating his life and in mourning, from South America, to Asia, to Europe. Music is supposed to move and unite people, and Michael did exactly that in more ways than one. Literally the WHOLE world had one person common, regardless of culture, race, gender, age and economic class. One person with a musical gift, that cherished the human spirit, penetrated and surpassed ALL of our societal barriers as if they weren’t there. That one person was Michael Jackson; a black man from a poor neighborhood in Gary, Indiana. A man who typically would’ve been shunned based on those demographics, united and was mourned by the world. How remarkable.
Michael did more than just sell records; he touched souls, which is one reason he will be forever adored. You never forget the people that reach your heart and spirit, and for those who benefited from his humanitarian work, change your life.
"This is such a tragic loss and a terrible day. The incomparable Michael Jackson has made a bigger impact on music than any other artist in the history of music. He was magic. He was what we all strive to be…For anyone who has ever seen, felt, or heard his art, we are all honored to have been alive in this generation to experience the magic of Michael Jackson. I love you Michael.” –Beyoncé
Many have said that MJ set an almost unreachable standard for the artists following his impact. That’s probably true, considering no artist has even COME CLOSE to having global influence or breaking his historic records. Perhaps today’s artists are more so beneficiaries of Michael versus successors (clear beneficiaries are the African-American artists who have had their music videos featured on MTV, considering MTV did not show videos by black artists until “Thriller”). Apparently, touching the soul of the world and having cross appeal in every sense of the word is hard to accomplish. The funny thing, however, is that Michael didn’t seem to try that hard. The music just flowed from him. All he used was his natural talent and his desire to make memorable music. It wasn’t about marketing or business politics with Michael; it was about the music and us-the fans (We knew it was about us too; thank you, Michael). That’s how he was able to convey the pain of a broken, grown man on “Who’s Lovin’ You” at age 10, and the commitment of a deep, true love on “Got to Be There” at 14.
Genre-wise, you couldn’t put MJ into one category. Yes, he’s revered as the “King of Pop”, but pop is still short for “popular” music. Part of what made him so “popular” was the fact that he hit every demographic: the “rockers”, the “hip-hoppers”, the “cowboys”, the “pop-tarts”, the “soulsters”; everyone. The R&B of “Remember the Time”, the pop of “Billie Jean”, the rock in “Dirty Diana”, the hip-hop in “Black and White”; there was something for everyone. Something for my 51-year-old mom, who always walks around the house singing “Who’s Lovin’ You.” Something for the boys of Alien Ant Farm who covered “Smooth Criminal.” Something for the 7-year-old I saw in Wal-Mart years ago that knew all the words to songs made years before she was born.Not only did Michael incorporate genre-bending versatility into his music, but the element of a message as well. Yes, MJ had plenty of just fun, danceable songs, but for every “just for fun” song, there was a song with a message. He was always trying to enlighten or inspire us.
Michael had the type of career that most artists can only dream of. A 40-year career in which he was always relevant and his influence could be seen everywhere. Most artists have a “hey-day” or a prime. Michael was never NOT in his prime. Every album was a success (contrary to popular belief, ALL of his albums went, at minimum, platinum). Every performance and tour was eagerly anticipated. Even his Pepsi commercials caused worldwide hysteria. If MJ was on, you were paying attention. Every moment with Michael felt special and surreal. He took you by his glittery-gloved hand to a magical fantasy world that you never wanted to come back from. Michael had the admiration of the world, and yet, never seemed arrogant, selfish or egotistical. Even when he was angry or passionate, he was always soft-spoken. Michael was the backbone of music and gave a new meaning to the word “pop-culture.”He made music history, black history, American history, world history. It hurts, to say the least, that he’s not with us and there are no justifiable words to describe this moment, but I wanted to try.