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Michael Jackson is dead. Those are words that I never thought I’d write, and yet now, a few hours after his death, his body not yet cold, the snide remarks and jokes are coming fast and furious. “Pedophile,” they call him. There are jokes about his nose. The cable station I have on has decided that it’s important to follow the helicopter ferrying Michael’s body from the hospital to the coroner’s office. They want to make sure they get that shot of his body being moved from the chopper to the van. Despicable.
I was around when Elvis Presley died. The more I think about it, the more the similarities are startling. A superstar fades into the twilight, but gains a chance for a comeback. For Elvis it was the Elvis in ’68 show. For Michael it would have been the 50 sold-out shows at the O2 Arena in London beginning next month. A great entertainer is taken down too young. There are rumors about prescription drugs. People on the inside knew about the problems, but the public was blissfully unaware. A circus begins. Both men destroyed by their fame. An American story that’s all too familiar. For a time, Elvis would have been Michael’s father-in-law. Make no mistake, the death of Michael Jackson is every bit as important, in terms of musical history, as the death of Elvis Presley.
Ed Sullivan provided Americans with their first look at many of the great popular music stars. The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, hell, all the British invasion bands, but also the Motown groups. It was on his show that I first saw the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Supremes, and, led by a precocious little eight or nine-year-old boy, the Jackson 5. The song was the still undeniable “I Want You Back,” simply one of the greatest pop singles in history. From that night to this, Michael Jackson never really left the public eye. He went on to sell 750 million albums worldwide, including 100 million copies of Thriller, the best selling album of all time. Think about those numbers for a minute. These days an artist who sells two or three million albums is huge.
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There’s more. Michael Jackson was the first black artist to have his videos played on MTV, back when they were still playing videos. Walter Yetnikoff, Chairman of CBS Records to which Jackson was signed, told MTV that if they didn’t play Michael’s videos, they wouldn’t be playing videos by CBS artists. MTV gave in, and the rest is pop music history.
None of it really matters today. Michael Jackson was somebody’s son, he was somebody’s brother, he was somebody’s father. He was a hero to millions around the world, and if you can cut through the bullshit, you can feel the hearts breaking today on Twitter and the other social networking sites, on the radio stations that have gone wall-to-wall M.J., and even on some of the television tributes. Maybe these people can get a bit of time to mourn, some time to gather their thoughts and go on with their lives. Maybe, but I doubt it. Not in these days of 24 hour news cycles and tabloid shame.
I’m going back to what really matters. I’m listening to Michael’s music, and watching the videos. And you know what? On this dark, dark day, the music still makes me move. It makes me smile. That is Michael’s legacy, and always will be. The King of Pop is dead. Long live the King.
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