Michael JacksonSince Michael Jackson's passing last week, a great deal of nonsense has hit news programs and the Internet. (Here is a case where Google might not be your friend.) From the disgraceful father of the deceased using every opportunity to promote his whatever, to countless ill-informed speculations, to reductions of Jackson's life to a mere caricature, there has been enough errant garbage to nauseate the most casual fan. As a supplement to our own tribute from Stephen Thomas Erlewine, here is a modest attempt at shining some light on the more insightful and heartfelt writing that has surfaced during the last few days.


"Thursday night in New York was hot -- after weeks of rain, it was one of the first real summer nights of the year. Car windows were open all over the city, and just about every station on the radio dial had switched to an all-Michael Jackson format; for the first (and, for all we know, the last) time, it felt as if absolutely everyone was listening to the same songs." -- Kelefa Sanneh, The New Yorker

"A showstopper in any definition of the word, he transcended generations and racial barriers. From oldies fans who were there from the start of his career in Gary to today's young teens, whose attention span and too-cool-for-even-last-week's-number-one-hit musical tastes rarely wander from the MTV playlists, he rocked them all. Even as I talked to a co-worker today, she told me about her 6-year-old son who goes to bed each night playing the Jackson 5's greatest hits CD. That's what you call IMPACT." -- Eric Luecking, Soul Sides

"If he did anything wrong in his life, and part of me doesn't ever want to know if he did, he certainly also did more good than any of us can ever conceive of. He was easily the greatest dancer of the past three decades, probably the greatest singer, and quite possibly the greatest songwriter. Which adds up the greatest entertainer, period. 'I can guarantee you one thing, we will never agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis,' Lester Bangs wrote in his obit 32 years ago, only a couple years before Michael Jackson definitively proved him wrong, emerging full-blown into adulthood as the world's most popular musician by presaging generations of young people who would celebrate their adulthood by refusing to grow up. And he emerged, of course, with some of the most celebratory music anybody from those generations will ever hear. But always, in the middle of that celebration, and not always submerged, there was dread. If anybody deserves to finally rest in peace, it's him." -- Chuck Eddy

"The way he integrated MTV in 1983 with 'Billie Jean,' the 'We Are the World' extravaganzas, the face masks, the oxygen tanks, the Neverland Ranch -- all that mixes in with everything from 'Stop the Love You Save' to 'Dancing Machine,' 'Wanna Be Startin' Somethin',' 'P.Y.T.,' 'Man in the Mirror,' adding up to the more than 750 million albums sold worldwide... I mean. And this is not the half, the tenth, the thousandth of what he was." -- Danyel Smith, CNN

"He was Blackness and maleness, soul music and pop culture, all forged pre-hip-hop, pre-Reagan, pre-crack, pre the implosion of short-lived Civil Rights-era idealism and hope. That's an incalculably important point to understand the thick strands of optimism, possibility, aesthetic, and political vision that ran through his work. And that makes the darkness and paranoia that marbled so much of his later work all the more heartbreaking, especially as it roughly paralleled the shifting tenor of the times. He never lost his humanitarian streak or his belief in the overall goodness of humanity, but the evolution of his own relationship to the world and his feelings about how he was treated darkened noticeably." -- Ernest Hardy

"But what is the allure of this narrative that we -- fans, consumers, the media, American culture, etc -- somehow destroyed Michael? What anxieties do we displace by projecting them onto his troubled face? I always think back to the interrogation scene from Three Kings. 'What is the problem with Michael Jackson?' an Iraqi soldier asks a wayward American. 'Your country make him chop up his face.' He did it to himself, the American protests, but his interrogator insists: 'Michael Jackson is pop king of sick fucking country.' Maybe it is a 'sick fucking country.' Maybe the idea of pop transcendence is deeply flawed. But we are truly the sick ones if we didn't already know this, if we needed Michael Jackson to be our martyr. If we think we would trade it all for a world without Off the Wall or Thriller or 'Butterflies.'" -- Hua Hsu, The Atlantic

"I often thought of a veal calf when I saw him -- he had been raised to perform under extreme pressure before he had any idea of what life could be beyond performing for others. Then he spent decades trying to build a life without ever having seen one. He had the best ear in the world but he had no apparent idea of how people experienced everyday comfort, or even boredom." -- Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker

"We have to be sophisticated enough to acknowledge that greatness and a touch of evil dwelled in the man. I've always believed that transcendent art emanates from the purest, most evolved parts of our soul. But that highly spiritual achievement doesn't absolve us of our daily misdeeds. To simply brand him a smooth criminal, as some have, or to overlook his tragic nature, as have others, is to deny his humanity. The meaning of Michael Jackson's life -- as a black man, a sexual being, a abused and abusing adult -- will be interpreted to fit the prejudices of the speaker. His music -- it speaks volumes." -- Nelson George

"Why would people try to tear down a man who constantly used his power, money, and influence to help others? Why would people express such disgust and contempt for a man who constantly sang of love and peace, and used his talent to entertain, uplift, and inspire millions? Tell em that its human nature, I suppose..." -- Phonte Coleman (Little Brother, the Foreign Exchange)

"What we've lost, in a word, is monoculture. Michael Jackson is the final pop star of seeming consequence to everyone -- not just people who don't normally care about music, but people who don't care about culture, period. Obviously, it's been a quarter-century since that was unequivocally true. But he's the last pop musician for whom it was even equivocally true. The fact that the business he saved has been crumbling for some time was given a brutal underlining by Jackson's sudden, unexpected death, the question of what's-next now punctuated with what-will-never-be-again." -- Michaelangelo Matos, Salon

"Rock with You" singalong outside Harlem's Apollo Theater (hat tip to Soulbounce):

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pp0UjTnS6LM[/youtube]