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Monday, June 29, 2009

Never Can Say Goodbye

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 9:00 AM

Michael Jackson in 1987
  • Michael Jackson in 1987

I'm not trying to be cynical or morbid here, but Michael Jackson's death was the best thing to happen to him in years. In death, Michael lives on forever. He has now joined the ancestors, among them musical icons like Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, and Fela Kuti.

I appreciated the VH1 tributes which showed his greatest moments over and over (gotta love that amazing moonwalk during the Motown 25th Anniversary, not to mention his gravity-defying lean in the "Smooth Criminal" video). The BET Awards--over which Jackson's shadow loomed larger than life--turned into an MJ wake, with everyone from Jamie Foxx to Janet Jackson to New Edition to Lil' Wayne paying their respects to the King of Pop.

It was fairly ironic, though, that every time I turned on MTV--whose place in pop culture owes much to MJ's genius and his star power--all I saw was "reality" programming. And more ironic that as integral as Jackson's music was over the years, as Jerry Del Colliano pointed out, commercial radio stations were largely unable to respond to listener requests immediately following his death due to their MT or "music tracking" format, which basically means automated programming in layman's terms.

To be frank, I could do without the MSM feeding frenzy which seized upon the tabloid-esque aspects of his career--did we really need Jackson-related articles by Chron sportswriter Janny Hu and business columnist Kathleen Pender? The media overkill did help, however, to explain the anguish and internal pain MJ surely felt, perhaps best symbolized by the song he did with sister Janet, "Scream," which repeats the line "stop pressuring me" over and over. The good news is, they can't hurt you any more, Michael.

This past weekend, Jackson was first and foremost in the hearts and minds of many. Some of the print and online highlights included this essay by Davey-D and the best thing Ben Fong-Torres has written in years, about his Rolling Stone interview with Michael in the '70s. All around the Bay Area (and, no doubt, the world), there were impromptu street gatherings honoring MJ, while club nights turned into Jackson-fetes.

Saturday's MJ tribute party at 330 Ritch was a perfect example. A video screen replayed the landmark "Thriller" video over and over, as DJs played Jackson songs--and Jackson covers, like Shinehead's reggae version of "Billie Jean"--earning huge crowd response to songs which just last week would have barely rated a shrug.

While "Billie Jean," "Wanna Be Starting Something," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," and "Rock With You" are unquestioned classics, I can't remember the last time I heard selections like "Black or White," "Man in the Mirror," "Bad," "the Way You Make Me Feel," or "Butterflies" in a club - not to mention slept-on Jackson 5 material like "Can You Feel It," "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)," and "Blame it on the Boogie."

Truth be told, I'd much rather blame it on the boogie than the alcohol, and Saturday night, those oft-overlooked MJ and J5 songs easily overshadowed the uninspired Top 40 fare normally heard in clubs.

Every time an MJ song was played--which was about every other song--the entire crowd turned into a dancing... dancing... dancing... dancing machine, boogieing unironically and unabashedly to MJ's music, which had earned a new appreciation through his passing. "I'm going to make the walls drip with sweat," one Jackson fan was overheard saying, before proceeding to do just that.

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Eric Arnold


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