3 July, 2009
The last 15 years of Michael Jackson’s life are almost enough to obscure the true greatness of this artist. During that time, we saw the handsome, charming pop star go through myriad plastic surgeries that made him look more like a latter-day Peter Pan. We saw the trappings of unprecedented fame manifested in beyond bizarre behavior–the kind for which “eccentric” seems a mild term.
And then, there are the child molestation scandals. The media were ready to somehow link his strange persona with his alleged sexual abuse of minors–few were willing to draw the same link to his own father’s abuse.
It’s almost enough to overshadow his legacy. Almost, but not quite. None of these are what Jackson is being remembered for as millions mourn his sudden passing the world over. They aren’t the reasons that we see footage of people breaking down in sobs of grief at news of his death. We are hearing condolences coming not just from musical icons like Madonna and Paul McCartney, but world leaders like Nelson Mandela and Hugo Chávez. Influence like that can’t be rubbed out.
Over 40 years, Michael Jackson’s voice and performance style reached a level of universality that nobody–and I mean nobody–has ever reached in music. One would be hard pressed to find a single soul who hasn’t been touched by his recordings. That a video of Filipino prisoners performing the “Thriller” dance can become a Web phenomena is but one small testament to this.