No matter what objectionable things I think he did, no matter what objectionable things I know he did, at this moment I can only look back on Michael Jackson’s half century on this planet and think of the great things he did. I’ve gone through various stages of love and hate regarding Michael over the years. But one thing I didn’t consider until today was that I’ve never really known of a musical universe without Michael in it in some fashion.
I had just turned seven when Thriller came out, and I played that album a million times. Not long after that, maybe around 1984 or 1985, I suddenly decided that anything besides hard rock or heavy metal was garbage. I trashed my copy of Thriller and never even gave any of his subsequent albums a shot (I had an image to uphold, you know). But it didn’t stop there, as I became one of the growing numbers of Michael bashers, fueled in large part by the excesses and eccentricities widely reported by the tabloids (some of which were planted by Michael himself, to be fair). Let’s face it, the man made it awfully easy for people to ridicule him over the last 20 years.
Occasionally a new song snuck past my guard and I briefly reconnected with Michael as an artist – “Leave Me Alone” and “Remember the Time” are two I still look back on with fondness. But by and large, I continued to put him and his music out of my mind. But over the last few years I made a conscious effort to judge Michael’s career for the music itself, rather than for the traveling sideshow his life became. And the thing is, the man made some damn good music, plain and simple. Whether it was the early years with the Jackson 5 or the one-two punch of Off the Wall and Thriller, Michael could’ve retired many years ago and been assured of his status as a legend.
One of the saddest aspects about Michael’s death to me is that in recent years I think some part of me was hoping for a Comeback (that’s with a capital C) – a great album or concert tour to show that all that talent hadn’t simply wasted away like he obviously had physically. A part of me wanted him to recapture at least some of his former glory, perhaps more for my sake and the sake of a jaded and cynical public than for his. It’s some consolation that even in the absence of that Comeback, we’re still left with so much.
So despite all the weirdness, despite all the laughter and jokes at his expense, and despite the sad sight of watching a human being fall apart physically and psychologically over the course of many years, for one day at least I choose to remember Michael Jackson for the legacy of great music and entertainment he leaves behind.
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