The sound of a crescendo

>> Thursday, June 25, 2009

Look, I wasn't sure if this was something I'd do a post on or not. Because, on the one hand, there was a time when he was the most important musician on the planet (and that's not one bit hyperbole, don't even think it--as ludicrous as it sounds, he just simply was, whether you loved him or hated him), and then there was another era, more recent and easier to remember, when he was the punchline to his own joke.

Once upon a time there were two men named Michael Jackson. One was a prodigiously-talented musician and dancer who seemed to write pop hooks as effortlessly as he moved, and the other guy with the same name... well, he was never convicted of anything, let's just say that. And the first one, he died a long time ago, I'm afraid, and he will be missed, and the other died today, a passing that only reminds us of the first.

The one, the first one--if you were born in a certain timeframe, the timeframe when you remember MTV not merely when it still showed videos, but when it came into existence--the first Michael Jackson was someone whose new music videos were events, global and earthshaking. The premiere of "Thriller," directed by John Landis when his name and reputation as a director of feature films meant something (and note this--that this was a relatively big name film director who'd done a couple of hit films taking the time and trouble to direct a music video) was appointment TV. If you're thirty-something, Michael Jackson videos are cultural touchstones: "Beat It," "Thriller," "Billie Jean," "Bad," and more. Movie stars descended to make cameos, name-directors shot them. And, of course, there were those iconic parodies by "Weird Al" Yankovic that became just as iconic; another sign of Jackson's critical mass, that he was the guy that if you made fun of him, every single human being on the planet Earth got the joke. (And how often is that true?)

So in memory of the original Michael Jackson, the one that matters, a video from near the end; 1987's "Smooth Criminal." A brilliant musical hook, a showcase for dance moves that seemingly defy the laws of physics, and all the cinematic excess of a Michael Jackson video right before said excess became really oppressive (this is the ten-minute version, but it's worth watching; the man could sing, the man could move). Maybe we'll forget the man who died today and remember the original. Rest in peace.


MWT Friday, June 26, 2009 at 1:25:00 AM EDT  

Excellent post.

I remember the gigantic breakdancing craze the most.

Leanright,  Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 3:41:00 PM EDT  

Who hasn't tried to Moonwalk in their life?

Love him or hate him, Michael was the Elvis of our generation. Perhaps larger (not literally). We cannot hear the name of an MJ song without instantly singing it in our heads.

Something about him will be missed.

Great Post Eric. Now how about a few words on Billy Mays.

Eric Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 6:59:00 PM EDT  

Billy Mays...? After reading your comment, I went and looked--I missed the news of his death, which sort of boggles me because I just read a profile of him in the most recent issue of Playboy this freaking morning, which is just one of those bizarre coincidences that happen sometimes.

One of the things about reading the Playboy piece was that it was sort of ephemera to me: I don't have cable or watch broadcast TV, so it's been at least four years, I think, since I've seen a Billy Mays pitch. So I guess I don't have much to say, seriously or not. Other than it's weird to read a magazine article about somebody in the morning and hear he just died later that evening.

Leanright,  Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 10:35:00 PM EDT  

For every scoop of OxyClean I put in my laundry from now on, will bring a tear to my eye.

He has pretty much pitched everything under the sun for years. It's going to be strange.

Random Michelle K Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 10:39:00 PM EDT  

Despite all the hints and comments, I still have no idea who Billy Mays is.

I assume this is because I didn't have any TV stations until my grandmother moved in, and since then I think I've turned on the TV maybe a dozen times.

I feel sort of lost.

Leanright,  Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 11:50:00 PM EDT  

Michelle, the world is a much cleaner place because of Billy Mays.

The true tragedy is that you never got the chance to experience his infomercials.

I'm sure they will re-run them in his honor for days.

ntsc Monday, June 29, 2009 at 7:25:00 AM EDT  

Even I knew who Billy Mays was and I think that broadcast TV is the spawn of the devil. The only reason I have a TV is my girlfriend wouldn't move in with me without one.

On MJ as a musician I have no opinon. I am not aware I have ever heard his work or seen a video of his. The only time I've watched MTV was 4 weeks in 1984 when the apartment I was assigned to live in while I engineered the Democratic Convention for TV, but I was working 16 hours a day, 9 out of 10 days for a month (yes I hate it, but they paid very well).

On MJ as anything else, I have no use for.

PS. My handle, ntsc, is the acronym for the analog TV system that just went off the air, I am literally one of the world experts on the subject, and had some hand in documenting the replacement - ATSC.

ntsc Monday, June 29, 2009 at 7:27:00 AM EDT  

Above comment should have said "when the apartment I was assigned had cable with MTV."

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