Michael Jackson flew too close to the sun. He sacrificed everything for his art, audience, and fans. His music is human creativity bordering on divinity, it is beyond taste. Those who don’t like it don’t understand art. He flew too close to the sun. If an artist sacrifices everything for his art, that is no joke. He didn’t leave a part of himself for himself. The people were bound to reject him. Michael Jackson had the heart of an overgrown child but the creative gift of fire, brimstone and heavenly bliss. His beats! He inspires most of the pop music we hear today from Radiohead to Rihanna. His beats!
Down in Venice, I now play Mozart’s Requiem over and over on an old gramophone for a great man. The pure creativity that died when the world refused its golden boy.
This story is so complicated, the darkness and the questions so many. Michael Jackson’s story is one of the most epic and tragic in musical history. All those drug addicts, self-loathing teens and hard living artists who died before their time from totally mediocre causes. Their tragedy becomes mundane when we think of the prodigy, The King of Pop. Who was he? What happened?
An Albanian friend of mine, the artist Anri Sala, told me a story from his childhood under communism that emphasizes Michael’s importance. Back then, all pop music was banned in Albania. A young couple was hanged for possessing Beatles records, so nobody played pop just for fun. But the echo of Michael’s shining talent was strong enough so that one of Anri’s classmates managed to acquire a copy of a copy of a smuggled Thriller on cassette. The whole class went to my friend’s home where they soundproofed the apartment with mattresses and pillows in front of doors, windows and all cracks so the neighbours would not notice the crime. They all sat in silence and darkness, grouped around a small cassette player. Suddenly, the bass line of Billy Jean filled the room with exploding sounds of divinity, sex and future.
Rest in peace Icarus.
musician, Grapevine music scribe
*clears throat* “The saddest thing about all this is of course the fact that Jackson had to die so people could remember his 25 years as a musical genius and forget his 15 years of reclusive lunacy and scandal. It is a telling statement on the media’s morbid fascination with character assassination, and I sincerely hope a lesson can be learned from it.”
Terrordisco, musician, DJ
The first CD I bought was Bad by Michael Jackson. From the Facebook statuses flying around right now, a couple of hours after TMZ broke the news that he’d died, this is common with my generation. I was 8 or 9 years old, and I was about to move home from Sweden. After I moved to Iceland I went to school at Breiðholtsskóli. The school was in the middle of a shitty neighborhood, the kids were angry and mean.
They liked Prince. I remember seeing a seven year old kid, going to school probably for the first time, with a proud glow on his face over his brand new Michael Jackson backpack. A group of boys my age spotted the backpack, surrounded him and started pushing him around. I decided that I wasn’t gonna share my affinity for the King of Pop with anyone around. I went out and bought Prince’s Batman soundtrack. It sucked, like most Prince albums. A few weeks later mom got a job in a village in the Westfjords. Bye bye Prince. There were no boys my age in there, so I mostly hung out by myself, listening to Bad, trying to read German pop magazines (for some reason, no English pop magazines were sold in Ísafjörður but plenty of German ones). After the winter we moved back and that fall MJ released Dangerous, Michael’s first album after he stopped working with Quincy Jones. It was terrible. Soon I discovered Nirvana, KLF and Rave music.
I’d been an aspiring DJ since the age of 13. I started playing out at 20, and I soon rediscovered Michael. Many of his songs worked dancefloor wonders. His music fit into almost any kind of set. His dancefloor magnum opus was Billie Jean. For the first two years I played in bars, there was rarely a night that I didn’t drop Billie into the set. It was just too tempting. Even after I’d tired of it, I’d put it on just to watch the shock of excitement it sent through the room, or to lift up my set if it hit a low point. It’s the perfect dancefloor song. I’ve never found anything like it. Instantly accessible, yet completely free of any cheesy elements. Not one inessential flourish in the whole damn thing.
In the 90s, Mike’s self destructive tendencies spiraled out of control. His legion of fans, most of my generation, mostly dealt with this in the same way. We let him go, wrote him off. So the news of his demise came as little shock. The most shocking thing was probably how little it shocked me. We’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop. He’d been looking frail and old for years. For his loved ones, the loss must feel huge and immediate. For most of his fans, we’d lost him years ago. There was always a glimmer of hope that he’d get his act together and his health, mental and physical, back. That hope is gone, and it is incredibly sad.
However, and this might sound callous to say, but his legacy has been freed from his living spectre. His music is no longer the tainted works of a creepy suspected paedophile. Now his catalog of songs can be attributed to a fallen genius, cut down in his prime by a mixture of ill health, ill medical advice and “personal demons.” For that, we are all much the richer.
He was a genius that employed the help of many other geniuses to perfect his art. He is the black Elvis. He is one of the most famous entertainers on Earth, and will become immortal now after his death. He was an artist that got trapped in his image and battled the ghosts of fame. We will live on in his art that he now leaves us. It does not matter what you take with you, it’s what you leave behind.
Michael Jackson influenced me greatly both as a songwriter and a singer. When I was eleven years old in Breiðholt, my friend Svenni and I listened a lot to Bad. Svenni was attending dance school at the time, to learn how to dance like Michael – my parent’s didn’t have money to pay for a class for me, but it didn’t matter. Svenni just taught me. My dad had a nice HiFi unit and we’d blast the music and dance for one another.
A few years back, I acquired a special edition of Thriller that featured a bunch of bonus materials and some interviews with Quincy Jones. Quincy said that Michael would record himself beatboxing and humming his songs, and they would then get session players to play after that. That struck me as an awesome method of writing music, and I subsequently started using it.
Birkir Fjalar Viðarsson
I am a metalhead. I’ve been a metalhead since I was 8 months old. I was at war with weak ass pop music, all my childhood. I would crush any pop artist, save for Michael Jackson. The Thriller video had enough metal in it to win me over. Bad had hard moments and he looked pretty metal on the cover, so I listened to that record. Listened hard. Dirty Diana rules.
The production values from Bad and on are incredible. Listen to all these records with your best headphones on. It will blow your mind. It’s wild. When thinking about his career and what I enjoy the most I reached a surprising conclusion. What I like most are studio report interviews with the guy and behind the scene type of stuff where one can see him try out different ideas for his records. The shit he came up with is a mindfuck of the tallest order. And when he was telling the interviewers what some song sounded like, he would break into some killer beatboxing that was even better than the recorded version. YouTube that shit and be blown away.
Michael Jackson was a giant – one of a kind. Too bad his life was so tragic. I often wanted him to just come visit, relax and eat vöfflur with me. I’d tell him, “Hey, big guy. You’ve done amazing things and enriched people’s lives. It’s time to let go off the game and just chill because as we speak, your work is busy being legendary and no one can take that away. Let’s watch the Wire and kick back for a while”.
In next life, brother.
Michael Jackson was one of the only American musicians I liked back in 1982, after I had immediately and rather stubbornly switched my alliances over the Atlantic to primarily listen to the so called British new wave with their Joy Divisions and other darker fare.
One must not forget what sort of lineage Michael Jackson comes from. I don’t mean his immediate family, but his extended Motown family. Think Stevie Wonder, think Earth Wind and Fire, and you might start to see something coming together. We must not forget that before him came people that made truly fantastic soul music but did not receive quite his status, maybe it just took them white folks such a long time to turn on to it. But Michael had something extra as well, like being a fantastic dancer at the start of video as a medium for MTV and others. Seriously, we never had that sort of access to other performers.
But he seems also in a way to be a classic victim of fame. It’s sad that he morphed into such a seminal freak as a human being at the same time as being such an unusually gifted performer. Especially those late 70s early 80s records like Off the Wall, Thriller and Bad, that super 3 album run that was enough to cement his status as one of the more influential performers on the planet. As far as I’m concerned, it all went a bit down the hill from there. He seemed rather sad and confused for the last 15 years or so. But as he himself said, he was bad.
In the same way that Morrison, Hendrix, even Elvis fell victim to the excesses of the 60s and 70s, Michael Jackson was a victim of the 80s. For pop stars, looks have always been of prime importance, but in the age of MTV, they became everything. Small wonder then that its biggest star became a victim of plastic surgeons, whereas stars of an earlier age succumbed to their drug dealers.
Although there are people more deserving of sympathy than millionaire superstars, Jackson still deserves some of our tears. For one thing, he never applied for the job. Just like Beethoven, he had his talents beaten into him by his father. Stardom and the striving for it was all he ever knew or was allowed to know.
Pop stars are always larger than life. They do, and are in some ways supposed to, reflect the best and the worst. In the past decade, when the paedophile became the scourge of civilisation, Michael Jackson became tainted with accusations. Whether these are true or not, we’ll never know, but it seems more than likely that he was unable to bond with adults who could only understand relationships in terms of sexuality and therefore sought the company of kids. Jackson may be best remembered for his music, but perhaps his legacy will mostly be a testament to, and condemnation of, an inhumane star system that we see replicated almost daily on shows with the words “idol” and “talent” in the title. He had plenty of the latter, but this fell in the shadow of the former.
I heard the news that Michael Jackson died when I was sitting in bed in Saint Petersburg, Russia, desperately piling my luggage in front of the windows to keep the midnight sun out of my eyes. Since then, I relived the two pivotal music video releases of my childhood — Black or White (1991) and Remember the Time (1992) There is nothing more exciting to me, still, than the dance break about halfway through Remember the Time — the music stops save for offbeat snapping, and over the clicks, we hear, “do you remember girl?” and a decidedly old-school snare and kick starts in and we pan up to see an entire harem doing a very complicated, jagged, Pétrouchka-meets-James Brown synchronized routine. The song re-assembles itself, introducing bass, synthesizers, and backup vocals at each cycle. It’s one of my most exciting musical & visual memories.
Michael Jackson counts among the greatest geniuses that have walked this earth. All these masterpieces that him and Quincy Jones managed to magically put together on these groundbreaking records – Off The Wall, Thriller and Bad are the reasons why we’re making music today.
We all grew up listening to MJ and would daily try and mimic his routines and style when we were younger, like so many others.
No other musician has touched our hearts like Michael Jackson. He was walking definition of the word “cool” and no matter what people have to say about him, he will ALWAYS be our idol and the greatest performer of our generation.
Rest in peace MJ, we love you.
He was God’s prototype!
Too special to live!
Too special to die!
My most powerful inspiration, and the most important companion of my life.
He opened me through his art, and for that, I am ETERNALLY GRATEFUL.
He watered the soul’s flower, and cured the earth while he lived. He will continue to do so in our memories of him.
That will touch untold generations.
He created the better angels of our nature. You will be sorely missed! And! Hey! Mike! I stood up for you whenever they wanted to knock you down.
- Illustration: Bobby Breiðholt