Pop Goes Pop

michael jackson

I never saw Michael Jackson in concert, so I have no idea what it’s like seeing his precision and spectacle in person. For many of us who came of age during the 80s, Michael was king of our imagination, and cassette tapes, music videos, and Captain EO were our most accessible means of witness.

Still, in lieu of Michael’s mostly shocking death this week, I’m disappointed that I’ll never have the chance to experience his live phenomenon. I came close once, thanks to a methodical reenactment of “Billie Jean” by a friend in eighth grade. The sequence was just a small part of Lance’s biographical synopsis, an excursion in to Michael’s life and career that lasted two class periods. As the bell rang, not one student left, a first for the Pardeeville Area School District. Michael was the first to introduce me to performance art, but Lance made it real. I have yet to see a class assignment, college or otherwise, come close to the sheer audacity of Lance’s.

Much has been memorialized about Michael this week, and in the weeks to come, a turn to his dark side will undoubtedly occur. When that happens, remember his unusual power to inspire others. Be it as performer or activist, the list of artists and world figures who can match him is a short one.

For me, Thriller is tops, without question, followed by Off the Wall and bits of Bad and Invincible. Michael’s music is as near to hypnosis as pop songs get and his legacy, at least musically, is a template for anyone who dares to walk backward when everyone else is moving forward.


Charles Warner

2 Responses

  1. At first I joked that the Iranian clerics offed Michael so as to get the street protests off the 6:00 news. Or maybe it was the GOP Senate Committee.

    In any case, this Mark Morford article spells out the media fascination with events like this, while real news goes under reported.

    “They say pop culture is generally meaningless and transitory and has no lasting effect, lowers the bar of discourse and poisons the intellect, is the junk food of the human soul. All very true. Mostly…And yet over here is someone like Michael Jackson..You are left with the image, the feeling, of hundreds of millions of humans laughing and smiling and dancing with friends and lovers, all to one person’s gift of music.”


  2. The count of my childhood memories backed by a soundtrack of Thriller is innumerable. I spent quite a bit of time as a child laying on my attic floor staring at the cardboard record fold out with the picture of him in that white suit with the white tiger. That album spun about a million times.

    The hateful responses I am seeing posted on blogs, Facebook, etc., decrying him as a freak and child-molester really bother me. This is a time to offer respect for his accomplishments and consideration to the family he leaves behind. His life was undoubtedly complex which only seemed to play out in more confounding ways as he aged. But recognizing his accomplishments is not akin to condoning alleged inappropriate behaviors, nor does it minimize any other world event that we must also pay attention to.

    Michael Jackson broke through music industry and pop culture racial barriers that were strongholds of the Republican era attitudes of the time. When the Billie Jean video released it was the first of a black artist to get regular play on the newly born MTV. The subsequent popularity of the Thriller album threw open doors for other black artists who had been systematically marginalized by the music industry since a brief moment when funk peaked in the 70s.

    He moved and inspired generation after generation of of hip hop, pop, & R&B kids who grew up to be some of the performers we know and love today.

    He also gave more money to worldwide charities than any other celebrity figure aside from Oprah.

    I never quite mastered the Moonwalk, but that was his thrill. Mine was laying with eyes closed, a pig-tailed music fan on a hot attic floor as the vinyl spun the stories. This is a time for grace, not hate. Well said Charles, RIP PYT.

    To the record player I go.

    -MJ Hecox

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