As the undisputed “King of Pop”, will Michael Jackson be remembered for his very remarkable music career that funded his humanitarian contributions, or by his dubious lifestyle excesses?
By: Ringo Bones
One of the few saving graces of being part of the older generation is being able to witness and appreciate first hand Michael Jackson’s musical prowess before he was unfair treatment by the court of public opinion. But ever since the King of Pop’s untimely passing back in June 25, 2009, everyone – including me - had come to agree with the Reverend Al Sharpton on remembering Michael Jackson for his musical genius and humanitarian contributions. Not to mention Jackson being an inspiration for a lot of people the world over. The most unlikely ones being the "notorious" prison exercise regime - a You Tube viewing staple back in 2007 - when inmates of the CPDRC in the Philippines made their own rendition of the Thriller video choreography as a program for the inmates to stay out of trouble.
Even though I wasn’t yet born during Michael Jackson’s stint as a child prodigy with the extremely youthful Jackson 5 back in the 1960s, I experienced first hand his four best solo albums – to me at least – Off The Wall, Thriller, Bad, and Dangerous. What I like about Off The Wall is that Michael Jackson – through judicious choosing of session musicians – probably raised the late 1970s LA Studio scene to mythical proportions, not to mention allowing very talented guitarists like Larry Carlton an escape from relative obscurity. Working with Toto’s Steve Lukather and Eddie Van Halen also allowed Michael Jackson to reach out to folks who are fans of cutting-edge guitar playing who usually don’t give Billboard chart-topping pop music a second thought.
The financial success of Thriller – not to mention the fame - probably allowed Michael Jackson to fulfill his humanitarian goals during the mid-1980s. By underwriting USA for Africa and the We Are the World single as the American leg of the then concerted effort by the affluent West to help the famine-stricken citizens of Ethiopia. Michael Jackson has for all intents and purposes made himself not only the best loved musical artist of the world, but also one of the world’s most beloved humanitarian. Which fostered scores of music-based humanitarianism on both sides of the Atlantic.
Jackson’s decision to make Bad a Heavy Metal guitar-leaning album probably allowed him a marketing share of the late-1980s Heavy Metal Music renaissance. Not to mention the cut Man in the Mirror that probably hastened the end of Apartheid in South Africa and the nuclear armed Cold War confrontation between the East-Bloc countries and the West. The political yearning for a change for the better also influenced some of the songs on the album Dangerous, which Michael Jackson’s choice of hiring then Guns N’ Roses axe-man Slash only highlights his yearning for unity between disparate musical camps.
The scandals that plagued the King of Pop during the 1990s – plus the rise of other previously ignored music genres and scenes – seemed to steer Michael Jackson’s musical career into apparent obscurity. While making his private life into a sordid media circus. Though Jackson was never proven guilty in court, many of his fans are turned-off after the September 14, 1993 summons. Back then, it seems as though his humanitarianism during the mid-1980s was forgotten.
Even though I still find it irreverent to suggest that dying is the best career move a musician – or other artist – can make, our paparazzi-run 24-hour media tends to reinforce such viewpoints. But it is still safe to say that Michael Jackson’s contribution to American pop music will live much longer than his lifestyle excesses. Maybe witnessing the King of Pop first-hand during his heyday in the 1980s is probably one of the best perks of belonging to the older generation.