Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The King is Dead (#2)

Each summer while I was in high school our marching band would spend one week in the summer at Band Camp at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. This was always one of the highlights of the year for us band geeks. We stayed in college dorms and thought we were big stuff. We stayed up too late, goofed off, worked, marched, sweated and more. And something significant always seemed to happen. For example, one year I fell in love for the first time. Another time there was something of more consequence: Elvis died.

That is why it felt like deja vu two weeks ago while attending my church's Annual Conference, at Ball State, when I learned that Michael Jackson had died unexpectedly: First the King of Rock, now the King of Pop. I better stop going to events at Ball State.

There has already been too much said and too much written about Michael Jackson in these 13 days, but I want to add a little more to the pile. These are some observations I have made about Mr Jackson and his musical and cultural significance.
  • There are many sins forgiven and forgotten when a person dies. It seems that all the controversy and negativity toward Jackson have disappeared. It is almost like there were never accusations of abuse, eccentricity and just plain weirdness. Never mind that his face changed with every album or that his skin kept getting lighter. Now that he is dead, people are truly focusing on only the good things.
  • Jackson's influence in the world has been almost exclusively cultural. He changed the way people thought about celebrity. He was literally world famous. And in some places he was that rare celebrity who is famous for being famous. He came along at the perfect time. His product was perfect for MTV at a time when MTV needed a product. The two were a match made in heaven. In this way, MJ was a lot like Elvis. He was in the right place at the right time.
  • Also like Elvis, Jackson's musical contribution was somewhat minimal. There was not much new that Jackson brought to contemporary music. He was successful in taking R&B to a white audience, but that was more marketing that innovation. If there had never been a Michael Jackson music today would still sound pretty much the same.
  • The one way in which Jackson's influence has been profound is that before Michael singers did not have to be dancers. Today there is an expectation that people who sing will also be people who dance. I am not sure that this is a good development.

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