Friday, June 26, 2009

The King is Dead, Long Live the King

Michael Jackson
(29 August 1958 – 25 June 2009)

This morning the world awoke to news of Michael Jackson's untimely death yesterday afternoon in Los Angeles. The news instantly became the lead story on all major online and offline news channels and platforms around the world. On many of these news forums, it became the only story. The Internet came under massive strain as millions tried to get the latest news, with many major websites experiencing significant slowdowns or outages. Let's be absolutely clear: this is not because of Michael Jackson's "eccentricity" or "notoriety". There are many other public (and private) figures of equal or greater eccentricity and notoriety whose deaths would not trigger such a tidal wave of reaction. No; it is because Michael Jackson was an unqualified genius, a word that is all too frequently used and all too rarely deserved. But Michael Jackson certainly deserved that description.

He was a mesmerising entertainer, vocalist, lyricist, composer, producer, actor, dancer, choreographer, writer, indeed an all-round artist. He defined and redefined various aspects of the entertainment and music industries. He had universal appeal, cutting across numerous geographical, cultural, racial and generational boundaries. (From my personal experience, I can confirm that he was and is hugely popular in Africa. In terms of cross-generational appeal: my eight year old son became an instant fan some years ago after watching a Michael Jackson video.) He was a legendary perfectionist, who wanted to work only with the best to produce the best. His vocal abilities were tremendous, and with the vocal range to boot: from the beautifully clear (You Are Not Alone), through the teasingly playful (The Girl is Mine), to the jarringly rough (Scream). There was no truer falsetto (Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough). And of course, we mustn't forget those Michael Jacksoneque vocal and lyrical flourishes: "Hee hee!"; "Whoo!"; "Aow!"; the stunted, tracheal "Umh!"; "Shamone!" (whatever that means); "Sha-la! Sha-linge!" (the part of the chorus of We Are The World which ended up on the editing room floor), and so forth. His powers of creativity and invention were boundless and perhaps, now, ironically, after his death, he will finally begin to be fully recognised for the supremely gifted artistic pioneer and innovator that he was. At the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, which coincided with his 44th birthday, Michael Jackson was conferred with the Artist of the Millennium award by Britney Spears. He made a brief, emotional acceptance speech. It turned out that this was all done in error--there was no such award. But there should have been: Has there been a greater performing artist in the last 1000 years?

A small aside to further illustrate the man's genius which apparently extended even to technology: You remember the anti-gravity lean in the Smooth Criminal video? You know, the one where Michael Jackson and his dance crew lean forward to an impossibly acute angle without falling over? In the video, it was done with special harnesses, wires and magnets. But how were they to achieve the same effect for a live show without spoiling the illusion? Answer: Invent special anti-gravity shoes. Which is precisely what Michael Jackson did. He holds US patent 5255452 for a Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion.

The lyrics of Gone Too Soon from the Dangerous album seem appropriate for the occasion:
"Gone Too Soon"

Like A Comet
Blazing 'Cross The Evening Sky
Gone Too Soon

Like A Rainbow
Fading In The Twinkling Of An Eye
Gone Too Soon

Shiny And Sparkly
And Splendidly Bright
Here One Day
Gone One Night

Like The Loss Of Sunlight
On A Cloudy Afternoon
Gone Too Soon

Like A Castle
Built Upon A Sandy Beach
Gone Too Soon

Like A Perfect Flower
That Is Just Beyond Your Reach
Gone Too Soon

Born To Amuse, To Inspire, To Delight
Here One Day
Gone One Night

Like A Sunset
Dying With The Rising Of The Moon
Gone Too Soon

Gone Too Soon
(Here's a YouTube video of Michael Jackson performing--note performing not singing!--"Gone Too Soon".)

The King is Dead, but his work will live on. Forever.

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