Death is a distant rumor to the young. ~ Andy Rooney
When we heard the news last night, I was surprised to feel a deep sadness settle over me. It’s been a long time since I felt personally touched by the death of a celebrity who was taken tragically, taken too young.
When Lady Di died in 1997, I felt that I had lost a friend. I had always felt such a close kinship with her…we were close to the same age, with two children born at nearly the same times, divorced in sync as well. Her death shook me, and the rest of the world mourned too.
And now the news about Michael Jackson, dead at the age of 50. He was only three years older than me; we grew up together—in a way—although he grew up on TV. When I was in the 6th grade, racial tensions were high in our schools. The “sorting” question asked by my classmates that year was, “Who do you like, the Osmonds or the Jackson 5?”
Of course the black kids always said that they preferred the Jackson 5, while the white kids usually preferred the Osmonds. I wasn’t too familiar with the Jacksons yet, but in my teens I became a big fan of Michael, the youngest of the Jackson brothers.
I had two of his albums, Thriller and Off The Wall. Played them over and over again; knew all the words. Still do. And I still have those albums.
Michael helped bridge that racial divide that was so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s. He became more than a “black” pop singer; he was a star, and race didn’t matter any more to his fans.
Just think about the influences that Michael Jackson has had on the music industry. Without the wild popularity of the Thriller video, do you think that MTV would be as popular? Maybe, maybe not. Without his famous “moon walk”, would we have such elaborate choreography at pop concerts? Probably not. Michael raised the bar in the music industry. It wasn’t enough to just “sing” the songs, you had to dance – and dance well – and “wow” your fans.
Although he lived his life in a way that we didn’t agree with, we won’t remember Michael that way. We don’t remember the 1970s overweight stoned Elvis, we remember him at his best in the 50s and 60s (who can forget the 1968 comeback tour…he was HOT!). And we won’t remember the older adult Michael…cosmetic surgeries, chimps, molestation allegations, Neverland…we’ll remember Billie Jean and Thriller and Beat It.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said that many people die with their music still in them. Not Michael Jackson; he spent 40 years of his life sharing his music with the world; he changed the way we see music. And for that I thank him.