Forever in the Shadow of the King: A Tribute to Michael Jackson

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Singer, entertainer, superstar, impresario, dancer, perfectionist, legend, icon, pioneer. These terms and many more are all appropriate to use while speaking of the great Michael Jackson. He was a true innovator and groundbreaking in every sense of the word. Saying that Michael Jackson will be missed is an under-statement of every degree I can think of. So much, that…I don’t even know where to start. I want this piece to be perfect because, let’s face it, Michael deserves nothing less. I will do my absolute best to put his legendary career into perspective and will try even harder to put into perspective the effect he had on the world and the hundreds of millions of fans that inhabited it.


The career of Michael Jackson began where his life did, in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, at the age of five, when his father took five of his talented sons and started the original boy band - The Jackson Five. To make a long story short, The Jackson Five were good. Their first four singles went all the way to the top of the American music charts, but it became increasingly obvious that one of the boys in particular was destined for even greater success. Michael was always unique in everything that he did, and I do mean everything. His singing, his dancing, everything was cranked up to “11,” so to say. He wasn’t showing off, he was just being Michael. That’s how talented he was. He excelled at everything he put his hand to and he made it look effortless. Most of the moves he did in his videos were spontaneous, un-choreographed, off the top of his head. And don’t play like you didn’t noticed. It was almost inevitable that Michael would break off from the group. And when he did, he saw almost instant success, dropping his first solo album and snagging a starring role as The Scarecrow in The Wiz. From The Wiz, he met Diana Ross who introduced him to a young producer named Quincy Jones. The rest, as they say, is history, but I’ll tell you what happened anyway.

Michael and Quincy Jones started a musical partnership that would make both of them legendary. Quincy Jones helped to produce Michael’s second solo album, Off the Wall, which transformed Michael from a former boy band frontman into a bonafide superstar. He was now a household name and he became the first solo artist in history to produce four Number 1 hits from one album. He also showcased the potential for music videos with his songs, Rock With You and Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough. At this point in history, music videos were just beginning to pick up among the public but, like hip-hop in the late-70’s, they were seen as a passing fad. But Michael, with his amazing sound, colorful videos, and breath-taking dance moves made music videos the perfect medium to further his success. A few years later, Mike and Quincy strike again, but this time, not with an album, but with a monolith.

Thriller was released in 1982. I know you’ve heard stories about how big this album was, but let me size it up. How big was it? Well, I could just say that it was the highest-selling album of all time, but that wouldn’t be enough. I could say that it transformed Michael from a superstar and household name to a worldwide phenomenon, but that wouldn’t come even close. To put it into perspective, the year it came out, this album sold 28 million copies worldwide. Since then, it has sold almost 107 million copies worldwide. It stayed on top of the Billboard Top 200 for 37 weeks and stayed on the charts themselves for almost 30 more. To simply say that it was the biggest album of all time wouldn’t do it any justice. From that point on, Michael Jackson didn’t just make music videos, he made short films. An entire set was made for the “Billie Jean” video, the video for “Beat It” featured professional dancers and actual gang members, and the video for “Thriller” was in another category completely. In an era where people only spent $10,000 on music videos, Michael spent $500,000 on “Thriller.” It lasted 13 minutes long plus credits (yes, credits) and featured some of the biggest names in film, drama, music and even make-up (they were pretty top-of-the-line for 1982). And in a time where music videos needed all of the extra get-up-and-go they could get, Michael couldn’t have had better timing. He, quite literally, made MTV the giant that it was, and in exchange, MTV made Michael the biggest superstar on the planet. They made him the King of Pop.

His next album was Bad, and from the day the title track was released, it was evident that Michael had reinvented himself as all great superstars must. The video for “Bad” was directed by none other than Martin Scorsese (I know, right) and proved how versatile Michael really was. He made all-black spandex, fingerless gloves, and a belt with more ornaments than a Christmas Tree look tough. It was enough that we were all trying to red jackets, one glove and too-short pants. Now he expected us to wear spandex, and I’m sure they tried. He got mixed reviews for his new, more provocative dance moves, but they seemed to give him even more ammo to work with onstage. At this point, people at his concerts were actually fainting they got so excited. Unfortunately, even this staggering success would be completely overshadowed by problems in Michael’s personal life.

To this day, Michael has sold approximately 750 million albums worldwide. But this incredible career was undermined by the many personal problems he had. First of all, let me clear the air about something. Michael did not, I repeat, did not bleach his skin. He had a rare skin disease that made his skin paler as he got older. As far as the cosmetic surgeries go, that could probably be attested to his unstable home life. As a boy growing up, Michael, and his siblings, had to live with a very abusive father. From an early age, Michael had to endure physical and emotional mistreatment, including beatings and name-callings. So let’s be fair. People just don’t realize how things like that can affect a child; Michael probably didn’t want to so much as resemble his father. He also reportedly had some financial trouble and many people say he died deeply in debt - doubtful. Michael, being the business man that he always was, bought the rights to many different songs and music including: the Happy Birthday song, a college football team’s fight song, and the entire Beatles library. Yes, they seem like odd ways to spend your money but let me explain what that means. Because he owns the rights, Michael owns the royalties that come from them, which means that every time the Happy Birthday song, the fight song (I think it was from a college in Ohio somewhere, I don‘t remember) or any song by The Beatles are used in a professional production a check is sent directly to Mr. Jackson. So maybe he didn’t have as much money as he used to when he was a young man, but he still had enough for all of those closest to him to make sure every I was dotted and every T was crossed on his will. I don’t understand that about us. How is it that we can always find some way to find some person’s past transgressions and make them bigger than the many successes they’ve had. Maybe we should have been a little more considerate towards his situation and tried to understand it. And before you say anything, no, I am not talking about understanding why he would hang an infant from a balcony four stories up. I mean understanding his obsession with cosmetic surgery and the other sometimes strange things he did (and giving him the benefit of the doubt on the molestation case wouldn‘t have been bad; he was proven not guilty each time).


Once again, and I can’t reiterate this enough, just saying that Michael influenced everyone within the sound of his voice would be an understatement. In fact, I would go so far as to say that anyone who says they weren’t influenced, affected, or changed by Michael in some way is a lie - deceiving themselves and everyone around them. I mean, I’m only seventeen and even I remember hearing one of his songs come on, turning it up to be heard throughout the house, and dancing the best I could to it. Don’t act like you haven’t done it before, either. We’ve all, at least once in our lives, put on an MJ record and just danced in front of the mirror. I know I’ve tried; tried being the key word. All in all, we’ve all come fairly close but, in the end, no one can get down like the King of Pop. My favorite memory was the Smooth Criminal video, where he debuted the Zero Gravity move. This is where he leaned over to one side like he was going to fall but brought himself back up, as if yanked up by an invisible line (if I ever attempted this without the aid of the couch, I would need an ambulance). But I think the career-defining moment, for me and every other Michael fan, was on the 25th Anniversary special of Motown where during his performance of “Billie Jean“, Michael debuted a dance move so insane the entire world seemed to shift at once. The move I speak of: The Moonwalk. A move so unbelievably ingenious and jaw-dropping, only Michael could pull it off the right way. However, my favorite videos still have to be “You Rock My World” and “Smooth Criminal” which are so long they are actually called short films. Let’s just say that I hope I grow up to be half as smooth as Michael was in those videos.

Just how far reaching is his influence? When he died, every major news outlet had video of fans mourning and celebrating his life from every conceivable corner of the globe. In America, we saw fans come out to support him in his hometown of Gary, Indiana, at his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in New York at the legendary Apollo Theatre where he and his brothers won Amateur Night all those years ago. It was truly moving, and I even got choked up once or twice.


The hardest thing to do when honoring the memory of a person as important as Michael Jackson is trying to define their career, their life and the impact they’ve had. I decided halfway through writing it that I simply couldn’t do that. I mean, this is Michael Jackson people. It would be an insult to his memory to try and put him in a box. So I’ll accomplish the above task by saying this. Michael was one of the single best things to happen to this cold, cruel world of ours. He was kind, gentle, genuinely good person who was tragically misunderstood. And so, if any of the Jackson family is reading this, and if Michael could somehow see this, let me send my deepest condolences and apologies. I give my condolences because no parent should have to bury any of their children, no matter how old they are. I give out my apologies because I feel that we, the public, could have done better in our approach to Michael. If I had gotten the chance to meet with this man, I would have tried my best to express just how important he was to everyone, because something tells me he didn’t know even in the later years of his life. Michael Jackson was a depressed, lonely, and tortured soul. I may be wrong about all of this, but maybe if he got one more hug during his childhood instead of another beating, his life would have turned out differently. What this man needed from his friends and loved ones was the same amount of support that his fans gave him. Ultimately, he just didn’t get the amount that he needed.

Michael, where ever you are, I pray that you have finally found your peace. Lord knows that you didn’t get much of it here on Earth. My other message to Michael would be this: you will be missed, and you will be remembered forever. And I do mean “forever.” My prayers go out to the family and friends of Michael Jackson in this tough time. May you find condolence in the fact that Michael changed millions upon millions upon millions of lives. MJ was one of the only people in history who can honestly say that he permanently changed the face of the world he lived in. From the moment “Billie Jean” dropped, he ruled the world. And now that he’s gone, his legacy will loom like a shadow all across this vast landscape of ours - not just America, the World. And for that I say: Long Live The King.

Dedicated to Michael Jackson
1958-2009
Rest in Peace





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Sunshineyday said...
Sept. 16, 2009 at 10:19 am
Fantastic! I hope I'm not lying to myself when I say that most of the world, like me and you, are fans, and not hateful. and sympathize rather than criticize the hardships he had. I can't understand people who have a problem with him! All he ever did was put in positive influence to our world. But I guess the only judge that matters NOW is the almighty, and he makes no mistakes.
 
ShaynaPhelps said...
Jul. 27, 2009 at 5:07 am
Thank you so much for writing this. This is exactly how I feel about his life. All these stories about his life coming out from loved ones shows who he really was; a kind, caring, loving, funny, talented, compassionate, tragically misunderstood, lonley, beautiful man. The pain he felt makes me want to cry. It is the deepest, purest, most natural thing in the whole world to be loved, not the frenzied insane mess from some of his fans, but true love. What I would have said to him is "Michael, you ... (more »)
 
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