Friday, 26 June 2009

What terrible news, but what will we think in 5 years' time?

It's always sad when a major contributor to popular culture passes away; even though you didn't know the artist personally, you get the feeling that something great has moved on. For me, it's the same feeling I get when a historical landmark gets a makeover, or is decimated in a fire (like the Grand Pier in Weston-Super-Mare last year) - even though I had no real connection to the place, in general there's a sad feeling of something historically important being lost, something that later generations might miss out on. I might be the only person who feels this way, I'm not sure, all I know is that there's something depressing that I can't quite put my finger on when something long-lasting finally crumbles. When parts of Leeds are bulldozed to make way for brand new shiny additions to the universities I feel distanced from the town as a whole - the old buildings were decrepit and ugly, but they had survived a war and perhaps a hundred years of use and abuse; to pull them down suddenly and without any sense of occasion seems to lack dignity. Like I said, it's probably only me that feels this way. (Conversely, I get happy when new fixtures are removed to reveal the past - In Lancaster at the moment there is an old billboard fixed to the disused art deco cinema which builders were removing ready to flatten the building, until they discovered a poster advert for a Ford Cortina from the seventies. It feels nice to have bits of the past fighting back at modernisation. I think I anthropomorphise (is this a word?) things far too much. But this is how I think.)

I first heard about Michael Jackson's death while I was at work. The TVs were switched on silent, but Sky rolling news' big flashing BREAKING NEWS banner let me know, blow by blow, minute by minute, how MJ was being taken to hospital, how his condition was described as "Very Serious" and then finally that he had died. It was a shocking thing to learn - of course, he has never really been the picture of health during his time as a star over the nineties, which is how I (and the majority of people I know) will remember him, but for him to actually die was unbelievable. It's on a par, in my mind, of informing me that the production of Dr Pepper has been halted forever. It's ludicrous, and stupid, but wholly believable if you think about it. My first thoughts were of people who had bought tickets to his O2 shows, specifically a few friends of mine, who are such huge fans of the man that I was sure they'd be devastated by the news. It turns out I was largely exaggerating my thoughts on the projected emotional responses of my peers - it was and is a sad event, but on the whole it was expected sooner or later, and after all, nobody knew him personally. I feel that this is how the media will deal with the tragedy - by taking a hyperbole of projected emotions and thoughts, and turning him into the People's Princess of the Naughties. (How unfortunate that term for our time period is sometimes).

What takes over the coverage of huge events like this is a sense that people will be looking back at this moment in time and wondering what we thought and did, and how we reacted to the news. There have always been people notating events in history, but realistically these days, we have people who are all too aware that there are eyes from the future staring at us and analysing our thoughts and feelings. This makes it hard to act in a natural way, much like if you were asked to flirt with your hero at gunpoint on national television as part of a panelled judging show. You want to show your best side, you want to show you care, that you're a good person; but at the same time all the attention is making you stutter and say stupid exaggerated things that end up making you sound like a conceited prick, rather than the sensitive interesting soul you wish to be perceived as. Plus, the studio lights are making your hair stick to your forehead, and the chiffon summer dress they made you wear is sticking to your back unattractively due to a combination of the heat and your 100 degree centigrade embarrassment force field. Your pitch becomes hysterical, and the audience get carried away with it. You probably win the prize out of sheer pity from the producer. You get away with it, people with no sense of propriety and/or emotional intelligence of their own think this is how they should feel, and copy the hysteria. Then people look back and simply say "Christ, what a bunch of fucking lunatics." This is why nobody looks at the fainting girls in Beatle's memorabilia films and comments on how ridiculous collapsing at the sight of Paul McCartney is. They were at least acting like that because that's how they felt. All those flowers outside Buckingham Palace when Diana died - a lot of them were there because people felt obliged to be sad because that was the general emotional consensus. They didn't want to look back and think "why didn't I care?". Which is silly, because you're allowed to feel how you actually feel these days. There wasn't a hippy revolution for no reason. Haven't you seen Wayabuloo? (see previous blog entry)

The news has been reported in a variety of ways, much like grief you might say, if you were trying to sound like you knew about psychology - from finger-pointing hysteria-blame from the Daily Mail to the Guardian's and the Independent's working of the tragedy/it was expected/he used to be such a legend angle and a confusing mish-mash of voyeurism, indignance, blame-throwing and what seems so embarrassingly sincere it might actually be "faux"-respect from The Sun.

[Image courtesy of The Sun newspaper online, ]

Jokes about his death being banded around already are tasteless, but can't be stopped - people always joke about dead celebrities, it's in a person's nature to tell these kinds of jokes if they aren't particularly funny in the first place - go for shock humour! I'm not a fan of LOL A DEAD GUY humour, so I'm not responding to any jokes I've been sent. It's interesting to see though, that recently people have found that their way of lashing out against the hysterical media (sorry, I hate using the term "the media" makes me sound like a conspiracy theorist - another of my pet hates) is to make sick jokes up to show that they're so misanthropic, man, they just don't care that some guy died, so what if he was famous, yeah? The truth, my idea of the truth, I should clarify, is that Michael Jackson was a musical genius. He gave me many happy hours of musical joy, he was the basis for my fancy dress birthday party (we dressed up as characters from the Bad video), his Off The Wall album helped me get through weeks of working in the Worst Job Ever, and even throughout his years of oddballery, I still felt he commanded respect simply for his constant stream of pop hits. What he did in his private time was shadowy, mysterious and often sinister, but he was acquitted, and this might not be enough to clear his name, but it has got nothing to do with my admiration for what was a solid musical career that influenced thousands of songwriters and records over four decades.

Thanks for the hits Michael. I'm an atheist, so I don't believe he's gone to a "better place" per se, but perhaps now he's away from the harrassment, the addictions, the pressure and his own tattered life and relationships, he's found some kind of peace in death. Still, 50 is far too young to go.


xthemusic said...

People have been likening this death to that of Elvis in terms of impact, and i believe it's fully justified. Michael Jackson was perhaps the last great solo icon we had. His inspiration to music lovers and artists may never be matched again. I do believe that June 25th 2009 will live long in the memories of people along with the like of 9/11, Elvis, the moon landing etc because of this.

In terms of the jokes going around at the moment, I agree they're tasteless. I'm not a fan of people jumping on the 'let's kick them while they're down' bandwagon. Some people use comedy as a way of coping with the news, as a defence mechanism. I don't mind that so much. It's those who use it as some form of celebration that get me going.

Yes, his personal life will be remembered for the wrong reasons. However, I hope that his contribution to music is what he is truly remembered for. The happy times he has given everyone.

RIP Michael Jackson. King of Pop.

mr bear said...
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Katie said...
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ZenArcade said...

Michael Jackson, who made wonderful pop music, is not the last great solo artist. Sorry X, but I disagree mate.

Perhaps the last good thing about pop music, which since his heydey in the 80's has been reduced to utter banality. If you're referring to him in terms of pop's last great solo artist then I agree. As far as music in general is concerned then there's still millions of wonderful solo acts out there.

RIP Michael.

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