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Michael Jackson: Remember the time
by David Byrne with Tony Peregrin
2009-08-01

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It has been two weeks since Michael Jackson passed away. The world's biggest pop icon is gone, yet truths behind the myth are unraveling. Constant news reports and tasteless jokes about the King of Pop are rampant.

His body of work transcends age, gender, race and nationality like no other. Whether it was the disco-flavored "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," the guitar-driven "Dirty Diana" or the uplifting "Will You Be There," Jackson blurred musical barriers.

In his prime, Jackson had multiple number ones on the pop, R&B and dance charts. His career also saw a slew of awards, including Grammys, a Golden Globe, American Music Awards, BET Awards and an induction into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame.

Few realize that Jackson composed a significant portion of his catalog by himself. Some of his lyrics reflect a life of solitude. On "Stranger in Moscow" he asks, "how does it feel, when you are alone and you're cold inside?" Abandonment is the theme of "Who Is It?" as he cries out, "I can't take it, cause I'm lonely." On History Continues, the spirit of a cornered animal is captured on "They Don't Care about Us," "This Time Around" and "D.S."

Jackson's legacy thrives, as many, including Missy Elliott, Ne-Yo, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Lady Gaga and Robin Thicke keep his spirit alive in their art. Even rock musicians embrace the gloved one, as Soundgarden's Chris Cornell has transformed "Billie Jean" into an acoustic gem, Fallout Boy redid "Beat It" and Alien Ant Farm scored big with a cover of "Smooth Criminal." The King of Pop collaborated with rock heavy weights Eddie Van Halen on "Beat It," Billy Idol's musical partner Steve Stevens on "Dirty Diana" and Slash on "Give in to Me."

Rihanna brilliantly samples the chant from "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" on "Don't Stop the Music." Portions of The Jackson 5's "ABC" are worked into Naughty by Nature's smash "O.P.P." The rhythm of the Jacksons' "Can You Feel It" is present on 1998's "Feel It" by The Tamperer. SWV incorporates Jackson's vocals from "Human Nature" into the hit "Right Here." Comedic musician Weird Al Yankovic had chart success with his humorous treatment of Jackson's material on "Eat It" and "Fat."

Stars at the recent BET Music Awards paid tribute to Jackson, citing him as an inspiration and sending prayers to his family.

The groundbreaking music video "Thriller" is being turned into a stage production. The musical will be more than just a translation of the classic video, it will also have material from Thriller and Off The Wall per iconocast.com . Can't wait that long? A choreographed remake of the werewolf video has become a YouTube sensation when it was redone by inmates from The Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines.

Other videos highlight the King of Pop's career are "Billie Jean," "Smooth Criminal," "Black or White" and the most expensive video ever made, the $7 million "Scream." The first videos from his 1991 Dangerous album debuted on Sunday night TV on multiple channels. His work became a must-see event. Also, Jackson was the first African-American artist to have a video played on MTV.

Then there was his dancing. Shalamar's founding member Jeffrey Daniel moonwalked during a performance of "A Night to Remember" on England's The Top of the Pops in 1982, a year before Jackson did so on the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever. When Jackson debuted his moonwalk twice during "Billie Jean" the crowd went into a frenzy. He claimed the dance move as his own. Then there was the anti-gravitational lean from "Smooth Criminal" and his trademark moves: the spin, the kick, the thrust and the crotch-grabbing.

Some of Jackson's hits like "P.Y.T. ( Pretty Young Thing ) ," "Smooth Criminal," "Dirty Diana," "In the Closet" and "Give in to Me" did not appear on his first major retrospective HIStory in 1995. Part of me wonders if the content of these songs—mostly my favorites I might add—were omitted due to their content and how his poor public image needed much mending following child molestation charges.

The Guinness Book of World Records recognizes Jackson as the most charitable pop star. At the height of his popularity, Jackson stated that he was donating all of his earnings from the Victory Tour to charity. He also co-penned "We Are the World" to assist the famine relief in Africa. His tender voice urged for the betterment on "Man in the Mirror" and "Heal the World."

The tabloid fixture befriended Ryan White, helping de-stigmatize the myths surrounding AIDS and PWA. White, like the Jackson family, was from Indiana. "Gone Too Soon" was dedicated in White's memory.

Acting as paparazzi fodder, Jacko was Madonna's date to the 1991 Oscars. Per biographer Mark Bego's Madonna: Blonde Ambition, the Material Girl suggested "that Michael was a closet homosexual who needed to be dragged out of the closet." She later allegedly referred to him as a space-alien drag queen.

In the '80s, there was nobody comparable to Jackson; there still isn't. Based on dwindling record sales, it is doubtful another artist will sell as many copies of an album, as Jackson had done with Thriller.

Madonna, Prince and Jackson were born within months on each other in 1958. This threesome crossed over into mega-stardom in the '80s as MTV revolutionized the industry.

There was only one African-American boy in my fourth-grade class in the suburbs. He proudly wore a red jacket with his sparkling glove like his idol. During recess he would play Thriller on a boom box to entertain his classmates with reinterpretations of Jackson's videos, having me sometimes as his back-up dancer.

The Michael Jackson doll even worked its way into pop culture. The toy's wardrobe became a recurring joke on Courtney Cox's short-lived '80s sci-fi series The Misfits of Science.

Seeing the video of Jackson dangling his baby out of the window in a Berlin hotel in 2002, one can tell Jackson was not of sound mind. Celebrities all have had moments. Remember Mariah Carey's rants around the time of Glitter, Paula Abdul being doped up on American Idol or any embarrassing moments from Britney Spears?

Now let's question the intentions and competency of those close to Jackson. Was he such a personality that doctors would blur the line of ethics in regards to his prescription intake? Will Jackson's untimely death be a wake up call to those taking prescriptions liberally? No more than Anna Nicole Smith's premature passing. Was his family or management unable to say that one child molestation charge is enough and to monitor his play dates with underage boys?

Jackson underwent multiple plastic-surgery operations, so much so that a photo of the modern-day Peter Pan had not graced the cover of one of his albums since 1987's Bad.

Multiple retrospectives of Jackson's tremendous musical legacy remind us of his remarkable achievements. Available are the 18-track Number Ones; the four-disc career spanning The Ultimate Collection; the '80s- and '90s-focused Greatest Hits History Volume 1; and solid double-disc The Essential Michael Jackson.


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