I was a bit taken aback by the immediate and overwhelming reaction to Michael Jackson's passing earlier today. To be frank, I didn't understand it. Really? Michael Jackson? I mean, I liked him enough when I was a kid, but he hasn't exactly been the most relevant, innovative artist of our new millennium.
But then, I got home, and I checked my Facebook page. And my Twitter page. Any my Gmail. All were crammed with messages, tributes, clips. And, not from just anyone: composers, musicians, friends whose taste in music doesn't usually run the way of Top 40 radio. So, what gives? What is it about this oft-troubled man whose sudden death has provoked such an extreme and broad response?
The answer, of course, is that Michael Jackson's music had universal appeal. I mean, the numbers are just staggering: 13 number one hits, 750 million albums sold - including Thriller, which, at 100 million units-plus, is by far the best selling LP of all time. (No album has ever sold even half that.) By the close of the 20th century, he was the world's most celebrated entertainer, the self-proclaimed "King of Pop." But, truly, he transcended category, and his influence on everything from rock, to hip hop, to R&B, is incalculable.
Then, there are the live shows. I never had the chance to see Jackson perform, but anyone who's seen footage of one of his packed stadium shows can't help but be blown away by the sheer spectacle he managed to produce. Jackson had the whole package: voice, moves, a pitch-perfect sense of stagecraft. People went crazy for him, the way they once did for Sinatra, Elvis, and the Beatles.
Here, too, Jackson's legacy looms large. And, not just among obvious offspring like Janet or Justin: he's in everyone from Thom Yorke, to Zach Condon, to every flamboyant indie front man who claps and dances onstage. Tonight, they should all take a good look at themselves in the mirror. And thank Jackson for holding the door.