This diary is not about Michael Jackson, since I didn't know Michael Jackson, there is nothing I can say about him with certainty, although that doesn't seem to stop everyone else. Instead, it's about his work, his music, and a few observations about pop culture.
It could as easily be titled, 'What I learned from being (nearly) famous.'
Michael Jackson made some very popular music, just like Marilyn Monroe made some very popular movies, and Elvis made some of both. But after the tragic and early death fades from memory, after the mourning ends, will the work endure? The answer is already in about Elvis' movies, but what about Jackson's music?
The test is, will his songs outlive his current fans? Will they transcend pop? I really have to say I doubt it.
Thriller is a great song, but can anyone seriously compare to say, Stevie Wonder's 'Superstition', to which it obviously owes a great debt?
What in Jackson's work can we compare to Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come', or Marvin Gaye's 'Inner City Blues'?
Michael's greatest song, in my opinion, is 'Billie Jean', but is it on the same level as James Brown's 'It's a Man's World', or 'Funky Drummer', the single most sampled song of all time? It's hard to make that argument. Michael Jackson was a pop phenomenon, a great dancer, as precise as Fred Astaire, as cool as Sammy Davis, but a great musical artist? No.
The same can be said of Elvis, and I say that as a lifelong fan. His best work by far is his gospel albums; very moving, but not an original song or arrangement in the entire collection. He was a pop star, not a musical artist.
It's easy enough to name musical artists we already know have transcended their times and genres to become immortal; Beethoven, Chopin, Mozart, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, even Stevie Wonder. We could name more, but not many more, it's a finite list.
What do Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley have in common?
They were immensely gifted people who shared the celebrity sickness; they lived their lives under the delusion that if only enough people you don't know love you, you might come to like yourself. Of course, it is a fool's errand, and I wish everyone could become a least a little bit famous, just so they could see how futile it is.
The always frustrated quest to get from the audience what can only come the single person not in the audience is the great disease of our time, the disease of pop culture.
It seems it's the enemy of great art, as well.