He had become a joke, a punchline, and yet . . . .
For people my age and older, Michael Jackson was always something more. He was that endearing little boy with the amazing voice promising us that he'd "be there." As a kid, I can remember watching the Jackson 5 show and idolizing Michael -- a kid not that much older than I who was on tv and singing and dancing. He was a hero.
By junior high, Michael had become a pioneer, a trailblazer. Kids nowadays may have no idea just how much ground Michael broke with Thriller, but those of us who were there in the early 80's probably still remember the first time we saw "Billie Jean" on MTV. It rocked our world, and if you go back and listen to it or "Beat It" or just about any other song from that album, it STILL rocks your world. You basically could NOT not like Michael Jackson back then.
As the 80s wore on, Michael became, well, odder. While Bad was still a pretty cool album, it was becoming more and more difficult to overlook some of Michael's eccentricities -- the house, the pets, the rumors. Did these eccentricities get in the way of his artistic genius, or did his artistic genius just get overshadowed? If we were to pick up one of his later albums, would we hear that same revolutionary genius that we heard on Thriller? I don't know. Like many kids of the 80s, I abandoned Michael probably in the early 90s when it stopped being cool to like him, as he became more of a punchline than a visionary. Like many, I cracked my jokes about him, rolled my eyes at reports of his crazy purchases, questionable marriages, and legal problems. And yet, every now and then, my mp3 player will stumble across one of those early songs like "Beat It" and I still stop and wonder at the gift that he shared with us. Now, that wonder will be mixed with sadness at the loss we've all suffered today as well as the knowledge that this will just become more punchline fodder. I can't help but think that the guy deserves more than that -- and so do the people to whom his music meant so much for so long.
Now, he can finally find some peace.