Friday, July 10, 2009

On Michael Jackson

I've been waiting until the time is right to post anything on Michael Jackson. I wanted to take it all in and gain some perspective. That's the luxury of blogs. I don't have a deadline. I also don't have an editor or news director yelling, "Get me a local angle on Jackson! And don't mention the child molestation thing! I want schmaltz. Besides, Sony Music won't pay if we don't play along. Did I say that out loud? God, I need a beer."

Back in the 1980's, the City of Cincinnati, caught up in Hit King Fever, decided to honor Pete Rose by naming a street after him. Second Street became Pete Rose Way. And there was much rejoicing. And then came the gambling scandal. It's Second Street now.

Whatever your opinion of Pete Rose may be - and having only talked to him over the phone for about 20 seconds, I can say he seemed like a nice guy and magnanimous with his time when it comes to baseball - we can all agree that he will, indeed, someday be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Posthumously.

Michael Jackson has passed not only beyond our earthly confines, but beyond our media scrutiny. In other words, it's OK to like him again. In the name of sensitivity and good manners, we must now judge him only by his accomplishments in his chosen field, and not dwell on the sordid details of his private life. Radio stations that, in response to listener backlash and advertiser hand wringing about airing the music of a child molester, had quietly "de-emphasized" Michael Jackson on their playlists, substituting MJ hits with superficially urban but ultimately inferior Prince songs, are now free not only to reinstate The King of Pop back into their All '80's weekends, but actually run dedicated blocks of his music or even All Michael Jackson Weekends. We're off the hook. Let the Thriller begin.

But should it have ever ended?

Gary Glitter has been charged and jailed for child sex offenses more than once. Is this taken into account every time your local baseball stadium plays Rock and Roll, Part II to rally the crowd? I heard Gary Glitter on the radio on the way home yesterday - on a station that won't touch Michael Jackson with a ten-foot pole.

John Lennon was murdered. His signature song, Imagine, was produced by Phil Spector, a man who has just been convicted of murder. Will this tarnish the beauty and the meaning of the song? Will the recording live on? Or will your local Mix station quietly de-emphasize it?

This December, will oldies stations somehow manage to misplace their copies of the "A Phil Spector Christmas?"

Did we ever stop listening to Jerry Lee Lewis? (Married a 13 year-old cousin) Chuck Berry? (Jailed in 1959 for basically being a pimp) The Platters? (Busted in, where else, Cincinnati on "morals" charges) And The Rolling Stones? (The Altamont Concert fiasco that resulted in 4 deaths, one a homicide)

What made Jackson different? Was it the weird plastic surgery face? Was it the protracted news coverage of his trial - the likes of which no other celebrity had ever faced? Was it due to MTV programing shifting away from music videos? Or was it perhaps due to The King of Pop's lack of output during and following his legal troubles?

Whatever the cause, it's a moot point now. Michael Jackson is legend now. And if you think the overload coverage of MJ is going away anytime soon, think again. We have to compensate for at least a decade when he was relegated to Second Street.

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