So I was in Hix Brothers music store in Aurora today, interviewing some teenage guitar prodigies for a story, when I heard the news. The guy behind the counter started yelling it out, and then running to tell everyone in the store one at a time.
"Michael Jackson died. I'm serious. Michael Jackson is dead."
The moment was decidedly surreal for me, and I'm still not sure how to process the information. I honestly haven't thought about Jackson as a musician in more than 10 years, and I'm sure I'm not alone. His personal troubles dominated the news, and talks of a comeback album were routinely laughed at. There wasn't a redeeming moment on 2001's Invincible, his final album. (Maybe "Whatever Happens." But nothing else.)
But let me say this right now for the record: Michael Jackson was one of the best and most important pop musicians ever.
His old Motown singles are stunning pieces of music. His work with the Jackson 5 is legendary. But for me, he never got better than the music he made at the height of his popularity. 1982's Thriller and 1987's Bad are unimpeachable pop albums. Seriously, go back and listen to them again. The closest either one comes to a bad track is "The Girl Is Mine," and that one has Paul McCartney on it. When these records are on, they are amazing.
"Wanna Be Startin' Something." "Billie Jean." "Beat It." "Human Nature." "The Way You Make Me Feel." "Another Part of Me." "Bad." "Smooth Criminal." "Dirty Diana." "Man in the Mirror." There is no bad here. These are all terrific songs.
I'm still taken aback by the news of Jackson's death. He was such a constant in the pop cultural universe that it seems strange to me to read his obituaries. The first piece of music my parents ever bought me was Thriller, on cassette. (I had to share it with my sister, but she soon lost interest.) It's just weird to think about. But I'll tell you this: I'm not going to need this blog post to remember where I was when I heard about it.
Rest in peace, Michael.