Like many people, I'm still reeling from Michael Jackson's death on Thursday. I found out on email and immediately jumped on to Facebook to share my shock and get some consolation from friends. Status updates became message boards, full of conversation about various reactions to Michael Jackson's death. The same thing happened on blogs and Twitter. And people quickly drafted posts to chime in with their reactions (myself included).
It was fascinating to see people learning of the news via Facebook and hearing their immediate responses. Many, like me, were sad and shocked and immediately called upon personal memories of Michael Jackson's music. Every time I hear "Rock with You," I can't avoid thinking about junior high school years, roller skating parties, and school dances. I would imagine that people of my generation in particular have strong associations with the music (discussed nicely in this piece in the Miami Herald), as it was ubiquitous in the early 1980s and grew in popularity along with the rise of music videos and MTV.
Yet, at the same time, even in the minutes following the announcement of his death, I heard commentary from detractors who were quick to discount Jackson's influence (it's just good producers and choreographers) and felt that his misdeeds overshadowed his music. This line of commentary is what's been gnawing at me since I first heard of his death. Although I'm very disturbed by the child abuse allegations against Jackson and continue to be alarmed by some of his questionable parenting choices (dangling a baby off a balcony); there's no way for me to separate Michael Jackson's music from my youth.
So, yes, I am sad. And, I did immediately want to turn on the TV to watch video after video so that I could reminiscence about a period in his career when he was at his peak and when I was still a kid and teen. Thank goodness for MTV and especially BET for its hours and hours of non-stop Michael Jackson videos on Thursday and Friday (and today FUSE is doing the same). He was so defined by his videos, so it was awesome to see iconic videos like "Beat It," "Thriller," and "Black or White" on channels that don't often play videos anymore.
Particularly heart-breaking to see were the pre-video performances from the Jackson 5. My 3-year-old daughter was rivetted by his singing and dance moves and was particularly charmed when the Jackson 5's very first American Bandstand appearance hit the screen on MTV. That's the real tragedy, seeing Michael as a cute talented little kid and knowing how his life ultimately turned out.
But, even as that example shows, one of the best ways to deal with death is by cherishing positive memories of the departed. So everyone embraced the music. It was cool to see some of my local record shops getting TV coverage, as customers flocked in to pick up Michael Jackson CDs and records.
And, as I had hoped, radio responded as well. A DJ at my station did a Michael Jackson themed show Thursday night (even playing some Weird Al), KCRW quickly assembled a tribute page on their website and aired special programming, and Sirius XM radio had a number of tributes across various channels (including one hosted by former MTV VJ Nina Blackwood on the 1980s channel) and it's devoting an entire channel to a Michael Jackson tribute today through June 29th on Heart & Soul (Sirius 51 and XM 62). As Tom Taylor of Radio-Info pointed out in his newsletter, "...Michael Jackson and radio made a lot of very good times and very good business together." The Radio-Info website has a bunch of stats to back that up, including reports on the increased Michael Jackson airplay on radio following his death.
Michael Jackson's Death Came Too Late for Streetlight's San Francisco Store on 24th Street
(but their San Jose branch was all over the news)
(but their San Jose branch was all over the news)
ABC World News Tonight showed clips of radio stations around the globe playing Michael Jackson songs and I found reports about special programming in Colorado (community station KAFM), North Carolina, and Boston in addition to a number of interesting tributes on college radio stations like WRMC, WICB and WUOG (just a sampling!).
Ben Fong-Torres has a really nice front page story about Michael Jackson in the San Francisco Chronicle today, outlining both his influence on music and his complicated persona. Ben's been in an interesting position the past few days, as he's been fielding non-stop calls from the media, asking for his commentary about the King of Pop. Ben interviewed a teen-aged Jackson, so it's got to be sad and surreal for him how things played out for Michael.
It's also bittersweet to think that a tragic death of a music superstar can potentially be so lucrative for the music industry. But, hey, I'm pleased that it may cause more people to buy physical music, patronize record shops, and turn the radio back on again. It makes us all remember just how powerful music can be.