Friday, June 26, 2009


Yesterday morning I had death on my mind. It was this unshakable feeling that something big and terrible was going to happen. When I returned home from my pilates class, holding my breath and fearing the worst, I checked the internet for news on Farrah Fawcett, who long had been reported to have terminal cancer. Aside from a story about the shooting death of a high school football coach, there was no grim news about the death of anyone whose name I recognized. A few hours later, I logged onto Facebook. The first status update I saw: "RIP Farrah Fawcett."

I immediately told my boyfriend, via IM, about my scary premonition and its outcome. It wasn't the first time one of my death or near-death premonitions have become a reality, and unfortunately, it wouldn't be the last. A few hours later, again talking to my boyfriend via IM, he brought me more bad news: "Michael Jackson has died."

My first reaction was disbelief. Surely this must be one of those celebrity death hoaxes, or worse, the ultimate publicity stunt to drum up excitement for Michael's in-the-works comeback. Sadly, it wasn't. After going into cardiac arrest earlier in the afternoon, the "King of Pop" had died at the age of 50. I'd always figured that Michael Jackson would die relatively young. For some reason, I could never picture him as an old man. But still, I was shocked. Not only because it was the second celebrity death of the day, following my earlier premonition, but because somehow we all tend to think of our icons (Elvis, Diana and of course, Michael) as being invincible. My heart goes out to his family, particularly his mother, Katherine. I hope that Michael was able to mend existing rifts with various family members before his passing.

Although he's gone, I'd like to remember the vibrant life that he brought to pop music with Thriller, as well as his mostly-overshadowed work after that seminal record-shattering 1983 album. I have never been a big fan of the Jackson Five. I recognize the quality of the work, which is notable mainly for the strength of Michael's preternaturally agile vocals, but Michael's truly creative period began when he went solo. Without his post-Jackson 5 work, his death probably wouldn't have totally pushed Farrah's into the background yesterday.

And it's not all about Thriller. Yes, "Bille Jean" rocked, but there was life after Thriller -- lots of it. For me, some of his post-Thriller work, especially 1987's Bad album, is his best. Here are my favorite Michael Jackson moments (on record).

  • "Blood On The Dancefloor" Remix CDs are generally a waste of time, featuring superfluous reworkings of overplayed hits and throwaway bonus cuts. But Michael's Blood On The Dancefloor: HIStory In The Mix (1997) is essential for a handful of new songs -- "Morphine," "Superfly Sister" and particularly this, a No. 1 hit in the UK -- that are as good as any of his post-peak work.
  • "Ghosts" Another brand new jam from HIStory In The Mix that is better than anything on his next and final studio album, 2001's Invincible.
  • "Human Nature" Michael's ballads generally make me cringe -- way too saccharine -- but this one never fails to bring out the romantic fool in me.
  • "Leave Me Alone" Britney's "Piece Of Me" aside, pop's media indictments rarely work, but this does on the strength of Michael's bile-filled delivery and a dramatic musical backdrop that matches his barely contained rage note for bitter note.
  • "Smooth Criminal" Bad, thrilling, dangerous and invincible, it features a complex, tongue-twisted vocal that's as dexterous as his moonwalk.
  • "State Of Shock" Go ahead and cringe, but Michael and Mick Jagger making googly eyes at each other (only on record, of course) is far more intriguing than anything he ever did with Sir Paul McCartney.
  • "Wanna Be Startin' Something" I've never really figured out what he was going on about for most of the song, but for me, this remains Thriller's most thrilling moment.
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