Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Ever Lasting Record

Michael Jackson died today. He was 50 years old. In his own way, he was the successor of Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, Elvis in the 1950s, the Beatles in 1960s, and no one recording artist or group in the 1970s. He was probably the most like Elvis, in that both died, way too young, of natural causes. Jackson was a voice, an image, and an icon that helped define the decade of the 1980s.

He also help ignite a revolution in video that we are still enjoying. Not only was his "Thriller" album in the 1980s the best selling album in history, his "Thriller" video helped propel MTV to international attention in its early days in the 1980s. This along with HBO and CNN in turn helped launch cable television, which spelled the dethroning of network television as the only game in town. YouTube today can be seen as a beneficiary of the music video revolution that Michael Jackson helped start.

Whenever someone famous and great dies way before his or her time, I always think of A. E. Housman's poem, "To An Athlete Dying Young." Housman's pervesely rational take was that it's not so bad - because, when you die young, you don't live to see someone else exceed your record, and leave your accomplishments in the dust. "Eyes the shady night has shut, cannot see the record cut."

Michael Jackson did see some very rough times after his glory years. But his record and place in history will never be diminished.
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