Michael Jackson’s life was a tragedy, but not a particularly edifying one, S. T. Karnick writes.
Troubled rock singer Michael Jackson has died at the age of fifty. He was reported a few months ago to be suffering from a serious and possibly life-threatening staph infection.
A highly talented singer with an impressive range from high-tenor crooning to Little Richard-style shouts, Jackson made an impressive start with his family’s rock group The Jackson 5, singing lead at the age of eleven. His vocals on hits such as "ABC," "I Want You Back," "The Love You Save," and "I’ll Be There," were classic performances–passionate, skillful, enthusiastic, and polished.
Unfortunately, family problems, the show business lifestyle, and a stream of ready exploiters served to turn the talented singer into a very troubled person, and in adulthood Jackson became an increasingly bizarre figure. Rumors of pedophilia dogged him until his death, even resulting in criminal charges, of which he was acquitted.
Jackson’s work since the early 1980s was largely uninspired, and even his better solo work, such as the albums Off the Wall and the megahit Thriller (more than 40 million copies sold), really just jammed a large amount of talent into routine musical genres. Jackson’s best solo songs, such as "Off the Wall," "Rock with You," and "Billie Jean," were brilliant slices of pop music wonder, but other equally popular songs, such as "Beat It," "Thriller," and "Say, Say, Say," were just silly.
"Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough," from Off the Wall, was both brilliant and silly, exemplifying what was best and worst about Jackson’s life’s work: smartly arranged by Quincy Jones, the song just manages to survive Jackson’s excessively manic vocal performance.
Jackson clearly needed strong guidance in both his musical work and his personal life. Unfortunately, he all too seldom got it.
There’s really not much to learn from the tragic aspects of Jackson’s life, other than what all sensible people already know: children desperately need protection from those who would exploit them, both inside and outside the family. Michael Jackson did not receive that protection, and the results were terribly sad.
—S. T. Karnick