Ron Rosenbaum

Heresy: Michael Jackson Wasn't That Good After He Left The Jackson Five

I know this is heresy, blasphemy to the gods of the publicity industrial complex who created and destroyed the later Michael Jackson.

But I’ve let a day pass since his awful death before saying this: after the completely wonderful Jackson Five era, Michael Jackson was no longer a very interesting singer, not after he left the collaborative genius of the J-5. He became known for his dancing (wow, the moonwalk, really memorable!), for his stupid costumes (what was with the whole militaristic thing? And was the glove really all that interesting or distinctive in any way?), for one or two good songs (“Human Nature” or whatever it was officially called) and “Thriller” wasn’t one of them. Come on, do you really think that novelty concoction is worth another listen ever? (Okay I liked “Billy Jean” even though I still misremember the key lyric as “the chair is not my love”)

Then after the success of his solo comeback, fueled by nostalgia and moonwalking eccentricity, he became known for being a celebrity, famous for being famous, then famous for his eccentricities. Eccentricities that were at first harmless (Bubbles the chimp, etc.), then famous for being weird (“Neverland” the boy-pals), famous for his grotesque plastic surgeries, then famous for being an accused child-molester, acquitted of criminal charges but never able to quit the children. Then he became famous for his famous associations–buying the Beatles catalog and doing that hideously sappy “The Girl is Mine”* with Paul McCartney,”marrying” Lisa Marie Presley, etc. Famous for his famously annoying sisters. Famous for anointing himself “King of Pop” when he no longer could produce a decent pop song. And yet the idiot pop media went along with it, He was the King of Trainwreck Celebrity.

But as for his music? Can you name a single post-“Thriller” song he did?

Sorry. He and the Jackson Five created something magical. “I’ll Be There” is an immortal love song, sublimely beautiful in its simplicity. I’ll remember him with gratitude for that and the rest of the J-5 hits, and try to forget the trainwreck he became.

But in the “moronic inferno” (h/t Martin Amis) of the media “mourning” let’s not forget the real tragedy, that he long ago ceased being a talent and gave in to being a mere celebrity, the sure road to ruin.

*thanks for reader correction.