Thursday, June 25, 2009
Remember the Time…
I spent the entire day at the San Diego Fair doing unforgivable things to my waistline. My cell phone was clinging to life for most of the afternoon, but before it finally ran out of juice, I received a handful of text messages from friends that seemed oddly cryptic:
"Guess you HAVE to write about music today."
"Holy sh*t. Just Holy sh*t."
"Pour out a little Pepsi…" [TBG Note: Props to Jon for referencing Michael Jackson AND Tupac's Thug Life group in the same text]
Finally, m'man Josh cut to the chase with a text informing me that Michael Jackson was dead at 50.
There is simply no way I could possibly articulate how f*cking HUGE Michael Jackson was at the peak of his popularity. In the last few hours, I've read comparisons to The Beatles, but I'm fairly certain the Fab Four never captured the hearts of the African-American demographic.
Sports had Michael Jordan who might've been the first human being to be marketed as a global brand, but he was no Michael Jackson. Forever protective of his image, Jordan still played second fiddle to Jackson in the video to Jam and allowed himself to look the fool. That's something that Air Jordan just didn't do.
Author and sportswriter Jeff Pearlman wrote a nice tribute to Jackson and echoes the approach I would've taken.
Michael Jackson was the biggest star of my lifetime. So, I guess it's odd that the first thing I thought of when his death was confirmed was the episode of the The Simpsons in which he provided a guest voice-over. Much like my most lasting memory of the late Farrah Fawcett is her short-lived – and hilariously unwatchable – CBS sitcom Good Sports, these are the Michael Jackson moments that have inexplicably popped into my mind in the past several hours:
Stark Raving Dad - This would be the title of the aforementioned episode of The Simpsons. It's an absolutely brilliant 30 minutes as Jackson (credited as "John Jay Smith") plays a mental patient who crosses paths with a recently-institutionalized Homer. The "Happy Birthday, Lisa" payoff is one of the best moments of the entire series – even if Jackson didn't sing it. He's even willing to poke fun at himself which was a refreshing bit of humanization that belied the caricature he'd later become.
LA Gear - In the 1980s, Nike hadn't yet annihilated everyone in their path. Athletic shoes from Reebok, British Knights, Puma and Fila could still be found in stores with athletes and entertainers who'd actually endorse them. LA Gear came and went pretty quickly, but they were pretty popular for a hot minute in my junior high school.
Captain EO - In September 1986, the Disney theme parks debuted a 3-D movie starring Jackson in a big budget space opera. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and off the charts of unintentional comedy, this was a pretty big deal back in the day. Even more surprising is that it ran until 1997 at Disneyland (closing in 1994 at Disneyworld) which was a good three or four years after Jackson became pop culture Kryptonite.
Moonwalker – The Video Game - 20 years ago, the Sega Genesis was the greatest thing since the Atari 2600. With a few decades of hindsight, this adaptation of Jackson's Moonwalker movie is…uhh, yeah.
Whatzupwitu - Eddie Murphy was the only entertainer who could've been mentioned in the same breath with Michael Jackson when it came to 1980s fame. Murphy's fall from superstardom was offhandedly mentioned on a recent Bill Simmons podcast and it's a subject I'd like to give the TBG treatment one of these days. I can't confirm it, but I'm reasonably sure that this video had its "world premiere" in prime time on the FOX network. Murphy was enjoying a bit of a dead cat bounce thanks to Boomerang and Jackson was still an A-lister despite the distance of his 1991 album Dangerous in the rearview mirror. Worst video ever? Worst video ever.
RIP, Michael Jackson.