Just a few of the many reactions to Michael Jackson’s passing from the music-critic world
: • Joe Gross: “When Elvis Presley died, the great rock critic Lester Bangs wrote, ‘I can guarantee you one thing — we will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis.’ Bangs died in April 1982. He didn’t live long enough to see all of us agree on Michael Jackson.” • Rich Juzwiak: “I think for everyone who’s upset about Michael’s death for whatever reason–guilt, regret, a general sense of loss, disappointment that he’ll never get the chance to come back and prove us doubters wrong–can take solace in the resilience of his work. If all the shit that he went through couldn’t knock Thriller, Off the Wall, Bad and, to whatever degree, Dangerous and HIStory out of our hearts, minds and asses, a little thing like death isn’t going to, either. Even when the groove is dead and gone, you know that love survives.” • Jon Pareles: “All of Mr. Jackson’s show-business skills—the ones he learned under his father’s sometimes brutal instruction and then within the Motown Records hitmaking assembly line—were at once a way to please the broadest possible audience and to shield himself from them, safe within his own spectacle. Despite all his time onstage and on the air, Mr. Jackson stayed remote: styled, rehearsed and choreographed. He had one of history’s largest audiences, and it never really knew him.” • Chuck Eddy at Rhapsody: “Michael Freedberg, the great disco critic from the Boston Phoenix, said once that Michael lived Robert Johnson’s life in the plain view of everyone on earth, always watching out for hellhounds over his shoulder. And it’s true: If you don’t believe me, go back and listen again to the paranoia and foreboding in ‘Heartbreak Hotel,’ ‘Billie Jean,’ ‘Beat It,’ ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin” (‘you’re just a buffet, you’re a vegetable, they eat off you, you’re a vegetable’) ‘Torture,’ ‘Smooth Criminal’ (‘you ran into the bedroom, you were struck down, it was your doom’), ‘Dirty Diana,’ ‘Who Is It,’ ‘Give In To Me,’ and pretty much all of 1997’s great, intense, inexplicably ignored Blood On The Dance Floor album, which was almost entirely about being chased, followed, often to the sound of funereal Gothic rock: ‘Susie got your number/And Susie ain’t your friend/Look who took you under/With seven inches in.'” • Tom Ewing: “Here am I, writing what might have been an obituary type piece, and all I can think about are history and abstractions: the real, dead man is too remote. The Jackson it’s easy to empathise with fell into shadow a long time ago. When I heard about his death the music I wanted to play wasn’t Off The Wall, or Thriller, but the strange, sad, overblown records he made in the ’90s–overshadowed by headlines and accusations, but home to some of the oddest and darkest pop of any era.” • Miles Raymer: “Maybe it’s because he was so inhumanly good at what he did. A lot of people literally couldn’t believe the moonwalk when he debuted it. They thought it was a special effect. And while there were many Elvis wannabes who were better at being Elvis–or at least better at the singing and dancing and acting parts, if not the je ne sais quoi–no one was a better Michael Jackson than Michael Jackson. Countless people have been emulating him for decades now, and nobody’s ever done it better.” • Ann Powers: “Baby boomers have Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Pet Sounds, but for many younger than that, “Thriller” remains pop’s ultimate artistic endeavor. Jackson not only crafted a sound that is still being imitated by every young star who wants to claim territory in rhythmic Top 40, a genre Thriller invented; he also explored serious themes–obsessive love in ‘Billie Jean,’ street violence in the West Side Story homage ‘Beat It,’ the scourge of gossip in ‘Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.’ ” • Rob Harvilla: “This is devastating in an unexpected and overwhelmingly surreal way. I’m also tremendously/overly conscious that at this exact moment thousands of writers/bloggers/pundits are simultaneously scrambling to wrap their heads around it and ‘cover’ it, to both publicly acknowledge this terrible fact for posterity and also add a bit of personal spin, What Michael Jackson Meant to Me. The next 24 hours media-wise are gonna be incredible. This is the fucking all-time black diamond of obits: How do you reconcile the unimpeachable genius of his artistic prime with the train-wreck horror of his public descent, especially given the fact that the former ended and the latter began at least two decades ago? Is there any doubt this tragedy will occasion Absolutely the Worst Jokes of All Time? Did you stop for 30 seconds and mull over exactly how to address this news on your Twitter?” • Mike Barthel: “This is an unsatisfying resolution: there was no successful comeback, no redemption, no elder statesman period, not even a blaze of glory to go out on, just a middle-aged heart attack. But at the same time, we are in some sort of end times of all he represents. The world of celebrity journalism and gossip seems to have hit rock bottom, self-sustaining on a steady diet of nothing, running on the fumes of a system totally contained within their walls and unconnected with any sort of exterior fame. Megafame itself is mostly dead, a few old stars aside. Maybe this is a kind of year zero, too. Maybe something else will come along. Maybe it’s politics. God help us all.”