Michael Jackson dead: a remembrance from a critic and fan

There's the temptation to view Jackson's early death as a by-product of superstardom run amok. He was, after all, the most famous person in the world for a significant period of time. I used to be acquaintances with Jackson's keyboardist, Greg Phillinganes, and he told me a story about going to the mall with Michael in disguise. Somehow people recognized Jackson, and he, along with his keyboardist, had to literally run for their lives.

No way we can know how much that messes with your head. But I do know that other people have experienced a similar level of fame and come out of it just fine. McCartney comes to mind.

Somewhere it all went wrong. An anecdote has stuck with me, and it's not about hyperbaric chambers or animal menageries or child abuse. After Thriller became the runaway best-selling album in history with 25-million in sales, Jackson went into the studio to record a followup.

Taped on the wall was a note. It said: One hundred million. As I remember it, Jackson taped it there himself. He had it all wrong. The idea that he could quadruple the sale of the most purchased album of all time was fundamentally flawed. And I think it was the beginning of Michael's demise. The album came out in 1987, five years after Thriller. It was called Bad. It gave critics a set-up, but Bad wasn't bad, it just wasn't great, and, while it was a major hit, it didn't sel anything close to 100-million copies.

Hard to belive that was 22 years ago. The weirdness has been well documented, but right now I'm choosing to ignore all that. I'm going to sing all those great tunes — I don't need to list titles — in my head.

I'm going to remember Michael Jackson as one of the most electrifying arist/entertainers who ever lived.

Michael Jackson always struck me as a man who was terrified of death. Sterile masks, name it. He took it a hundred miles beyond extreme. Michael Jackson was terrified of death, and I hope he's found out that it's not as bad as he thought.

Never has so much triumph dissolved into so much tragedy.

From kid star to King of Pop to punchline. And now dead. Michael Jackson was 50 when he died earlier today of a heart attack. A shock — but, then again, when it came to Michael Jackson, nothing was.

Some people will dismiss Jackson's death as a fitting end to a twisted caricature of a life. They might even get a chuckle out of it. I won't. I'm hit. This is one of those celebrity deaths that I'll remember where I was when I heard about it. (As it turned it, it was at Cirque de Soleil; I left soon after.)

I'm upset, more than I guess I thought I'd be. But I'm focusing on memories. I was there, watching, when he wowed the country with his pre-adolescent charm on Ed Sullivan, his skin the color of milk chocolate. I was there, watching, as he turned into a man, still with childlike charisma.

I was there in 1979, in an arena in Honolulu, when he performed with The Jacksons, but the most riveting material was from his new album, Off The Wall. I was there, in front of the TV, when he first did the moonwalk on Motown 25 and folks talked about it for days, months. I was there, a newly minted music critic, giving Thriller all of three stars.

And yes, I was there when he gradually sanded his skin to the color of chalk and remade his nose into a button.

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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