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Music

From the Current archives: Remembering Michael Jackson

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Today, August 29, 2013, Michael Jackson ould have been 55 years old. Yet, we celebrate his memory by re-reading a wonderful piece written by former Current staffer Gilbert García and published in our magazine on July 8, 2009, days after the singer’s death on June 25.

“Why celebrate a person’s birth by going back to the time of his death?” you may ask, and understandably so. The reason is simple: García’s piece is a perfect example of top-notch music writing, and one that recognized the fact you can’t examine Jackson’s death without going through his highs and lows. It was critical and controversial, but it threw no low blows; it praises the man and the artist, but it was far from a hagiography.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did in 2009. —Enrique Lopetegui

 

Remembering The Time

Whatever the cause of Michael Jackson’s death, self-importance long ago killed his career

 

There’s a little-known Michael Jackson recording that I’ve been flashing back to ever since MJ’s death last Thursday.

It’s a lilting reggae ballad by Austin Tex-Mex cult hero Joe “King” Carrasco called “Don’t Let A Woman (Make a Fool Out of You).” The story goes that Carrasco, then working on his 1982 album, Synapse Gap, spotted Jackson standing in the corridor outside the recording studio, and lured him in to do some backing vocals. Jackson’s harmonies are wonderfully ethereal on this track, with none of the self-importance that we would come to accept from him over the last two decades of his life.

What I love best about the recording, though, is the story behind it. The fact that Jackson, at the same time he was constructing his monumental Thriller album, willingly lent his golden falsetto to a song with little commercial potential, made by an obscure guy that he barely knew, is somehow reassuring. It suggests that while he was never a “regular guy,” Jackson did have a small window of young adulthood when he was approachable, when he wasn’t yet obsessed with his own myth.

There’s a strange thing that happens whenever washed-up pop stars pass away (and don’t kid yourself Jacko fans, he had about as much chance for a career revival as Jermaine). After the brief, obligatory displays of mass mourning, fans start celebrating, because they’re now liberated to reclaim the version of their hero they like best. It might sound cruel to say so, but purely in pop-culture terms, Jackson’s continued existence was an aggravating reminder of his gradual descent into surgical mutilation, creepy bed-sharing with other people’s pre-pubescent boys, and musical irrelevance. As soon as media outlets announced his death, devotees could gather outside the Apollo Theater and belt out “Rock With You” or “Beat It” (notice that nobody sang “Butterflies” or “You Rock My World,” or anything else from this decade).

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