Michael Jackson and the Endless Summer of Death

What the King of Pop left behind, and what he took with him

So what exactly were we mourning? Even as Jackson's tawdry finale allowed us to remember him as he once was, his death allowed music fans and critics to remember our best selves as well. In the tiny corner of the universe that makes up the Pazz & Jop voting public, Jackson again gave critics a figure who transcended blog posts, capsule reviews, 140-character one-liners, and the rest of the threadbare patchwork that made up the daily hustle of music writers at the end of the last decade. Anyone part of the scramble to put together a farewell worthy of the Man in the Mirror—even all the magazine writers who lost their weekends to dude's late-Thursday exit—can now look back on that frantic moment as a paradoxically bright spot in a year that was conspicuously lacking in good news or good work for an increasingly embattled profession. More importantly, the outpouring of sentiment and 29 million albums' worth of consumer spending let listeners experience the type of worldwide communal cultural experience typically assumed to have gone the way of the RIAA's diamond certification. Whether in Nepal, Melbourne, Nigeria, Stockholm, Los Angeles, New York, or Mars, the King of Pop was dead. But at least we were all listening to Michael Jackson again.

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