Michael Jackson is dead, and I’m taken aback by how incredibly unpleasant a feeling it is, far beyond the usual celebrity-grieving response: 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? If you go to a concert tonight and, like, Dinosaur Jr. brings it up from the stage, what’s the audience response? Nervous laughter? Hoots of derision? Or actual, respectful silence?
The truth is that Thriller is/was ungodly huge in a way that doesn’t exist anymore, period. In terms of sales + celebrity fascination + musical sublimity your competition there is basically Prince, which, well. And a great many people (myself included) now tasked with eulogizing MJ, in terms of percentages of our lives, have known him far more as a punchline than a megastar, and were too young to fully appreciate the megastar years anyway. Which may be for the best, that he remain an abstract figure moonwalking across your television screen in 1983, a magical figure before we grew up and learned how lame the word “magical” is, that we hold that figure as completely separate from the guy connected to the trials, the plastic surgeries, the late-show jibes, the commercial flops. He was the biggest pop star in the world, and made at least one of the greatest records of all time, and though he spent decades hence doing everything in his power to make you forget that, a part of everyone still remembers, and still reveres him for it. I suspect that’s the part of everyone we’ll hear from for at least a little while. And if not, I’m staying the hell off the Internet.