Thursday, July 2, 2009

Out of the blue and into the black

Celebrity is not soon forgotten. The brighter the star, the bigger the flameout. In other words, we're not nearly done with Michael Jackson. We've only just begun.

Tired of it yet? Me too. Tired of the news programs, tired of the tabloid reports, tired of the tributes, tired of the inane online chatter. Tired, tired, tired. But we're only a week into this story, and it seems we're losing perspective with every sordid detail.

I didn't have much to start out with. Perspective, that is. I was trying to find some, but sifting through this brutal coverage for something of value is like poking around for treasure in a sanitary landfill. You need to be wearing gloves. Well, at least one.

But here's something. It was written back in 2003 -- six years ago -- when Rolling Stone ranked "Thriller'' No. 20 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time:

Jackson was at the peak of his art and adulthood. It is hard now to separate the wonder of Thriller from its commercial stature and Jackson's current nightmare of tabloid celebrity and self-destructive egomania. But there was a time when he was truly the King of Pop. This is it.

"Thriller'' has to be considered one of the greatest commercial successes of all time. The numbers are mind-numbing: 26 million records sold, 37 weeks at No. 1, 8 Grammys and 7 Top 10 singles. But here's another number: 1982. "Thriller'' came out 27 years ago.

I'm not sure when he morphed into the freak show that he became. But Michael Jackson, who was 50, peaked 27 years ago.

If he had been able to launch that big tour, would it have been much like Elvis' comeback, which was really more of a refusal to go away? One obvious difference being that while Elvis became bloated, Michael was withering away.

Neil Young was singing about Elvis and Johnny Rotten on "Hey Hey, My My.'' But he could have been singing about any artist who sold 415,000 albums (58 percent of them digital downloads) in the first week following his death:

Out of the blue and into the black
They give you this but you pay for that
And once you're gone you can never come back
When you're out of the blue and into the black.

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