Michael Jackson. Such a mundane name. Such a singularly incredible entertainer — at least until a few years ago, when he more or less disappeared from the stage when his health started failing him.
The legacy can be summarized in song titles and ineffable images. “ABC.” “Rock With You.” “Billie Jean.” The Moon Walk. “Thriller.” That single sequined glove. “Bad.” “Black or White.”
But then came the weird behavior, the child molestation accusations, the pigmentation problems, the plastic surgery. At age 50, he had been in the public eye for 40 of those years. He arrived as an adorable ball of energy with the Jackson 5. He became a gangly teenager, then a fireball of a performer and pop culture icon. He revived top 40 radio in 1983 and forced MTV to air black aritsts that same year. To this day, you can hear MJ on the radio or snippets of his songs sampled by others.
Silas “Si-Man” Alexander, the night jock at Majic 107.5, recalls working at the Record Bar in Milledgeville in 1983 and watching with amazement the types of folks who bought “Thriller.” Rockers with nose rings. Little old ladies. Young kids. “It would just keep on selling. Nobody has had that broad of an appeal ever,” he said.
More recently, he’s been jockeying parties at local nightclubs. “I play ABC by the Jackson 5 every week at [Sandy Springs club] Taboo,” he said. “Any Michael Jackson song and it’s on and poppin’! And this is 2009, still going strong.”
On air right now (at 6:30 p.m.), with the L.A. Times reporting his death, V-103 has Wanda Smith on the air (with Frank Ski stuck in traffic.). The station is playing “Human Nature.” Even over on 94.9/The Bull, the country station, Lance Houston said, “Your heart just sinks when you hear about it.”
“It feels like a piece of me has passed away,” Smith said on the air.
Listener Courtney, on V-103: “I’m only 18 years old. It’s real sad. Everybody has been texting me…I want to break down in tears.”
Mark Arum is doing a live show this evening on 750/WSB-AM on MJ.
When I caught up with comic and syndicated morning host Rickey Smiley (heard locally on Hot 107.9) this evening, he was still shaken by the news. “This is devastating,” Smiley said. “I’m really just numb. I really just want this to go away. I wasn’t prepared for this.”
“For a lot of black folks,” he continued, “this is so personal. He’s our Elvis.”
Smiley said he grew up listening to Jackson 5 albums with his grandma and as a musician, too, he especially appreciates Jackson’s “Lady of My Life” and “Remember the Time.”
Smiley plans to dedicate tomorrow’s show to MJ. “I’m going to play some of his songs and let people call in,” he said, ” express what Michael Jackson meant to them. Give people a chance to grieve.”
Lee Cagle, program director at 95.5/The Beat, said the station, which focuses on current music, will throw in some old-school Michael Jackson, including a 9 p.m. special music mix of MJ. And tomorrow morning, the morning show will be all about Michael Jackson.
“Listen to Ne-Yo or The-Dream,” he said. “They were clearly influenced by Michael Jackson. So his legacy lives on with the current generation of singers.”
The news networks are wall-to-wall MJ right now, of course. Fox News at 9 p.m. subbed out Sean Hannity with good ol’ Geraldo Rivera. ABC is airing a special 20/20 on Michael Jackson at 9 p.m. tonight. CBS will have its own special on at 10. Biography Network will air a best of at 10 p.m. Saturday. Kiss 104.1, Majic 107.5, V-103 and even hip-hop heavy Hot 107.9 threw out their regular playlists and played Michael Jackson songs all evening.
Atlanta-based Ne-Yo, on CNN, said, “I wouldn’t be here without Michael Jackson… When I was growing up, he could do no wrong. Everything he did was magic.”
Just plucked through a few random YouTube videos. Here’s a compilation of his dance moves.
And a montage of photos of MJ to a… country song:
And another montage using “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” as the backer: