How Will Michael Jackson Be Remembered?

Michael Jackson’s memorial service at the Staples Center in LA was an extraordinary event to view. First, I was grateful that I watched it on a local channel that didn’t clutter it with needless commentary as it went on. There was, simply, no need. The memorial spoke for itself. It was well organized, celebratory, reverent, sad, and passionate all in one.


What struck me, and has since his death at the age of 50 was the sheer volume of his work. As radio stations played his music, I kept realizing how much of it I’d forgotten, or wrongly attributed to another artist. His musical legacy alone is astonishing in its depth.

His revolutionizing of the music video was equally as profound.

The memorial managed to make the negative coverage of his passing look well, cheap, tawdry, totally unnecessary.

Michael Jackson was a human being who managed on a certain level to transcend all the attempts to marginalize his genius.

Keep in mind 1.5 million people went online to get tickets to this unique memorial service. That in itself is extraordinary. In life, he may have been the King of Pop. In death, as Berry Gordy put it, he stands alone as the greatest entertainer who ever lived. That’s not hype. People from around the world knew and acknowledged his greatness as a performer.

As to those incidents in his life that were less than stellar, keep in mind that every genius is ever so slightly twisted. For Michael Jackson, that twist seemed to lie in his lifelong quest to experience a childhood denied him because of his gifts.

For every Peter King, the Long Island congressman whose anti-Jackson rants indicate he must be getting ready to run for something, there are millions who can cite signposts in their lives that were marked by his music.

And, there’s this. Michael Jackson, more than any artist before or since, presided over a paradigm shift in music. What had previously been a strictly aural medium suddenly became both aural and visual. The next performer who will herald such a change hasn’t even been thought of yet. Such was his impact that kids today know his music, as did their grandparents four decades ago.

And so , leave the questions about what drugs were in his system, who prescribed them, how much debt he was in, who will look after his children, and all the rest to those who make their money asking them.

Tuesday’s memorial wasn’t for them. It was for the tens, no hundreds of millions of people around the globe who were touched by his music, by his dance, by his soft spoken and often childlike manner.

Do you remember the time?


3 Comments Add yours

  1. sanda says:

    “every genius is ever so slightly twisted” – I take exception to your words,Mr. Riley. Why? Gifted people
    are stereotyped as are people with disabilities. There is a fear of those who are not
    considered “average”. I remember when the gifted kids and mentally retarded kids were both together in one department, for “exceptional students”.

    Whether or not folks have problems is not linked to being gifted, or a genius. That genius myth, usually put as geniuses are mentally ill, has been around for decades…particularly those of us in the arts. OUCH.

    (OK, I was a gifted kid and my spouse thinks I’m a genius. I was very surprised when
    my mild mannered spouse and I met “Grandpa” Al Lewis at one of his AntiRockefeller
    Drug Law vigils at Rockefeller Center in June, 1998 and Al, who knew me as a listener and letter writer to his show at WBAI, said to me, (he often said it to his wife, on the air; I’ve no idea why), almost after “hello”, “You’re no genius.”. And my spouse said, “Yes, she is.”. I just sat happily and watched/listened. )

  2. sanda says:

    A few days ago, I was speaking with a person with a disability (amputee), who is homeless, on the street, in midtown. (We’ve spoken before. I think people on the street, those collecting money, are usually ignored, even if people give them some money and sometimes, someone
    has a lot to say when someone finally says” hello, how are you?”.) Disabled, I relate to my “peeps”.

    He showed me a poster he had of Michael Jackson, of photos of Michael at different stages of his life. A vendor had given it to him, free and he was displaying it near his belongings. The man was telling me that
    he was a year older than Jackson and had remembered when Jackson became a star. He showed me which pictures he liked best as to representing which periods of Michael Jackson’s life he liked best. (In earlier conversations, I learned that the man moved here from NJ to get away from the environment of drugs he lived in. He had survived a car crash and 6 months in a coma in the last decade. Vulnerable.

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