Monday, June 29, 2009

The Teenage Soundtrack

By now, I'm sure we're all a little tired of the Michael Jackson coverage. I'm a bit surprised why so many people (myself included) are so moved by this event , but I guess it's sort of a perfect storm of celebrity: tragically young performer, 15 yrs. of freakish behavior, child molestation charges, a potential comeback in the works, orphaned (?) children, and, of course, the legacy of the music.

When a famous young musician dies, it's always a big deal--not just because of the premature death, but because of the ownership fans have over the music and the person that created it. Many intense memories are attached to specific songs, and even just a few beginning beats can evoke a whole range of emotion and thoughts. MJ's catalogue covers a quarter of a century and, for people my age, that covers a lot of significant events.

Coincidentally, there was an interesting article in the NYT Science section last week about how--and what--humans hear. The sophisticated interaction of the brain and the ears has specific implications for what we like to hear; we can process the subtle sounds of language and humans are far more responsive to music than any other animal. Given the choice, most animals (including monkeys) would prefer silence to a gentle lullaby. Maybe the results would have been different, if they had played "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

So, it makes sense that the endless loops of "Thriller" and Jackson 5 are filling our ears, at this point. Elementary school sleepovers, junior high dances, and high school MTV marathons are also playing on the mental movie screen. It's not really the person of Michael Jackson who is being mourned, but the maker of music and creator of sound--not a bad dancer, either.


Anonymous said...

You're so right, ... a friend from work was pretty upset about his death and I found myself questioning why I wasn't more upset and also perplexed as to why she was so upset b/c I feel that his freakish behavior has overshadowed his musical talent, but now I realize that she was mourning her own youthful memories not the person.... well said.

Karin said...

Hi... I've been enjoying your blog for awhile now, but this is the first time I've commented.

I also read an article in the New York Times this weekend about the MJ phenomenon. The author of the article had an interesting perspective. He believed that MJ's death marks the end of an era. According to him, no artist today could achieve the degree of celebrity MJ did. Because of easy access to diverse music in the Internet and overall saturation of the media, people's interests are much more diversified and specialized than ever before. The odds for such a global appreciation of an artist like Michael Jackson are very slim. So, (according to the author) our mass celebration of MJ’s life and music in the days since his death is a shared nostalgia for our youth (as the previous commenter said). I also think it is a celebration of our collective spirit and culture.

Miss S said...

I'm so glad you have written about this. MJ was always around. Sometimes I would sing along to a tune or tap to a beat but I didn't have a real affinity, I remember my little sister asking me who I would rather date, Michael Jackson or Prince. I curled my nose and gave some snobbish retort. That said, it came as a surprise to me when I was listening to an NPR discussion about MJ on the radio and started to cry. Some of it is is certainly what you spoke of; in a flash my mind heard the intro song to the TV show The Jefferson's, I could see my mother curled up on the bed watching watching Kung Fu with David Carradine and hearing Stevie Wonder coming off the record player in the living room. There was my zany mixed race, multi-marriage, many siblings, step parents, jewish, Buddhist and pagan family going about the business of living. It really struck me how important people like the Jackson's and MJ were in my childhood. They helped to break down racial barriers which in turn helped mixed marriage families become acceptable and part of the norm.
( it certainly helped my family, which in all honesty were never going to be main stream but well, hay)

yeah wow, It was one of those you don't know what you got till its gone moments.

Michelle said...

When Michael Jackson was a black man he rocked. His older music is undeniably good. The newer stuff, well, you won't find "We Are The World" in my yoga mixes.

MJ wore his pain on the outside, which made many of us uncomfortable. But frankly, let's just be honest, Madonna may not be able to stop crying since his demise, but if her were alive, she wouldn't be calling him to babysit.

zmeditation said...

Not only you, everyone is shocked by this heart breaking news. he was a dancing legend with his awesome dancing steps.