Via a horrifyingly eloquent IM Friday afternoon, the beautifully intuitive Sherry Ann — on whom you can always count to keep things in measured perspective — made the following boldly blunt proclamation: “We have arrived at that point in our lives where the people we adored as children are going to start dropping dead. I am NOT ready to deal with that!”


And so it goes.


Like most of the world over 72 hours after the fact, I’m still struggling to comprehend what it means to draw breath in a world that no longer includes Michael Jackson. Having been all of six years old when Thriller broke, I literally can’t remember my life without Michael in it, and I spent the weekend operating in a strange, unrelenting daze. (Even though June 26 was Cliffhanger Friday and more than one soap is blowing and going at full steam heading into summer, and even though I already own the man’s whole video collection on DVD and can literally pull it out and watch it at will, I spent the lion’s share of the morning and afternoon transfixed by MTV, which jettisoned its entire regular schedule in favor of broadcasting and remembering Michael and his incomparable audio/visual oeuvre, a decision I found to be heartbreakingly poignant and perfectly fitting, considering the brilliantly symbiotic relationship the two entities shared in their parallel rises to global prominence: when MTV needed an ambassador with a tad more mainstream pop culture cachet than David Byrne and those fops from Devo to give the network a whiff of genuine relevance, Michael leapt into that role with both feet, and in kind, his constant and ingratiating presence on not only the channel but on the plethora of other video outlets that sprang up in its wake proved to flip the ignition switch on Jackson’s rocketship ride.)


In this age of reality television and of YouTube, in a time when quite literally anybody can become famous just by training a working camera on themselves (that’s you, Speidi), it is difficult to conceive that anyone will ever again achieve Jackson’s astronomical level of notoriety and cultural penetration — aboriginal bush babies know the name Michael Jackson, for the love! — and it is impossible to imagine that anyone will ever again do as much as he did to outright earn same.


What struck me dumb watching anew all those videoclips — which, in a stroke of utter genius, some sage at MTV decided to air in chronological order, thereby allowing the viewer to track the undeniably stunning evolution of Jackson’s artistry — was how fresh and timeless almost all of that music — and all of those extravagant mini-movies Michael and company deftly created to showcase it — remain(s). To this author’s ear, “Karma Chameleon” notwithstanding, there is no song more quintessentially ’80s (which is to say, completely of its time) than “Billie Jean,” yet Michael’s crisp vocal work on that track is so pristine (and, of course, Quincy Jones’ flawless production, so airtight), I’m stone cold convinced it would be a megasmash all over again if we were to hear it for the first time today. (And that’s to say nothing of “The Way You Make Me Feel” or “Beat It”!)


And the videos, forget it. While it’s not at all fair to say — as I heard more than one person opine in this tough weekend of emoting and eulogizing — that there would have been no MTV without Michael (better or worse, Michael or no, packaging and presenting music in this fashion was an idea whose time had most definitely come, although, am I the only one who recalls industry folk only half-joking as to what the “M” in the network’s abbreviated name really stood for?), it is absolutely accurate to say that Jackson was the first superstar artist who really understood in his bones that the music video could be more than just a kitschy novelty, that it could indeed be a compelling form of art. That the people creating these clips were able to conceptualize and capture on film the balletic fluidity with which Michael so gracefully moved his body, and then turn those filmed movements into heartstopping and utterly riveting moments in time, gave the idea of the music video — and, by extension, the idea of MTV as a worthwhile commercial endeavor — an elegantly inviolable legitimacy; and, perhaps even more importantly, sent Jackson’s so-called “peers” scrambling, merely to stay competitive, to embrace the necessity of marrying the aural and the visual. (So in the old days, we had the innocuous tuneage of Christopher Cross and Air Supply and The Little River Band to hum along to mindlessly, but in the brave new world of music television, we now had artists like Prince and Annie Lennox and Michael Jackson, whose next moves we literally couldn’t wait to hear and see; and if you honestly believe you can’t draw a straight line from the bracing and boundless imagination on full display in the brain-busting video for “Thriller,” right through to the blistering, gender-bending mindfuck that was Prodigy’s clip for “Smack My Bitch Up” fifteen years forward, with requisite stops along the way at Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing,” Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” and R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion,” you sadly weren’t paying close enough attention.)


Michael’s brilliance, and his grasp of the good, can never be seriously questioned, nor can it be fairly compared to any artist’s with whom he came of musical age. If Jackson was indeed the King of Pop, Miss Madonna was widely credited with being its crown princess, particularly during that heady anything-goes heyday of the mid-to-late-’80s. But while Madonna’s genius always seemed deliberately measured and manufactured — calculated to the decimal based solely on whomever she was trying to shock or stun next — Michael’s seemed to actually ooze from his ever-lightening pores. Seemed to simply consume him. Seemed to entirely preclude him from having the “normal” life one could always somehow sense he desperately yearned to lead.


Because I have always felt such a primal connection to music, particularly the music of my turbulent youth, saying goodbye to Michael in many ways means (or, at least, feels like) saying goodbye to the brightest piece of an often difficult past, a past in which the FM radio and those magic (wo)men who populated its dial were my true north and my truest friends. And because Michael’s private life devolved into such a pathetic sideshow in the later years of his life, it’s probably easier for most of us — particularly if you’re younger than I am — to remember more strongly his boneheaded bizarreness than his astonishing art. But as someone who still recalls with frightening crystal clarity the day his dad drove him up to the TG&Y to buy his very own copy of Thriller, I remember — first, foremost, forever — the music. And in a weekend which seemed to be marked by who could publish the crassest and most obscene photo of Jackson on his inevitable deathbed, and/or the most detailed litany of Michael’s misdeeds, faster than anyone else, I was moved beyond mistake to see that MTV and I landed on the exact same page. To see that they were confident enough to let the music speak for itself.


COMING THIS WEEK: I’ll be confident enough to do the same, with a Buzz playlist containing what are, at least to my ear, the ten essential Jackson tracks.


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