Saturday, June 27, 2009

What is it about music??

In my previous post on Michael Jackson, I was pretty cynical about people rushing out and buying Jackson CDs despite not having felt the need to do so for the last 10, 15 whatever number of years.

And yet despite not being a fan at all (in fact I think pretty much everything he did post "Bad" was pretty dire) I found myself going on youtube and listening to a number of his songs and watching his performance of Billie Jean at the Mowtown 25th Anniversary Concert. And even for this non-fan it brought back a lot of memories, and I felt some sadness that such a pop genius (and let's be honest, you don't get people buying so many of your songs that you have 47 of the Top 100 singles in the US just through dumb luck - the guy could sing and write pop songs like almost no one else ever has) is gone.

But I'm not really sure why I am feeling sad - is it for the boy who was so amazing when performing I Want You Back at the age of 11? Or is it for the guy who could write such a great ballad as Human Nature or a great rock song as Dirty Diana, or any of the other 2 dozen or so songs that you know all the words to even though you don't even like Michael Jackson songs?

Perhaps, but I think more I feel sad (or at least wistful) for the person who I was when I first heard the music. I remember listening to "Dirty Diana" quite a lot in 1988 (it was on the short list for my "A Song a Year"), and when I hear it now I remember vividly having the song (and the rest of the "Bad" tape) playing on my little mono-tape player while doing a major Legal Studies project in Year 12. The song brings back for me Smash Hits magazines, caring about who won the Grammy Awards, and High School socials.

But music constantly does this - it's why I write a "A Song a Year" post, and not "A Movie a Year", and you don't need to be Nick Hornby to realise this.

Forget novelists, film stars, athletes, footy players, politicians. If you want to have an impact on a person's life, become a musician. I remember when the whole Heidi Fliess call-girl scandal broke, one of the call-girls said of the claim by Billy Idol that he never paid for the girls that it was true, because all of the girls wanted to sleep with the rock stars who came to the parties. Rock stars and pop stars, for whatever reason, always have a deeper impact on our psyche than other cultural heroes.

And so Jackson's passing doesn't cut me to the bone, but I know if it had been Madonna or Bono, I'd be feeling pretty hollow because so many of my teenage memories have their music playing on my soundtrack. I am sure most of those people who are now buying Jackson's CDs are buying the ones they remember the most from crucial parts of their life. Maybe they're just playing the songs and closing their eyes and imagining they're back in Year 10, trying to get up the courage to ask a girl or guy they like to dance with them and the year-end social. (And who knows, maybe they're buying them because now they feel like it's ok to buy them again)

It is highly doubtful that Jackson was ever going to write a song that was going to impact on a new generation of high school kids like any of his 1980s tracks did - he had well and truly peaked years ago - and so musically speaking not much has been lost with his death.

But such was his reach, that if you were a kid in the 80s or 90s, regardless of whether you liked it or not, his music was there and like it or not, it always will be.

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