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Liberian Girl

Liberian Girl

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Michael Jackson performs during his 'Dangerous' concert in 1993 in Singapore.

By Associated Press.People who love Michael Jackson's music love it absolutely.

They cannot be dissauded from that devotion because our personal, psychological resonance is inextricably linked with Jackson's art, whatever people make of the music in aesthetic terms.We all know the self-anointed King of Pop's impact on Top 40 songcraft, but someone should at least try to make a gadfly argument against the uncritical appreciation of the man's oeuvre.

I'll take a stab.�Although Jackson sold an ocean of albums, marketing success does not make a record inherently great.

To wit, Berkeley-based music critic Greil Marcus contrasted Jackson's spectacular "Thriller" breakthrough with the Sex Pistols' relatively meagre moneymaking history (at least as of the late '80s) -- versus the punk band's transcendent artistic impact and cultural meaning:Jackson-ism produced the image of a pop explosion, an event in which pop music crosses political, economic, geographic and racial barriers; in which a new world is suggested.�Michael Jackson occupied the center of American cultural life: no other black artist had ever come close.But a pop explosion not only links those otherwise separated by class, place, color and money; it also divides.

Confronted with performers as appealing and disturbing as Elvis Presley, the Beatles or the Sex Pistols -- people who raise the possibility of living in a new way -- some respond and some don't.

It became clear that Michael Jackson's explosion was of a new kind.It was the first pop explosion not to be judged by the subjective quality of the response it provoked, but to be measured by the number of objective commercial exchanges it elicited.

Michael Jackson was absolutely correct when he announced, at the height of his year [1984], that his greatest achievement was a Guinness Book of World Records award certifying that Thriller had generated more top-ten singles (seven) than any other LP -- and not, as might have been expected ...

"to have proven that music is a universal language," or even "to have demonstrated that with God's help your dreams can come true."The pop explosions of Elvis, the Beatles and the Sex Pistols had assaulted or subverted social values; Thriller crossed over them like kudzu.

The Jackson-ist pop explosion ...

was brought forth as a version of the official social reality, generated from Washington D.C.

[Reagan summoned Jackson for a visit] as ideology, and from Madison Avenue as language ...

a glamorization of the new American fact that if you weren't on top, you didn't exist."Winning," read a Nestle ad featuring an Olympic-style medal cast in chocolate, "is everything." "We have one and only one ambition," �said Lee Iacocca for Chrysler.

"To be the best.

What else is there?" Thus the Victory tour -- which originally boasted a more apocalyptic title: "Final Victory."I went to the Jacksons' Victory show near Chicago in 1984, my first official concert (it wasn't for a couple more years that I went fully hipster and saw the Replacements, my next big-league concert).The whole family went.�My dad, who was in advertising then, got tickets through work, though I don't think he was much of a Jackson fan.

The tour was bigger than music; it was the concert event to attend, regardless of whether you dug the tunes or cared for the stage spectacle.Greil Marcus wasn't trying to rain on Michael Jackson fans' parade.

He was just saying that the man's commercial success eclipsed his musical merit in terms of why he is historically important.

Just about any other Michael album or Jackson 5 disc has better songs than Thriller's, from "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" to "Bad" and "Smooth Criminal."To be fair, a lot of people critique Marcus' critiques, including this anarchist essay on Marcus' 1990 book that discusses Jackson, "Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century":Lipstick Traces uses Michael Jackson and the spectacular success of his Thriller! album to trace the limits of what the Sex Pistols had been able to accomplish.

But it would have been a more complete book if it had followed its discussion of Michael Jackson with one about Prince, the "brother" who replaced the Gloved One in the limelight of the spectacle when Thriller!'s bubble finally burst.�While both Michael Jackson and Prince are "sexy," the former's sexuality is a spectacular but unthematized secret; the latter's sexuality is an overtly stated promise that the divisions between male and female, and straight and gay, can be superseded in everyday life.Be that as it may, I figure it's fair to say that hardcore Jackson fans who can't fault the man at all are nuts, while anyone who says he can't stand Michael's music at all is lying.

I'll leave it to the great Rebirth Brass Band, a New Orleans "second-line" group that liberally mixes in various pop hits with their jazz-infused hip hop, including a blazing rendition of Liberian Girl.For more info:�Trivia galore about Michael Jackson's Thriller is available on Wikipedia.

Listen to all your fave Jackson songs on Last.FM.

Dip your intellectual toe in more of Greil Marcus' thoughts on his Salon site.

I wrote about Rebirth Brass Band here.I have a little blog over yonder called Decoherence levee.�
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