Slowly catching up on things after an illness-plagued trip to Manchester last week. I had just coughed my way through a film at an outdoor cinema on Thursday night when I got the first text messages from home about Michael Jackson’s death. We quickly dismissed it as a rumour which likely began at Glastonbury until we saw it on BBC News.
Only a few weeks ago I was looking up the prices of tickets to the O2 gigs towards the end of the run and considering forking out for them. I only held back because my credit card is still traumatized from recent spending. Earlier on Thursday, we were sitting having dinner opposite the Opera House in Manchester where the musical Thriller was running until Saturday. I imagine the remaining tickets for Fri and Sat sold out mighty quick.
Unlike other fortunate friends, I never saw Michael Jackson live. I don’t think I was quite as Ticketmaster-savvy when he played Lansdowne Road all those years ago. I used to walk around the garden with my next door neighbour when we were about 3 or 4, singing “I’m bad, I’m bad, you know it” endlessly. I’ve always felt sorry for the poor guy and the way his life has gone in the last 15 years, but the music he produced in the 20 years or so previous to that is virtually unsurpassed. The Jackson 5 stuff is largely responsible for my perverse love for Motown and at the height of his solo career, he was a performer who had it all and tried to push every aspect of his music as far as he possibly could. The production, the videos and the all-important dance moves were aspects of his overall performance that were treated with the utmost importance. Everything he did, he did it big and he did it extremely well. There was no holding back and there was no signs of considering what the public wanted or what the radio stations could handle. The recordings were ambitious and everything that surrounded them was equally epic.
It’s sad to think that we’re probably never going to see anything like him again in terms of a global superstar. The physical sales of Thriller will likely never be repeated in any format, but equally, no artist is ever likely to command the kind of pop cultural importance that the likes of Jackson did ever again. The pop stars of the modern age are all too forgettable and their songs rarely manage to get 5 candles on their birthday cake before they are dismissed as a temporary fad. I can’t remember the songs that Beyonce released two months ago, never mind several years ago. There’s just a massive gulf in the quality of the song writing. There’s no comparison to the timeless melodies of the pop music made by people like Michael Jackson to the cluttered nonsense that is spewed at dancefloors around the world every weekend.
It’s not just pop music though, it’s a different world now for any musicians. No longer can someone work away playing gigs for a while, record an album and then slowly release singles and tour the album before recording a second album for release within two years of the last. Bands of promise are picked up so quickly through online demos that by the time they release their debut album, their fans are tired of all their best songs, having found them all on the Hype Machine long before the album sees the light of official day. Even when an album is released, there is far less control over the promotion of the individual tracks. The whole album is dissected by bloggers faster than drunks go through a Zaytoon on a Saturday night, picking out the bits that they like and discarding the filler. Within a week, the best of the album has been selected by majority rule and while the songs will be enjoyed for a short while and the band can tour off the back of this success for the best part of a year, there is no comparison to the commercial longevity of an album like Off The Wall. With a hot new band appearing on blogs around the world on a weekly basis, it’s all too easy to become the flavour of last month and be forgotten about in the blink of an eye. Just ask Tapes n’ Tapes, Cold War Kids, Clay Your Hands Say Yeah!, etc. The question is which, if any, of these hyped up indie bands are likely to have the long-lasting impact of the bands in the 20th century? Will people still be praising White Denim in 2083? Will people look back and remember how Animal Collective started a major shift in popular culture? Or is it all too disseminated? Has music lost it’s capacity to be truly mainstream? MGMT’s ‘Kids’ was the biggest crossover in a long time. Is that all we’ve got left? I can’t think of a band since Blur & Oasis in the ’90s who have come close to defining their era with music that was inescapably part of everyone’s daily life for such a long period of time.
Pffft! I’m gonna go to band practice and try to resist the urge to play ‘Billie Jean’. Further niceness from Manchester and good things happening this week in Dublin will follow shortly.