The rumour tweets started hitting my phone just before 5 p.m. EST
Thursday. Within an hour, the first reports of Michael Jackson’s death
started filtering through Twitter, Facebook, TMZ and Perez Hilton’s
site. They had the news long before CNN, CBS, the LA Times, NBC and
MSNBC confirmed it. By then, so many people rushed to update Jackson’s
Wikipedia entry that the servers crashed.

Yesterday, June 25,
2009, will be remembered just as we remember April 8, 1994, for Kurt
Cobain; December 8, 1980, for John Lennon; and August 16, 1977, for
Elvis. Michael Jackson carried that kind of cultural clout.

the lurid allegations, the buying of the Elephant Man’s bones, the
hyperbaric sleeping chambers, the plastic surgery and the dangling


Here’s how we should remember Michael Jackson:

people forget that the Thriller album essentially saved the recording
industry when it was released in 1982. Suffering from the double whammy
of the post-disco sales depression and a brutal recession, Thriller
almost single-handedly resurrected the music industry.

it sold somewhere north of 50 million copies on its own, but its real
value lay in the fact that this record got people into record stores
again, where they bought it — and one or two other albums.

This one album went a long way towards pulling the entire industry out of some desperate doldrums.

was also sprung upon the public at the same time as the compact disc.
Because Quincy Jones’ production was so tight and crisp, CD copies of
Thriller were used as demo discs for CD players, speakers and

Who knows how many billions of dollars of gear was sold once people heard the opening drumbeat from Billie Jean coming off a CD?

Jackson was also once a pretty shrewd businessman. In the ’80s, he
managed to outbid Paul McCartney for a large portion of the Beatles
catalogue. The revenues generated by those holdings went a long way to
support his lifestyle for the rest of his life.

And speaking
of which, Jackson broke a major taboo when he licensed the Beatles’
Revolution to Nike for a TV commercial. People forget what kind of
outrage followed. Using a popular song to sell a product as crass as
shoes? Today, though, you can’t turn on a TV without hearing a major
artist’s music on a commercial.

And finally — and most importantly — let’s not forget that Michael Jackson broke the colour barrier on MTV.

Thriller, MTV was a channel that showed nothing but rock and pop videos
featuring white faces. Initially, MTV refused to run the clip for
Billie Jean.

It wasn’t until Walter Yentnikoff, president of
CBS, Michael’s record company, threatened to pull every artist on their
roster from the young channel — MTV had only been on the air since
August 1, 1981, with just 250 clips in its library — that they

Had it not been for the power of Michael Jackson
and Thriller, would MTV have become the same cultural monster? And
where would have people gone to learn about then-new artists such as

Speaking of videos, think about how Jackson
furthered that art form: John Landis directed the 14- minute Thriller
video; the morphing technology first seen in the clip for Black or
White; the reported US$8 million spent on the five-minute video for
Scream with his sister Janet.

Let’s therefore not focus on
the tabloid stuff. The man did enough that we should remember him for
the great groundbreaking talent that he was.

– The Ongoing History Of New Music can be heard on stations across Canada. Read more at and

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