Joining us in remembering the King of Pop are Chuck D from legendary hip hop group Public Enemy, Brian Raftery, Contributing Writer for SPIN Magazine, and, Farai Chideya, journalist and friend of The Takeaway.
"I think of Michael Jackson as a brilliant artist and entertainer, and all those other issues about the plastic surgery or the child molestation, they're irrelevant to me."
— Chuck D. on Michael Jackson
Katherine Lanpher for The Takeaway: Michael Jackson is dead at 50, after suffering a cardiac arrest at his house in Los Angeles. His career spanned 40 years and took in Motown and MTV, R&B and videos, a duet with a Beatle and the moonwalk. It also included such tabloid curiosities as his plastic surgeries, his ranch, Neverland, in Southern California, and the allegations of child molestation of which he was acquitted. We're going to remember now the King of Pop in his entirety. We're going to go from Chuck D, with his seminal hip hop group Public Enemy, also Brian Raftery, a contributing editor for SPIN Magazine, and of course, last but not least, we're going to go to Farai Chideya, she is a journalist, novelist and a friend here at The Takeaway. But Chuck D, we're going to go back to you. Where were you when you had first heard that Michael Jackson had died? What was your first reaction?
Chuck D: I actually was in flight going from New York to LA, and right in the middle of the flight I saw breaking news on the TV sets. And you know these flights now you get online, so I was on wi-fi at the same time. Ironically, I was landing in the same place that all the frenzy was happening with Michael Jackson, UCLA. I was, matter of fact, going up to Ventura, California, where I stay. I made sure that I wouldn't take the 405, take the 1 to avoid all the traffic that was building up as is and around UCLA, so it was kind of shocking.
Katherine Lanpher:How would you say that Michael Jackson has influenced you?
Chuck D: He's been the soundtrack of my life. I was in fourth grade when that record came out, and it set fire to all the, especially young girls at the time with the Jackson 5. And yesterday when I talked to some journalists, they asked me to name three records, which is hard to do over a 40 year period of music with Michael Jackson. I immediately said "Got to Be There," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," and "Rock With You," just three different records from three different type of sonic environments that Michael Jackson was able to give us. I'll tell you, the shock to white America a while ago is when I told people I said, "Hey, man, my catalogue goes before when America starts finding out about Michael Jackson." And that was after Jackson 5, and then the Jacksons produced by Gamble and Huff. When most of America really caught Michael Jackson craziness was "Thriller." But I'd been kind of acclimated to Michael Jackson growing up as a kid.
Katherine Lanpher:We're going to go now to Farai Chideya, who might have been one of those young girls who were so sweet on Michael Jackson. Farai?
Farai Chideya: Oh, definitely. I'm sorry, I can't always hear you 100 percent well because I am in an airport. I found out about Michael Jackson when I was on a train yesterday coming into Philadelphia. Now I'm leaving. It was interesting because it was one of those Twitter moments where everyone was like "Yes, we hear he's sick," "Now he's dead," "No he's not dead, no one's confirmed it," and eventually things sorted themselves out into something that looked like the truth and that made us all very sad. And then people just started playing a lot of records and coming up with their favorite songs. But, yes, one of the comments I saw last night on Twitter, the reporter Lisa Ling said "R.I.P. Michael Jackson, my first boyfriend." And I think that could've been a lot of people. I was someone who had a huge crush on Michael, because he just seemed like he was a man, you know? And it's just so many layers of tragedy that have come on his life and through his life.
Katherine Lanpher:You talked about layers of tragedy, I know that you have been Tweeting about this. Talk about race as a conundrum for Michael Jackson.
Farai Chideya: I think that this is a country of self-reinvention. But you always pay a price, no matter what you do. We're used to reinvention of the pauper becoming a millionaire, the fat girl becoming thing, people changing their nose and their accent, but Michael, I think what strikes me is that I don't know what Michael would have been if he could have been anything. He so clearly had some kind of dysmorphic relationship to his body. He was literally not comfortable in his skin. He couldn't seem to find that space where he was who he was. And yet, regardless of what else may have played into his decision, there was a lot of racial chit chat, and wailing and gnashing of teeth, because as I said, how can this cute young black boy essentially want to look as different as possible from what his body was telling him to look like.
Katherine Lanpher:I want to make sure that we get to Chuck D. responding to this as well. Chuck?
Chuck D: I think Farai is right. And also, as a black man I feel the mess of multimedia coverage of the last 15-20 years is just a bunch of crap to me. Yesterday was a sad and a bad day for me, because I think Michael Jackson died of a broken heart and a broken soul. The same fame that he thrived on that these boardrooms create, I think he felt chained to it. I think it was painful. The thing is the hypocrisy of this country. Now fame means the worst side of you will get the most coverage. It's kind of haunting that these record companies wouldn't give him the light of the day or these radio stations wouldn't give him the light of the day over the last couple years, but now that he died everybody's on his jock, so to speak. It makes me angry because in the end, no matter how much he messed with himself or his appearance, which to me didn't mean anything to anybody when it came down to him wanting to entertain and just make people have a good time, I just thought all of that was irrelevant. And now you see all these areas of multimedia praising him and jocking him. But one again, as a black man dead, it's just convenient for American media, and much of the people living in it. I feel kind of crappy for the hypocrisy of this country and its coverage.
Katherine Lanpher:Brian Raftery, I want to turn to you, a contributing writing for SPIN Magazine. Put the death of Michal Jackson in context for us. The Beatles, Elvis, where does it fit?
Brian Raftery: Kind of a little bit of everything. What's really amazing about Michael Jackson, is if you were to take any one song from his career, if he only had "Thriller" with the video, if he'd only had "Billie Jean" with the bass line, if he only had "Wanna Be Starting Something" with the big chant at the end, those are all landmark pop records. And the fact is, when you start talking about Michal Jackson's legacy, you could go for hours if not days in every single medium — film, music, TV — in terms of what it meant to be a celebrity, how celebrity culture changed along with Michael Jackson, possibly because of Michael Jackson. He was in every single part of American culture in terms of the whole spectrum of good and bad and how you could take yourself from the world of music and go beyond it.
Katherine Lanpher:Going back to Farai and Chuck D. Faria, given all this, how should he be remembered?
Katherine Lanpher:Farai was reaching us from an airport. We're going to go back to Chuck D. Chuck D., given what you were saying, if you could mastermind how Michael Jackson's going to be remembered, what should be remembered? What should we hold on to?
Chuck D: That he's the greatest entertainer of all time, of our later times, and I just think that if everybody's going to spend time worrying about Elvis, we have the good-looking 1956-style Elvis and we never talk about the 1972 drug-infested Elvis. I think you've got to talk about Michael Jackson without talking about all those '90s nightmarish cases that everybody seems to think of him as. I think of Michael Jackson as a brilliant artist and entertainer, and all those other issues about the plastic surgery or the child molestation, they're irrelevant to me.
Katherine Lanpher:Chuck D., I want to thank you for joining us.
Chuck D: Thank you.