Remembering the King of Pop

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, died yesterday afternoon at the age of 50. Details of his death will not be known until a full autopsy is done. But what we do know is the legacy he has left behind. His career spanned over 40 years, and his musical importance ranks with Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles.

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

Click through for a transcript.

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.


Farai Chideya, Chuck D and Brian Raftery

Hosted by:

Katherine Lanpher


David J Fazekas

Comments [14]


That's right Chuck D tell those white liberal HYPOCRITES!

They always want to talk Elvis and Beatles. They were never on Michael Jackson's level. If the media would tell the truth they know the accusations were all false and created by the media itself. This was the first step to accomplish what was pulled off on the 26th. There was and is an agenda against Michael Jackson. This man was murdered.

A doctor who does not know CPR?

Why did he never sign the death certificate?

Why has the media been promoting stories of MJ dying for the last 5 years?

Jul. 16 2009 08:49 AM

I think it's unseemly the way they right away dig up all his dirt that you already know about it anyway. When Frank Sinatra Died no body tried talking right away about it some mafia connections or any thing of that nature. On the other hand I wonder if Michael Jackson's business had been about little girls instead of little boys would we have been a little more outraged about that at this point than we do. I really wonder

Jun. 29 2009 10:49 AM

Dude, Michael Jackson an inspiration to us all. When he died it made me cry. I don't care what anybody says because they need to go and shut up because Michael Jackson was awesome. His legacy will go on forever and ever and ever.

Jun. 29 2009 10:46 AM
L. Brooke Stabler in Oklahoma City

I know how I'd most like to remember Michael. I'm the same age as he was, and as the youngest child in my family, the Motown sound was something I'd grown up with and enjoyed. When the Jackson 5 came out I found them to be a bit "poppy"; James Brown was more to my taste. Certainly by the time Michael really came into his own to take over the world of pop music, my tastes had matured in other directions. However, a few years ago I saw a film clip of him made during the 60's singing a gospel tune. I don't remember which one, but he simply blew it out of the water. He was such an incredibly cute, talented little boy. As to the man he grew into, I always kind of thought "poor Michael", despite the fact that he was idolized by so many people around the world. I'll remember that little boy with so much soul, before it became so troubled.

Jun. 29 2009 10:40 AM
Amanda from Joplin Mo.

I'm a little surprised at how emotional I was to hear about Michael Jackson's death. I've never been a hardcore fan, but I think this is one of saddest celebrity deaths in a while. I remember being so scared by the Thriller music video! And I honestly think this may have influenced my love of the horror genre a little bit.

The controversy is sad, especially regarding the trials in the 90's. We don't know what really happened, but I think people tend to vilify anyone who is different, and Michael Jackson certainly was different. Regardless of that controversy, Michael Jackson was a huge, fantastic influence on pop music and I hope that will be his legacy.

I bet there will be Michael sightings in the same way there are Elvis sightings every now and then. He was such a dynamic character, and it's so hard to believe he's really gone.

Jun. 29 2009 10:40 AM
Dean in Springdale, AK

I think Michael Jackson needs to be remembered about what he did to help the world with some of his songs. He was an inspiration to everybody, he helped special benefits and got everybody together that could possibly help, and collected whatever it needed to collected for the children of the world and the people of the world. I love him and I'm gonna miss him.

Jun. 29 2009 10:40 AM

My Michael Jackson memory is being a young man whose parents were born and raised in Puerto Rico and they came to this country just before I was born and Michael was my America thing. All my parents listened to was like Willie Colon and all those characters. I was just listening to Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown and boogie down productions.

Jun. 29 2009 10:37 AM

r.i.p. m.j

Jun. 28 2009 06:47 PM

"So many allegations and none sticking precisely because he had the money to get the best lawyers who put the accusers on trial. Somewhere along the way there must have been victims who never got justice."

This comment may represent truth or partial truth, but you offer no support for these allegations. It's quite possible that "so many allegations" resulted from the litigious, celebrity-obsessed society you are decrying.

You argue that celebrity obsession is exemplified by Jackson not having been convincted while ignoring the possibility that the accusations may never have been made had he been a "working class bloke." In other words, celebrity obsession is perhaps exemplified quite well by the unnamed "accusations."

Your main point is well-taken: criminality should not be given a pass for the talented or famous.

As I don't have inside information, I'll refrain from speculating wildly.

Jun. 27 2009 08:29 PM
Richard Elovich

What’s up with the coverage so far on the passing of Michael Jackson? By claiming Michael Jackson as the Black man he was, why is it necessary for the Black folks speaking to disown what you admit exists but refuse to understand… his queerness, and the queerness in Black communities. The announcer on a another program just aired this afternoon along with the “barbershop crew” she invited in, didn’t bother to include a Black queer man,woman or transgendered person? Their questionable references to the “other side” of Michael Jackson, his “eccentricness,” “his behavior" that "sullied” or “destroyed his reputation,” his “tortured personal life,” “complicated,” “two sides to him,” “life of sadness,” “extreme,” “bizarre,” his children borne from “odd arrangements;”
Lastly, do you really need the coroner’s report to tell you that this is a suicide or can you feeeel it? What you disown as weirdness, many of your brothers and sisters can claim as their experience of queerness and humanity.

Jun. 26 2009 03:38 PM

I think there are many instances in which "America's obsession with celebrity reaches revolting heights" -- but in the case of a great artist I think there can, and perhaps should, be a hazy line between the revulsion they may, as individuals, evoke and the admiration we have for their gifts and appreciation for what those gifts have bestowed on us.

Perhaps an argument can be made that these different dimensions of an individual, be it MJ or be it Picasso, while worthy of examination, may merit some degree of separation when we appraise their significance in the greater scheme of things.

Jun. 26 2009 01:24 PM

Michael Jackson was a genius. According to Wikipedia "A genius is someone who successfully applies a previously unknown technique in the production of a work of art, science, or calculation, or who masters and personalizes a known technique. A genius possesses great intelligence and remarkable abilities in a specific subject or shows an exceptional natural capacity of intellect and/or ability, especially in the production of creative and original work, something that has never been seen or evaluated previously. Traits often associated with genius include strong individuality, imagination, uniqueness, and innovative drive.

Jun. 26 2009 11:15 AM

regardless of his imperfections, he was a brilliant artist. I am 29 years old now, and though i am not a great as a fan of the man, no one can take away the music, every one of his songs had a message one could relate to. He was troubled, but then again, are you mr.perfect? Well then, cast thy rocks at the rest of the world.

Jun. 26 2009 09:39 AM
a. hammagaadji

America's obsession with celebrity reaches revolting heights as exemplified by the comments of Chuck D. If Michael Jackson was a working class bloke, he would have been under the gaol serving a long sentence for pedophilia. So many allegations and none sticking precisely because he had the money to get the best lawyers who put the accusers on trial. Somewhere along the way there must have been victims who never got justice. Chuck D does not care but would he have his pre-pubescent son sleep with Michael Jackson? Just because one has talent, their criminality or immorality should not be overlooked.

Jun. 26 2009 09:13 AM

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