Michael Jackson's best songs are pop-culture islands. They're able to exist alone and free of context, which is amazing for the image-inherent world of pop music and especially so being born of someone who wound up so scarred and bizarre. No matter whose bones he collected or whose boner he allegedly fondled, Michael's best pop music is too transcendent to be bogged down by such earthly matters. "Billie Jean," "Thriller," "Off the Wall," "Human Nature," "PYT," "Rock With You," "Smooth Criminal," shit even, "Butterflies," "Ben," "Scream," "In the Closet" and "Remember the Time," and so many more are too precious to tarnish. They're Scotchguarded with perfection, utmost examples of art that demands to be separated from its artist. And one of the most heartening phenomena I've observed in the population's relationship to art has been its ability to do just that. I'd never give the public that much credit if I hadn't observed countless examples of the unmitigated joy that results en masse when anything from Thriller is played at a party, no matter the attendees, no matter the occasion and still to this day.
I think for everyone who's upset about Michael's death for whatever reason -- guilt, regret, a general sense of loss, disappointment that he'll never get the chance to come back and prove us doubters wrong -- can take solace in the resilience of his work. If all the shit that he went through couldn't knock Thriller, Off the Wall, Bad and, to whatever degree, Dangerous and HIStory out of our hearts, minds and asses, a little thing like death isn't going to, either. Even when the groove is dead and gone, you know that love survives.
I suspect that we'll be hearing a lot about Michael Jackson in the coming days, months and maybe years. Usually such fond reminiscing seems grossly insincere, but in this case I consider it retribution. Whatever Michael did (and I'm actually in the minority that never believed he actually molested boys, that could see the possibility of him being strange enough to relate to them in an infantile, affectionate and utterly abnormal but sexless manner), we who scorned and ridiculed the man we had previously worshiped, did just as bad (if not worse). Our morbid fascination with celebrity and falling from grace and the prospect of bouncing back had the effect of public quartering on an individual who was so fragile and underdeveloped. That's showbiz, and his lackluster output of the past decade absolutely plays a role. He wasn't blameless, and no matter how alien he seemed, he was always human to a fault. (He wore his narcissism and detrimental insecurity next to the chains and insignias and Swarovski crystals on his sleeve.) But, at the very least, his untimely death and the void left by his now permanent inability to make a comeback should remind us that it's important to appreciate the geniuses we still have around, even if they're weirdos. (In fact, they probably aren't really geniuses if they aren't weird.)
Below are two of my favorite Michael remixes. The "I Want You Back" remix by Pizzicato Five's Konishi Yasuharu is so innocently exuberant, it seems like an appropriate musical antidepressant. Frankie Knuckles' "Rock With You" remix places the disco classic in a late-night house (circa '95) template, keeping all the good parts (those glorious strings!) while angling for something a little deeper. If only all tributes could be this respectful and poignant!