By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Michael Jackson

Here’s a piece I wrote for the Boston Phoenix during Michael Jackson’s 2005 trial for child molestation. His death, at 50, was hardly unexpected — I think he’s probably been on the Next to Die list longer than Keith Richards, since Keef managed to crawl off of it at some point.

Jackson may be the greatest wasted talent since Elvis Presley, who could have packed it in after his Sun recordings in the early to mid-1950s. Jackson recorded his finest album, “Off the Wall,” 30 years ago. His audience-pleasing triumph, “Thriller,” came in 1982.

It has literally been all downhill since then — a sickening amalgam of molestation charges, plastic surgery, fake (or at least very weird) marriages and financial setbacks.

His was a sad life. But given the likelihood that he did enormous harm to some of the kids who worshipped him, my sympathy is limited. He was a terrific artist, washed up before his 25th birthday.

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  1. O-FISH-L

    Former Herald radio critic Dean Johnson, sitting in with Dan Rea on WBZ tonight, raised one of the best local angles I heard all day. After almost 30 years of lackluster ownership of the Patriots, the Sullivan family lost a fortune by backing the Jackson's 1984 Victory tour. They were soon forced to sell the team, which wound up in the hands of Bob Kraft by 1994. Three Superbowls later, we can all say thank you Michael.Just wanted to get Johnson some credit before someone at the Globe or Herald steals the topic.

  2. Michael Pahre

    Didn't the clothes Jackson wore for his March 2009 announcement of a final tour look eerily similar to the outfits the older Elvis wore near the end of his life? (OK, the Elvis picture link is actually an impersonator recreating Elvis's concerts from 1970-5.)

  3. rsc

    You can read more about the condition behind Michael Jackson's death here:

  4. b.f.

    For a summation of Michael Jackson's historical economic situation (he was apparently earning $50 million per year in 1980s & 1990s, for example), you might want to check out a 2003 Forbes magazine article at the following link:

  5. LFNeilson

    Yet another example of media going overboard on a what I consider to be a foolish story. Absolutely no enterprising in-depth reporting, just constant repetition and rebroadcast of his videos. I always wonder how they manage to fill news holes on days when a story like this doesn't grab them. There's so much going on in the world, I'm dumbfounded at the state of the news.zzzzzzz

  6. jepperly

    I don't much care about M. Jackson or F. Fawcett. Much of this is being annoyingly overblown. But "washed up before his 25th birthday"? Meow!

  7. Mr. Rush

    He's not dead!

  8. Al

    and let's not forget that Sky Saxon, vocalist for 60s garage/psychedelic band The Seeds died yesterday. In fact, he was first. They had one hit–"Pushin' Too Hard." CBS national news actually mentioned it on their midnight broadcast. Media has gone completely overboard but who's surprised? And LFNeilsen is right on the money. Plenty of other stories going on–Iran, health care debate just to name a few, even Mark Sanford for the more prurient among us. The Sox game was a blowout, I switched around the cable news realm for a bit and had to ultimately shut it off. And then took a shower…

  9. Don, American

    Michael who?

  10. Robin Edgar

    "There's so much going on in the world, I'm dumbfounded at the state of the news."What? You are "dumbfounded" by the fact that the current "state of the news" would rather have you paying attention to Michael Jackson's death, to say nothing of Farrah Fawcett's death, than what is going on in Iran and North Korea etc.? Surely you have seen through this ploy by now?

  11. Bill H.

    Michael Jackson was what he was, and his death has generated a great deal of comment. I was not a fan of Jackson, his music, or his toxic dealings with children. But I would offer the opinion that somewhere along the line some very bad things must have happened to him; nobody becomes a Michael Jackson without their own album of horror stories. I bet his is a very sad case for anyone who dealt with him on a personal level.

  12. lkcape

    The real test of greatness of a musician is whether his music stands the test of time.One of the indicators that can be used is the adaptation for the music to other musical genres.The Beatles music has; Dylan's music has. So far very little, if any, of Jackson's hasI agree with Dan on the likelihood of enormous harm done to some of the kids who worshiped him. Society is forced to deal with the results and no one can be held to account.

  13. Karen

    His was a troubled life indeed. I'm read for the media to get back to reporting on more than one or two stories outside of Jackson.

  14. mike_b1

    DK wrote: "Jackson may be the greatest wasted talent since Elvis Presley."Really? Everyone peaks at some point. In Jackson's case, it was after releasing five of the 70 best-selling albums of all time. What other heights would you have had him scale? Boston Globe reporter?lkcape wrote: One of the indicators that can be used is the adaptation for the music to other musical genres. The Beatles music has; Dylan's music has. So far very little, if any, of Jackson's has.Turn off the Paul Anka for 10 seconds and do your homework. Jackson's been covered by everyone from gansta rappers to alternative rockers. Billie Jean has been redone by everyone from Amy Winehouse to Fall Out Boy Señor Coconut And His Orchestra. And you can hear Jackson's songs played by college bands all over the country. In 2004, Rolling Stone, in its ranking of Greatest Entertainers, said this: "You can see his influence in his sister Janet, in Justin Timberlake, Usher, Britney Spears, and in Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey. You can see his influence in the dance moves — the syncopated choreography — that a lot of young artists use. And a lot of them have picked up his work ethic. When you look at a Britney Spears production or a Justin Timberlake production, or if you look at an Usher production, you really see that they took a page out of Michael's book; they went to rehearsal, and they must've worked eight hours a day, because their shows are flawless, as Michael's shows were flawless."

  15. Dan Kennedy

    Karen: Who is "the media"? If you're talking about the cable nets, then if they weren't going 24/7 on Michael Jackson, then they'd be obsessing over another tabloid/celebrity story.If you're talking about the New York Times and NPR, then you've got no complaints.Pop culture is not the most important thing in the world, but it is important. Heavy coverage of Jacko's death is perfectly appropriate, as long as we get back to other things this week.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Ikcape: As a Dylan obsessive, I have to tell you that I don't think many people have covered Dylan's songs well at all. Early adaptations by Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Byrds, took great, fierce songs and turned them into syrup.There are a few good Dylan covers out there, but they tend to be of lesser songs. My favorites: George Harrison doing "If Not for You"; EmmyLou Harris singing "Every Grain of Sand" (and improving on Dylan's most awkward line); and, of course, Hendrix and "All Along the Watchtower."Not sure I can think of any others that I like. Johnny Cash is great on "Wanted Man," but didn't Dylan write that just for him? I've never heard Dylan do it.

  17. mike_b1

    Forget the covers: Dylan influenced tons of bands/musicians from all avenues of style. Even the guy whose name I can't remember from the Fugees cites Dylan as an influence.

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