The Rushmore Series: The King of Pop

I remember being on the phone with my pal David Miller as we mourned the loss of John Lennon one night in early December of 1980. The legendary singer/songwriter had been assassinated outside the Dakota, and it went against the unnatural order of society to my way of thinking. Musicians were meant to pass too soon thanks to bad trips or hedonistic entanglements with pills, but not this. Assassinations were the kind of thing that happened to world leaders and mob bosses.

“The music died, man . . the music is dead,” His voice trailed off as we were left to imagine a world where this kind of shit was possible. How could music, that thing we held onto for dear lives as we tried figuring out the world around us, survive?

Sure it had happened before. There was that story about a group of Hell’s Angels who had plotted to murder Mick Jagger. And Bob Marley did get shot before taking part in a benefit concert four years earler. But the former had been a business dealing gone wrong and the latter was political in nature. John Lennon’s politics consisted of making love over war and staying naked for days on end, but that’s what rock stars did. No, John Lennon was shot simply because he was John fucking Lennon, which was akin to adding kerosene to ambrosia.

I grew up in Howard Beach, New York, where guns and assassinations went with the territory. I thought the place was the center of the universe for good reason. John Gotti and his associates were the soldiers of our Roman Empire in suburbia. Where else could you run into a guy like that while waiting in line at a bakery? Or find tennis great Vitas Gerulitis working on his game at Charles Park? The boxer Vito Antuefermo was born and raised there. Joey Ramone lived there, as did Woody and Arlo Guthrie and music producer DJ Skribble and New York Giants linebacker George Martin.

David Miller was from Forest Hills, which felt like the other side of the moon to a boy like me. Lennon and the Beatles were one of the few things we agreed on. We argued politics and history, food and drugs and art and girls and of course, music. Perhaps nothing pissed him off more than my contention that Michael Jackson was changing the face of music as we knew it.

His professional opinion was to say “No fucking way, not a chance . .”. And I took this provocative rebuttal in stride, seeing as how this was the same guy who shaved his eyebrows after going to see Pink Floyd the movie. My musical fixes ran the gamut and so I wasn’t looking for agreement. From Deep Purple, Rush, Queen, Black Sabbath and Bowie to the Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and N.W.A., I just wanted to plug into something that moved me.

Michael Jackson was different in that he was a Billboard pop star who deviated from my norm, and it didn’t matter because the sound worked. Holy shit how it worked. He was an odd misfit and he was outrageously talented and all I knew was that the stuff he was doing then . . it was going to stick around long after I was done cruising Cross Bay Boulevard.

Calling Michael Jackson a singer was like saying Jackie Robinson was a second baseman. It was much too simplistic a term for a mercurial talent that redefined history. He was polarizing, secretive and with time he became a modern day horror story we couldn’t look away from, as much as we wanted to. But to cancel out what he did inside arguably the greatest decade in the history of music (my humble opinion) is kind of like saying that Michelangelo never existed. You can’t do it.

From his iconic moonwalk to his transformation of the video music standard to his funky get ups to his mythical reputation for the absurd, Jackson was equal parts entertainer and phenomenon. His appeal was transcendent, his reach undeniable. People who loved him couldn’t stop talking about him and people who couldn’t stand the guy, they couldn’t stop talking about him either.

By the mid eighties, Lennon’s death hadn’t signaled the end of the music, but rather, a brash new beginning whose might is still felt today. And deep inside that complicated time of nuclear fears and a new economy and music that colored outside of every imaginable line there came to us a sound unlike anything we’d heard before, or since.

All dressed up with somewhere to go.

(I don’t expect you to watch a fourteen minute music video, but I think it speaks to how Jackson turned the industry on its head. Who tells music executives, “I’m going to make a short movie when everyone else is putting out three minute videos. And you’ll fit the bill,”. He did.

I do expect you to visit Dale over at A Dalectable Life, whose dishing up her first choice for Rushmore.)

86 thoughts on “The Rushmore Series: The King of Pop

  1. B,

    I knew you would create a wonderful short story to bring the King of Pop to his rightful place atop the Mount. I love how you brought us full circle to the day the music died to its rebirth.

    There is no denying the talent in that fucked up person that he was. But then again, how many geniuses don’t/didn’t suffer from some level of crazy? How many musical geniuses died way before their time – not counting crashes and shootings? Think Mozart who didn’t even make it to 40. Was Michael Jackson not of the same level of talent? I say so.

    Beautifully written and I love the personal aspect you shared.

    Beauty of a job.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Q

      When Lennon died, it seemed a sickly ominous opening to a decade that was coming off the songs of the seventies; and what seemed at the time like an impossible act to follow. I feel as if the eighties became the IT decade for music. Experimentation became the norm and Jackson was one of the trailblazers.

      Fucked up person is an apt description. And I realized how polarizing a figure he was and still is to many. But I had to ask myself how I would be able to reconcile his omission when the truth of the matter is that his influence on music remains, and always will.

      Not to mention, I found myself buying in to that sound and that style. It sold me.

      It’s funny because people will find it crazy to compare Jackson to Mozart or Michelangelo. To which I say, have you been paying attention to the last forty plus years of American culture?

      Thank you!


      Liked by 1 person

      • It really did. But the eighties came and holy frijoles!

        I hesitated to used that term and I feel bad that I did. It is not the apt description. He was many things. Oh for sure his music shall remain forever.

        Yes! Even people who don’t like his genre of music like him. And who didn’t fall in love with Thriller?

        I don’t know why they do. He definitely belongs in their class. Without a doubt.

        My pleasure! (actually, it was such a pleasure to read)

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t think anyone imagined music would go where it did. It became more democratic than ever. We put faces to tunes with videos. We learned the lyrics correctly thanks to jacket covers. We were introduced to numerous delivery systems, which would be a sign of things to come.

          It may not be a poetic description, but let’s face it, it was your thought and with plenty of context to back it up. I think fans of any medium somehow feel guilty for the transgressions of celebrities, who are human beings after all. I mean, how can/should I feel badly for the fact I watched Fat Albert, with Bill Cosby as host? Or that I followed Penn State, coached up by Joe Paterno?

          Thriller is still my Halloween go to song. Probably forever.

          I think so.


          Liked by 1 person

          • How could anyone? No more discs in a paper sleeve with nothing to work with. No more doubting what the lyrics are, either 😉

            No. It wasn’t and I really should have used tortured. He did not get the parenting he really needed. They are human. And we need to remind ourselves of that. And no. I loved The Cosby Show. hell, we called my dad the White Cosby! Now we have to add the parenthesis specifying not THAT way…

            It is the ultimate Hallowe’en song. And will remain so.

            Of course you do.


            Liked by 1 person

          • I remember thinking cassette tapes were the coolest thing ever. And then CD’s came along and it seemed like science fiction theater. And now I don’t remember the last time I bought music!

            It’s impossible to overlook the other side of the equation. At the same time, how can we strike them from the books altogether because of it? I wonder if the peeps who have a problem with Michael Jackson had the same issues with Elvis? He did, after all, bed underage girls.

            I think so too.



            Liked by 1 person

          • They were the coolest. And a guy who made you a mixed tape? C’mon… CD’s were sci-fi, big time. Buy music? Um…

            It is. And I don’t think we can strike them from the books. Elvis was no saint, either. And while we’re at it, neither was Kennedy and lots of other men of power (coz music is power, too)




            Liked by 1 person

          • I forgot, yes, that was the age of the mix tape too. Yeah, the CD seemed so impersonal compared to vinyl.

            I mean, the list goes on and on and on. Imagine all the names that would be stricken from the history books if the qualifier was no skeletons.



            Liked by 1 person

          • Oh yeah. When my car was stolen in the summer of 1996, broad daylight, right in front of the Children’s Hospital, there was a box of mixed tapes of all sorts. Bastids stole it. Not that I have anything to play them on now, though!

            Oh my goodness. There would be such a small sample left!


            Liked by 1 person

          • All that cassette tapes, where did they all get to? I imagine there’s some dude living in an RV in New Mexico who’s probably got the most extensive collection in the world.

            It’s like any Hall of Fame.


            Liked by 1 person

          • Yes. They can still be found here and there. Especially in certain areas. Remember how we used to have to use a pencil to tighten it when it got loose?


            Liked by 1 person

          • 10 cassettes for a dollar. So if they were able to invent a time machine, I would bring all my vinyl with me from back there and make a small fortune. Then I would buy all the cassettes I could find and bring them back with me!


            Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Marco,

    To add to Dale’s comment, Chopin wasn’t wrapped too tightly either.
    Michael Jackson was mesmerizing in the 80’s. I found it sad that he felt the need to mutilate himself until he hardly looked human.
    A worthy choice for Mt. Rushmore. Watching the video brought back quite a few memories.
    Entertaining post.
    A long sigh heaves through me like a hollow wind when I think of John Lennon. The tragedy still resonates.



    Liked by 1 person

    • Rochelle,

      LOL, brilliant minds need room to roam the grounds, yanno? Not to mention a friendly medicine cabinet . . .

      Talk about a tortured individual, he was most definitely that. All the fame and fortune in the world could not save him from the demons within.

      The Thriller video speaks best to his power in an industry that had made its bones pushing talent around. It was individuals such as Jackson who offered the push back that would set the tone for generations to come.

      I remember Howard Cosell breaking in to a game between the Patriots and Dolphins to let viewers know Lennon had been murdered. It still doesn’t seem possible.



      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved his music and disliked the man. And I think Thriller will last forever. There is no denying that he was ahead of his time, or anytime. Thanks for including the video I’m gonna watch it again!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh dude when you opened up with Lennon’s death I totally thought you were gonna have him up there and that MJ’a face was a mixup. You know because Lennon and Paul as well as George ad Ringo had the universe losing their minds … but I imagine you’ll have a group version 🙂 he was definitely changing everything about the 80s though especially because of his moonwalk and his Thriller album. Although I don’t think he wrote all his songs? I could be wrong though. His whole scandal situation though, that was messed up. I mean beyond. Looking forward to see the others.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, no I just needed an opening and I kept coming back to that memory of Lennon being shot. What an awful thing.

      Jackson really knew how to put on a show. He knew what would work when I’m sure a lot of suits scoffed at his ideas. He pushed on and the stuff . . it’s legendary.

      I kind of am playing with the rules just a tad as I don’t believe he wrote all of them no. But he wrote quite a few. He wasn’t an instrument player, but I mean . . it didn’t matter with him.

      This was a difficult one but I couldn’t bring myself to leave him off.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. this post was good – and i was not sure how i was going to react because earlier this year I watched the very sobering documentary about Neverland and the testimonies of Wade Robson and James Safechuck, two of the boys that stayed the night with MJ and were not protected.
    But you really kept this post flowing well and rather than make MJ sound like a saint or hero – you really kept the focus on the way his music impacted you and the way it rippled through society –

    I recall he had the kind of music that all generations found appealing- the tweens, teens, young adults, mommas/poppas, and even some grandparents were enjoying the thriller album –

    and then come on now – having Eddie Van Halen on that song was part of the appeal and genius.
    and you are right – MJ did “turn the industry on its head”

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was not an easy decision but then I had to imagine the music world without his influence. It would have been like comedy sitcoms without Bill Cosby or college football without Joe Paterno. I don’t know how you do that. I really don’t.

      So it became to remove that aspect, best I could. Never in a million years am I providing any defense for the personal life of this man.

      He most certainly did turn the industry on its head. And the effects are still reverberating.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes – and as noted – I think you managed to do this very challenging task!
        You showed us his greatness and slowed us to go back –different ways of course — because you know how we readers perceive different things and have different filters — I also like how you and Dale are both writing about other musicians in these initial posts! The Lennon connection and the sinking feeling that comes when a musician dies – so rather than writing about an artist – there are layers.
        And getting back to the glory days of MJ and then the fizzled out (stained) part of his life-
        Well what you did also reminded me of what happened with Buffalo New York and a show called Aerial America.

        Not sure if you saw the show – but it gave us highlights of each stats – from above and then they wouod bring the cameras into different areas.
        Well the show completely skipped Buffalo! The attention went from Rochester and Kodak to the great Niagara Falls. But important to the state of NY- but Marc, to overlook and diss Buffalo like that was wrong.
        Just because it is not “happening” anymore in a certain celeb culture sense (even tho the blue collar appeal is alive and well with a huge Tesla plant and a fresh new recipe with “beef on weck” flavored Buffalo wings)
        And because the last handful of decades have not put Buffalo in a desirable light does not mean the authors of that show had the right to dismiss the important and thriving period of that city! A city with a great art museum, Art Deco buildings, amazing universities, etc.
        Oh was that disappointing that the writers of a show could egregiously and sophomorically remove Buffalo from that aerial take on the stats!
        And getting back to your Rushmore props for MJ
        It is what it fucking is and MJ did turn the music world on its head.
        Sorry for the pain he caused many people – sorry for the boy and man inside of him that was hurt and funky
        But also grateful for what he brought to the world
        The plug he plugged in to give us a paradigm shift and that is what you presented and why I think your started three series with him.
        Cheers to his music legacy and the refreshment and joy his music brought for a long time ((even though I can’t listen to PYT ever again)

        Liked by 1 person

        • The Lennon opening came to me when I started thinking about what a complicated time it was. The country was feeling hopeful after the election and yet there was so much going on below the surface and it threatened an upheaval of everything we believed in.

          And I sparked some memory in you with this, huh? Sorry it happened to be your ire, what with the Buffalo omission. It seems everything is flavor of the day now, doesn’t it?

          It is what it fucking is . . .

          Well, pardon my French but I say fuck that. Buffalo had to be included.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks amigo – don’t be excluding Buffalo!
            And thanks for stirring memories and as noted before – Thai series is a really good idea

            The blogosphere needs it and looking forward to the next wave
            Until then
            Rock on!

            Liked by 1 person

          • Said by a true blue Buffalo gal.

            I believe you. You know your stuff, Prior.

            Oh, I’ve decided to make the Rushmore Series a semi-permanent fixture here. I do so enjoy looking back at music and its history. It’s so peaceful and groovy to do so . . .

            Liked by 1 person

          • Well good idea – and I think the length of both posts (dale’s too) were perfect –
            Just wanted to mention it because it really did make it more Enjoyable to not have it too long but still also “enough” to ha e some depth and takeaways
            And not so much a true Buffalo girl – in some ways maybe and I visit because family is there – and they do have their arts and all that – but years ago when my spouse as between jobs –
            We waited it out to see what opened up here in VA (hard to do but what we really needed) anyhow – during that time he had a job prospect in Syracuse and Marc. I seriously was like “please god, no” not anywhere near Buffalo
            Well east coast but nothing that north

            Anyhow – I was more ranting about the show because it was a mistake on their part to bypass the city – regardless of anyone’s current views – ya know? Kind of like MJ and regardless of current views – we cannot deny the force and impact he had
            Even before thriller
            And in 6th grade – in Buffalo – my African American classmate Oscar Paris was singing “rock with you” and we were all into it – MJ’s impact was underway

            Liked by 1 person

          • We wanted to keep it as short and sweet as possible. Keep the flow to it, yanno?

            LOL . . and so you found Richmond. How about that?

            I getcha on that.

            I can see it now, I really can.

            Liked by 1 person

          • And Richmond is by no means perfect but had many things we wanted and needed – and Marc – the whole plan was to leave for someplace else – when the kids went to college that was the plan – but here we are and quite enjoying the roots –
            A move still could happen but doubt it – but we just never know – right?
            Good day to you – enjoyed the comment chat –
            Hope December is off to a good start

            Liked by 1 person

          • My son introduced me to Mama J’s Kitchen and I wish I would have hit Cookout as well.

            And yes, that’s how it goes isn’t it? Life happens and you don’t even realize it until you look back and go “Whoa!”.

            It sure is! I can’t believe it’s already December. And yet, this year seems to have lasted forever at the same time. Strange.

            Liked by 1 person

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