Off topic: Michael Jackson

NOW we’re upset about Michael Jackson? Where’ve you people been all been all these years?

I gathered up blog posts and notes I’d written about him in the early 21st century and included them in my first book, Off the Record Collection. Note: All I generally see when I look back on that book are mistakes I made and my own writing shortcomings. The MJ stuff is relevant, though. Some highlights:


When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, I was floored by the revisionist history that was being discussed on television, radio, and web, as well as what was being discussed socially among my friends. Jackson was damaged goods, and almost certainly a pedophile (though never formally convicted). If we, as a society, can’t suffer through a Gary Glitter song because of his atrocities, the post-mortem deification of Jackson makes no sense at all.

Leading up to his death, Jackson’s life in the early 00s was a traveling circus, and almost always newsworthy for the wrong reasons.


(March 10, 2005 11:42am)
Bench Warrant: Dangerous
Deadline has passed. Jackson was just walked into the courtroom. Fans outside the courthouse chanted encouragement as he walked past. Who are these ghouls offering encouragement to the dethroned king of pop? It’s unthinkable to me. I’ve gotta think even the most ardent Jackson supporters might want to hedge their bets, and wait to see if he becomes a convicted child molester before voicing their support.


(June 22, 2005)
It’s safe to buy Michael Jackson CDs again
It’s so… creepy… that after a long absence, Michael Jackson’s Number Ones CD reappeared on the Top 200 albums this week. It’s as though people were waiting to buy it until they found out whether he was going to be a convicted child molester or not.


(June 25, 2009)
The King is Dead
The internet practically collapsed into itself, dwarf star-like, upon hearing the TMZ-leaked news of Michael Jackson’s death. Suddenly, all work in my office stopped, the staff responding like the war room at CNN after a terrorist attack on domestic soil. To be fair, I joined right in.

The thing about Facebook, you learn pretty quick who your funny friends are. Some of the comments I read after the first cardiac arrest report, and then immediately after the death announcement, were ultra-serious (“thanks for inspiring me in my youth,” “what a talent …”). The ones that I enjoyed most were those that were honest, unfiltered, and absolutely of the moment. Within 15 minutes of the TMZ story breaking, my Facebook home page displayed the following:

“Holy Shit Ed McMahon Died!?! WTF”

“michael jackson died, maybe, twitter explodes”

“I know Farrah has died and Michael Jackson had a heart attack, but way to run it out Konerko”

The last one was from Steve Dahl. Thinking about Dahl made me think about radio. Thinking about radio got me fired up to get in the car after work and hear the on-air chatter about Jacko.

I got in my car at around 5:50 and turned on the radio. The result? I must’ve just missed hearing about it on WBBM-AM. I tuned in before and during their national news at the top of the hour and heard everything but the Jackson story. Jack-FM? They would need an actual air personality first. XRT? I’ve got to assume they at least mentioned it, but I got stuck in one of their endless stopsets. I was, however, excited to learn that Buddy Guy, Guster, and Booker T. are doing their July 4th show. Cool bill. The Drive was elbow-deep in music, and once they go in that direction they don’t come back up for a while. Same situation with the Loop at that moment.

Then I bounced over to Q101. Sure enough, the first thing I heard was the Manno Brothers talking about it, and then playing “Thriller” out of the conversation. I would have expected to hear “Smooth Criminal” by Alien Ant Farm on Q101 … not the Full Jacko.

Credit to the station—this is what I understand good radio to be. “Pattern break” moments are resonant and meaningful to the audience, and are almost totally absent from the air these days. Off-topic discussions or disruptions that take a listener out of his comfort zone help bond the listener to the personality, and keep the station sounding fresh and vital. I hate “Thriller.” I’ve hated it for close to thirty years. But I’ll remember that Q101 played it tonight. Topical and refreshing. Well done.