Michael Jackson died at his rented Los Angeles home on Thursday afternoon. It doesn’t make me happy when anyone dies, particularly if they’re younger than I am. Death is a normal part of life, but any individual death is an upsetting experience and I wish that everyone might be spared from death in their families that comes before the appointed three score and ten years.
Still, I’m not really mourning the loss of Jackson. Not because of his celebrity, or his bizarre life choices, or the possibility that the child-molestation charges were actually valid. The problem is the number of messages I’m seeing about how he was the greatest musician since Elvis. I assume they mean since the time of Elvis, because I hardly see Elvis as having a major place in the pantheon of music.
Jackson was one hell of a showman, right up there with Elvis and Liberace. But as far as I can tell, none of them contributed much to the music. (Dance steps and costuming are something else.) If I Were King I’d have time to put together a more comprehensive list, possibly find some subjects who could add a few names from genres I’m not particularly familiar with. These aren’t all artists I enjoy particularly, and all the artists I enjoy aren’t on this list. It’s just a list of musicians in my lifetime that have had significant influence on the music of our time. Few of these sold albums at the rate that Jackson or Presley did, but that’s not my litmus test of a great musician.
Ian Anderson, Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Jimmy Buffett, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, David Crosby, Patsy Cline, Judy Collins, Alice Cooper, Chick Corea, Ray Davies, Miles Davis, Fats Domino, Bob Dylan, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Ian Hunter, Mahalia Jackson, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Quincy Jones, B. B. King, Carole King, John Lennon, Taj Mahal, Graham Nash, Willy Nelson, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Thelonious Monk, Odetta, Roy Orbison, Robert Plant, Todd Rundgren, Carlos Santana, Pete Seeger, Paul Simon, Phil Spector, Stephen Stills, Sting, Pete Townshend, Mary Travers, Stanley Turrentine, Jerry Jeff Walker, Hank Williams, Ann and Nancy Wilson, Steve Winwood, Neil Young, and Frank Zappa. All of these have, in my ever so humble opinion, a move valid claim to being the greatest musician since the time of Elvis than Michael Jackson.