Here’s a video that was coincidentally uploaded to YouTube by singer-songwriter David Choi, whose stuff I like very much, on June 23, just two days before Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop” suddenly and shockingly died. (It’s the third-listed link on You Tube when you search for “Michael Jackson.”)
“Ben” is an unusual choice for a Michael Jackson cover — a moody, plodding story-song that makes sense as a story only if you know it as the title song from a 1972 horror B-movie about a boy (not the young MJ) who befriends a pet rat named “Ben” who leads a pack of vicious killer rats. It was the sequel to the equally cheesy (no pun intended, honest) 1971 movie, “Willard.”
Choi posted his thoughts on Jackson’s death on his blog, and like many others, he admits he sees Jackson’s influence more clearly now that the man is gone.
Choi also muses about the media coverage of Jackson’s death, which I followed with great fascination because of the way the mainstream media was hesitant to declare Jackson was dead for over an hour after TMZ had it on its website. Choi, like the rest of the media, waited for more (or better) confirmation):
I didnâ€™t realize how much of an effect he had on my life until he was gone. I remember days when Iâ€™d listen to his music in my car and sing my heart out. The Jackson 5 stuff always put me in a positive mood! Itâ€™s amazing how music can change the course of how your day will turn out. I even wanted to see him perform live one day, but that dream can no longer come true. There is a LOT running through my mind about the whole situation and Iâ€™m trying hard to think about the positive things. I canâ€™t help but also think about the negativity that surrounded his life.
The media was cruel to Michael. Having experienced what little fame I have, I canâ€™t even start to imagine how hard it must have been for him. To have to listen to and read rumors that arenâ€™t true. To have people follow your every move. It must have been a pain to always have to defend your every action. Sure, we all make mistakes in life, but if youâ€™re Michael, one mistake, and the world is there to judge in an instant. Especially now with the Internet, word travels extremely fast.
We are so brainwashed and accepting from the media! When TMZ reported that Michael Jackson died, I refused to believe that because I needed the information from more sources.
Choi’s blog post ends with a video of the musician talking about Jackson’s influence, covering much of the ground he covers with the text of his post.
As a music critic during the 1980s, I covered Jackson’s music and influence, and thought he was a genius, like many other critics. I saw the Jacksons family on the “Victory” tour (What? concert tickets costing over $60? That’s highway robbery!”), and I wrote an essay for Westword once on how Jackson represented white America (a fitting crown for the last royal of the Motown empire) while Prince represented the new black music royalty.
In the long run, both artists turned weird by the end of the decade but Jackson had the pop culture staying power. If Jackson’s only legacy were his show-stopping performance of “Billie Jean” on the 25th Anniversary Motown TV special in 1983, the year “Thriller” was released, that alone would grant him a backstage pass to heaven’s hall of rock and roll fame.
That performance, and the streak of videos that “Thriller” spawned, set the bar for pop music foir the rest of the decade, and more. Really. I’m glad I have the whole show on VHS.
Anyway, enjoy David Choi’s sweet, unaffected take on one of Michael Jackson’s minor hit singles, and lest we forget, here’s the Motown Special performance:
(Thanks to Joe Nguyen’s “Cup of Joe” blog for leading me to Choi’s video.)