Michael Jackson’s place in the pantheon of our lives
By Scott Westerman
I was in Tucson yesterday when the cell phone beeped that Michael Jackson had suffered cardiac arrest. As the day progressed, and my team was jumping on a plane back to ABQ it became clear that a troubled life was over and that another page in rock n roll history had turned.
Ryan Seacrest’s Audio Tribute to Michael Jackson
Thanks to my friend Don Davis, I get to channel my Keener creative juices from time to time on a small AM oldies station here in New Mexico. I called the Queen when we landed and had her meet me at the studios with her Jackson Five CD collection. We went on the air at 7PM to spend an hour pondering MJ’s impact on the Keener generation.
I am a huge Motown fan, and in 1969, it felt to me like the Jackson 5 were carpetbaggers, stealing the thunder of what I though was authentic R&B. But it was hard not to like “I Want You Back” and “The Love You Save” and I was soon adding those to the cassette music mixes that played in my car on the way to school.
The Jackson 5 charted 8 times on the WKNR. Michael did it only once as a solo artist with “Got to Be There”. There’s no doubt that, had Keener survived into the 80s, he would have been a staple on the play list even then.
How to talk about MJ to an audience that was more attuned to Elvis and the Beatles? We were working without notes last night and putting together the show on the fly. I decided to focus on early Motown’s influence on later Motown.. Juxtaposing the Temptations “Can’t Get Next to You” with “ABC” and Bobby Day’s version of “Rockin Robin” against MJs (the original is infinitely better).
I put the Queen on the air (against her will) and asked about her first Jackson Five 45. That lead to a conversation about how our older siblings influenced our musical tastes… and visa versa.
We played “Thriller“.. Had to. 50 million in sales and the first African American music video to break on MTV made it so.
Touched only lightly on MJ’s troubled life and eccentricities. There are inevitable comparisons to Elvis. They both died young and the combination of lifestyle and medication probably were contributors to each man’s demise. No matter who you most identify with, the King of Rock and Roll and the King of Pop each made indelible marks on their times.
We wound things up with a review of MJ’s philanthropies. Talked about but didn’t play “We Are the World“. Ended with “Man in the Mirror” with a set up about how complicated we are as human beings, capable at our core of incredible good, if we will it so.
KRKE program director Craig Collins and I joke that Real Oldies 1600 runs on Triple A Battery power after dark and since very few listeners called our live line during the show, Colleen and I wondered who was really out there paying attention. But the experience brought back memories of how she used to come to the studio with me when we were first married. And we were grateful, again, that we still love each other as much today as we did on those nights at the radio station over 30 years ago.
After the show, we went into the production room and played “Rock with You” and “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”, two of her all time MJ favorites. We remembered taking my record hop stuff to her family holiday gatherings and how everyone played DJ while the rest of us danced to stuff like that.
And we thought, as we were driving home, that perhaps when stars die, we should focus on those types of memories… where we were, what we were doing and who was most important in our world when these records were playing the sound track of our lives.