Stu Bykofsky: Dying young: Lennon vs. Jackson

Who was more important to music and the world - Michael Jackson (left) or John Lennon?
Who was more important to music and the world - Michael Jackson (left) or John Lennon?
Posted: July 08, 2009

SOME LIKENED his passing to Elvis, but the worldwide PDEs (Public Displays of Emotion) were more like those poured out for John Lennon, who died 10 years younger than Michael Jackson, and also too soon.

The Beatle had morphed from a pop star into a pop philosopher, putting out an idealistic, if somewhat addled, plea for a world of peace, equality and no borders.

Jackson morphed from a pop star into a freak and then into a global superstar. He sang about a world of equality, but lived in a universe of bizarre behavior and wretched excess, symbolized by his gold-plated coffin.

America stopped for a while yesterday to pay respect to Jackson.

It's understandable. The Gloved One was bigger than a star. He was a galaxy. Like Lennon, he is historically important because his music for so long meant so much to so many. He was so a part of our lives, but . . .

Some traveled across the continent, or across an ocean, to reach L.A. to be near to him. They strike me as being just as lost in the Real World as was the King of Pop.

Aside from funerals I had to cover in my line of work, and those of family and friends, the only memorial that I felt I needed to personally attend was for another Michael - Schwerner, one of three civil-rights workers murdered in 1964 in Mississippi. People like me attended partly for Schwerner, but also to send a message of solidarity with the cause.

What was Michael Jackson's cause?

Was it worth the presence of 2,200 credentialed journalists?

Some of TV's talking heads wondered if MJ was, indeed, the most famous person in the world, eclipsing Queen Elizabeth and the pope (and - no one dared say this - Barack Obama).

With Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan in the shadows, maybe Jackson was the most famous person in the world (there is no supreme soccer player at the moment).

Did MJ deserve the fame?

Yes.

But if you want to get an argument going, ask someone over, say, 50 who was more important to music and the world - Michael Jackson or John Lennon.

During yesterday's MJ memorial, I thumbed through newspaper (remember them?) clippings, yellowed and brittle and precious.

"Millions of people the world over planned silence and prayer, singing and listening today in a final tribute to John Lennon, a man who touched their hearts with his music," the Associated Press reported on Dec. 14, 1980, less than a week after Lennon was murdered at age 40.

Did he deserve the fame?

Yes.

Beatlemania vs. Michaelmania.

The Beatles, led by Lennon, changed music and helped change the culture.

What did Jackson change?

He changed the face of pop (and also changed his own), he elevated music videos to Art, he created choreography that made you look again. And again.

There were his underreported generosity and his overreported problems in the courtroom, strange fashion choices (remember the soft arm splint?) and weird choice of mates and methods to procreate.

Mostly, though, his legacy is just the music. We'll have to wait to see whether the Beatles/John Lennon or Jackson leave the more enduring footprint.

I think it's John Lennon.

You are free to disagree. *

E-mail stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/byko.

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