Fans Remember Michael Jackson's Best

Tina Brown is the co-founder and editor of the online news site The Daily Beast. She talks with David Greene about Michael Jackson's fame, his impact on culture and how his death will shape how the world views him. Brown says fans are remembering Jackson's show business electricity.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

And for some thoughts on Michael Jackson's musical legacy, we turn to Tina Brown. She's the editor-in-chief of the online news site The Daily Beast, and she writes often about culture and society.

Ms. TINA BROWN (The Daily Beast): Somehow this whole terrible tragedy has liberated him in a way from the sort of sleaze that was drowning him both literally and figuratively. I mean, his music and his sort of show business electricity has somehow risen above it all and that's' what people are celebrating and remembering. When you see those videos again, when you hear that music and you feel the pulse again of the original unfettered Michael Jackson, it is thrilling to hear.

GREENE: Well, it's refocused attention on the music but almost universally. I mean, you mentioned the pulse. I hear that pulse everywhere. They were playing "Bad" in a car passing our studios in Washington yesterday. I mean, we get these stories from around the world…

Ms. BROWN: And that great scene in that Filipino prison where all the prisoners were doing that formation dancing to Michael Jackson. Extraordinary global impact…

GREENE: Exactly. You can't meet anyone in a lot of places who isn't talking about it. Explain that for us, if you can. I mean this certainly doesn't happen with too many people.

Ms. BROWN: Well, he just managed to be such a show business creature. That was the thing. His dancing, I think, has been under-celebrated. I think that really it's the dancing that made him so magical simply as a showman really above all. I met him actually in end of '89 at Vanity Fair when I was the editor. I did a cover for the Hall of Fame issue and I went to L.A. to meet with him.

And I thought I was going to have a sort of scary weirdo, and in fact - I mean visually he was pretty weird and he was wearing a cowboy hat and it was sort of 3:00 in the afternoon. He had obviously just gotten up and he was sort of very strange looking.

But actually to talk to, once you got to talk to him about his music, you could see him light up. And he described to me how he had conceived of the idea of composing "Billie Jean." And he told me that he was riding downhill on a bicycle and the pulse that came into his head as he was riding the bicycle, he said he began to flex his hand on the bicycle handles in and out to that pulse of "Billie Jean."

And as he said it, and sort of moved his arms and legs and began to kind of like do his little dance in the hotel room, I could feel immediately that electricity that lit him up like an electric bulb. And it was just very thrilling even to have that little tiny insight into his creative process.

GREENE: And it was funny, as his façade and look sort of changed, it was hard to always remember that there was an artist inside.

Ms. BROWN: Well, also, you know, the thing is that we tend to think of Jackson's whole life in the last few years as that of falling apart, but when you think about it, his entire success was built on discipline. I mean even his last days, he was rehearsing for four hours a day. You know, not for nothing did Fred Astaire, who was another demonic practicer himself, say that Michael Jackson was he thought the greatest dancer who'd ever lived.

GREENE: Is there's something uniquely American about him? I mean we think of, you know, Michael Jackson and Elvis. I mean even the Beatles didn't really reach that level of fame until they were in this country.

Ms. BROWN: Well, I think there's a unique way of celebrities kind of going over the top in America when you think about it. This stars seemed to reach a certain point of massive saturation celebrity and then they withdraw into their castles and become weird recluses and hide from the world and get surrounded by enablers, maybe because it's possible to be so isolated, particularly in Los Angeles. You know, you're in a gated home, people talk to you through that intercom. You never go into a main street.

You can really become an isolated king in a castle in a way that you can't really be in any other place, except sort of America and Los Angeles.

GREENE: Has anything especially surprised you about the reaction you've seen?

Ms. BROWN: I think what had surprised me in a way is how I can just feel the public's appetite for the sleaze of Jackson has completely evaporated and what they are remembering and celebrating is the music. And I might have thought that perhaps that myth had been drowned by the sleaze. But it hasn't been. And it just goes to show that great work will always rise above it and survive.

GREENE: Tina, thanks for talking to us.

Ms. BROWN: Thank you very much.

GREENE: Tina Brown is the editor-in-chief and cofounder of The Daily Beast.

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