ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Over the years, music critics fell in and out of love with Michael Jackson. Jim DeRogatis is one of those critics. He's pop music critic with the Chicago Sun-Times and host of Chicago Public Radio's music program Sound Opinions. Hi, how are you?
Mr. JIM DEROGATIS (Pop Music Critic, Chicago Sun-Times; host, Sound Opinions): Good, how are you, Robert?
SIEGEL: Fine. How would you describe Michael Jackson's place in pop music?
Mr. DEROGATIS: Well, there's no denying his accomplishments, you know, I think he is going to go down as Elvis, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra in terms of the impact on popular culture. What's different than any of those talents is that it's one of the greatest tragedies, I think, pop culture's ever witnessed.
I mean the man melted down, literally and figuratively, in full view of the world over the last 18 years, and it was right there in his music. He only made two albums in the last 18 years, and they were dominated with this kind of persecution complex. We were out to get him just like we crucified the lord. And, you know, weird, weird psychoanalytical stuff that was all right there for us to see, if we were interested.
SIEGEL: Michael Jackson was the epitome of the reinvented - the self-reinvented person. He - as we heard him talking earlier about identifying with Peter Pan, he tried to defy age. He appeared to defy race. He almost literally became white as he grew older. And was somebody who was successful enough and rich enough to, in effect, buy the life he imagined - he dreamt of for himself.
Mr. DEROGATIS: Yeah. I think that's sad. You know, if you look at the cover of the album he put out in 1995 history, it was a - it was him re-imagined as this famous statue of Stalin. And, you know, towering over the landscape. And there was a, you know, your previous guest, the engineer was saying he was kind of egoless and he was quiet, I think he was a towering ego. And this tremendous success he experienced with "Thriller," he could never top it.
And in many ways that destroyed him, on top of his personal behavior, which I don't think you can separate. I don't think it's fair to separate because he sang about it.
SIEGEL: Is he still influential today? Does anybody dance like that anymore in performance? Today, do people emulate his music nowadays?
Mr. DEROGATIS: Oh, absolutely. I think Justin Timberlake and, or even Usher don't have a career without him. You know, I think anybody who's making dance pop, or R&B or soul in the new millennium owes a huge debt to Michael Jackson, and doesn't want to wind up the way he did.
SIEGEL: Do you think that he actually could have had a successful tour at age - it would've been 51 later in the summer, I guess, in London?
Mr. DEROGATIS: I don't think so. I mean, the Rolling Stone has a piece in the new issue about how the English odds-makers were taking bets that the whole thing would be cancelled - it would never happen. The first four shows already had been postponed. He was said to be, you know, being a perfectionist about putting the show together, but then he was also said to not be showing up to rehearsals.
I don't think he was ever going to come back. I think that the, you know, legal travails, he settled one lawsuit with the family of a 13-year-old boy for a reported 20 million. And although he was acquitted of these other charges, a lot of things came out in court that I don't think people were ever going to be able to look at him the same way.
But even he could, he continued to sing about it in the music and protest his innocence to sins that he didn't name and meanwhile say that this was all a giant attack by us, I guess, the media trying to slander him, to crucify him, to torture him, you know, on and on and on. He didn't seem able to get over any of it himself.
SIEGEL: Jim DeRogatis, thanks a lot.
Mr. DEROGATIS: You bet.
SIEGEL: For talking with us about today. Jim DeRogatis is pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times. He's also host of Chicago Public Radio's music program Sound Opinions. And we were talking about Michael Jackson, who died today in Los Angeles.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.