Friday, 26 June 2009


genius (jean yuss)
1. a person with exceptional ability in a particular subject or activity
2. such ability
3. a person considered as exerting influence of a certain sort

Genius – a word that often gets over-used and on days like today gets bandied around like it is going out of fashion. The death of Michael Jackson is very sad – as it would be no matter who it was who had passed away. Every news bulletin today has referred to him as a “genius”, but just what exactly does constitute genius?

From the above description, taken from an online dictionary, yes, I suppose he was a genius – he had an exceptional musical talent. I have to confess that I was never a fan of his – the music he wrote and performed was simply not to my taste, but I appreciate that I am in the minority in this regard. Millions of fans around the world adored his music, and it would be totally unfair of me to make any negative comments on this because of my personal bias.

I accept that as a songwriter and performer he was superb, transcending a lot of the traditional differences between genres, appealing to a wide musical taste, and giving countless millions pleasure. But, does this make him a “genius”?

Surely, if we are talking musical genius, we have to wait a couple of hundred years and ask the question again? Have there been any musicians since Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Paganini that really deserve the title of “genius”? I love the music of Miles Davis, but was he a “genius”? What about John Coltrane? David Gilmour? Steven Wilson? I would have to say no to all of them as highly as I rate their music.

Another musician not to my taste is Benny Andersson of Abba fame – he wrote or co-wrote some of the most famous, memorable and recognizable pop songs of all time, but would he be being hailed as a genius if he were the one who had passed away? I very much doubt it – certainly the media would not have hyped the whole thing up quite as much. I wonder if Jackson’s “infamy” is much to blame for the media attention. His flaws as a human being are much publicized, and seem to take up as much of each bulletin as the legacy of his music. How much of the rumours and innuendo are true, we will probably never know, and it is probably best kept that way.

The cynic in me can imagine that, somewhere, there is a record company executive rubbing his hands together with glee today. The double album of greatest hits that was no doubt due to be released to coincide with the O2 concerts will now be supplemented with a four or six CD boxed set. Someone, somewhere will see fit to exploit him as much now he has departed as when he was here. Within hours of the announcement of his death, the sick jokes were being passed around – the mobile phone companies making money out of the text messages. One wonders if they have staff thinking up these “jokes” and starting the whole process up themselves. Gosh, I really am getting cynical in my old age!

Anyway, what actually IS genius? If this word, or indeed any such word, is used lightly, surely it becomes de-valued. Purely from the dictionary description of genius, there would be many thousands of people in the world who would qualify for the term, thus rendering it much less potent.

Was Gascoigne’s goal for England against Scotland at Euro 96 genius? Was Ovechkin’s wonder goal for the Washington Capitals a couple of years ago? Was the photography of Bresson, Atget or Capa? The art of Da Vinci and Michelangelo? The books of Dickens, the plays of Shakespeare? Who decides? More importantly, who cares?

Wouldn’t someone who found a cure for cancer or brokered a deal for world peace be a better candidate for the term “genius” - you know, something that really was of major use to mankind. Music can make you laugh, make you cry, make you smile at a memory it conjures up, but let’s be honest, it’s not life or death.

As sad as the passing of Jackson is, should he really be as idolized as he is being? Is his death any more shocking, sad and newsworthy than the deaths of the hundreds of our service men in Iraq and Afghanistan? Should it have the same coverage and column inches?

Maybe my perspective on this whole topic is slightly coloured by my own indifference towards him as a musician, but it always amazes me how lightly the word genius is used these days. I would just like to know what it is that REALLY allows someone to be described as thus…..

No comments:

Post a Comment