In his blog recently, John Hansell asked the question, “Who will be Michael Jackson’s successor?”
I admire Hansell for asking that question in a public forum because anyone who writes about whiskey, as he does, can be suspected of harboring that ambition. Yet it is a natural question and one people have been asking privately for months.
For those who don’t know, John Hansell publishes and contributes to Malt Advocate Magazine, a publication for whiskey enthusiasts, to which I also contribute. Michael Jackson was a pioneering writer who also contributed to Malt Advocate until his 2007 death.
Mr. Hansell, in answer to your question, I am Michael Jackson’s successor.
Let me quickly add that I do not claim that mantle exclusively. I think you are one of Jackson’s successors too. I can name at least a dozen others. Michael Jackson has many successors.
I did not know Michael Jackson except through his work. To me, he was a guy who tried to learn as much as he could about subjects that interested him, then shared what he learned through the art of prose. I can relate. That he inspired me and others to follow his path is a key part of his legacy.
I do not know how Jackson felt about the title “beer and whiskey writer.” I’ve never liked it. That most of what he wrote touched in some way on beer or whiskey is undeniable, but that was just a way to tell a story about a place, a company, or a person, perhaps an artisan. He wrote about history and culture, passion and ambition, creativity and serendipity, not just beer and whiskey.
But as a writer who happened to write about drinks, he taught us more than anyone else has about how to approach that subject. I admire him for that. Also for his breadth of curiosity, his intelligence, his honesty, his modesty, and his wit. I like that he never hid his idiosyncrasies, or his insecurities. He wrote in a style that appealed to him. He never tried to dumb it down or tart it up.
Because Michael Jackson inspired so many people to share what they've learned about beer and whiskey, he can never have a sole successor. That is part of his legacy too.
No one will ever replace Michael Jackson. We don’t need a replacement since we still have the original. I hope people will continue to read him for a long time. For instance, I would love to see someone publish a collection of the columns he wrote for Malt Advocate and other periodicals.
As for me, I will continue to do my best to put one word in front of the other without stumbling over them and landing on my face. I do not measure myself against Michael Jackson, I wouldn’t dare. That’s not what being one of his successors is about. It is about never forgetting where you came from or who got you to where you are. For me, and I know many others, Michael Jackson was the first person who made writing about drinks seem like a good idea. Maybe someday, someone will say something similar about me. That would be nice.