I was an Eighties baby but the last of the family. So many of my childhood memories are Seventies leftovers from my sister and brothers. And like so, so many black families around the world, the Jackson 5 were a part of our lives. I don’t recall exactly when my love affair began, but it may have been the first time I heard Who’s Loving You.
Young Michael with the perfect afro, the unbelievable soaring voice, and enviable adult swagger so long before any of us sucked all meaning from the word.
He became a symbol of lust for so many, as he grew older. Seventies era bellas know all about it, when the Jackson 5 taught us dance moves that many try to replicate to this day — check them poppin and lockin with the late Dom DeLuise. Laying the foundation for Usher, Chris Brown, and Justin Timberlakes to come. They were Dancing Machines, Michael out front, amazing us all with his fluidity years before a white glove set him apart.
Oh, Michael. As he became a man, at first he put away childish things. Or at least he seemed to, with Off the Wall. That album is practically perfect, from the dazzling disco of Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough (OMG, what an iconic video), the heartache of She’s Out of My Life — believed to be a tribute to the late Minnie Riperton — the irresistable bump of Workin Day and Night, the insiduous slink of the title track, the effortless sex appeal of Rock With You. Girrrrrllll, close your eyes. Let that rhythm get into you.
My favorite track from that album? It’s so hard to choose just one. But I Can’t Help It comes most immediately to mind. Just hearing that on the radio brought pinpricks of tears to my eyes yesterday. There’s something so wistful about his vocals on that track. Oh…. Michael.
OK, HOW big was Thriller in your life? Thriller was beyond humongous. Thriller was on constant rotation in my house for a year, it seemed. I’m partially responsible. I was old enough to get the LP onto the record player and choose my favorite tracks. I remember sitting in the living room by the stereo, gazing at the photo of Michael and the baby tiger and letting his voice wash over me.
Was that the moment the rest of the world fell in love with MJ? It may have been. He was on fire that night, in a way that so few artists ever are. Oh, they might think they match up, but they can’t hold a candle. Sparks seemed to surround him. And then he introduced the world to the moonwalk and honey, it was OVAH.
Oh, Michael. One performance and you changed the game forevermore.
Bad was a phenomenon in my life. I remember getting a pair of bright red overalls with Bad spraypainted across the front and feeling like the coolest little thang ever when I wore them. And the videos from Bad lit the world on fire, putting Michael Jackson at the forefront of the entertainment scene once again. As if he’d ever left. My parents raised an eyebrow at the sexual danger lurking in the video of The Way You Make Me Feel — it was the beginning of the “is Michael Jackson weird?” questions that swirled around him for the rest of his too-brief life. The rumors about the Elephant Man’s bones, the hyperbaric chamber, thetabloid nicknames, the beginnings of vitiligo and the apparent plastic surgery.
Still, the music came ahead of his image at the time. The dance moves in Smooth Criminal astounded us all. I cried at the video for Man in the Mirror. Another Part of Me was my favorite song.
More than anything, I wanted to go to a Michael Jackson concert. To experience that hysteria in person. The screaming crowds that seemed to reveal an almost religious fervor for the King of Pop. Maybe this was when fame began to become bitter poison.
The first Michael Jackson album I bought for myself was Dangerous and it still bumps to this day. By then Michael had alienated himself from some of his fans, his appearance was so changed from the handsome brown skinned boy we grew up admiring. But still, the music was undeniable. Who Is It? remains a thumping, sexy, underrated gem. The video for Remember The Time was a high budget revelation. Heal The World touched my heart and Will You Be There stayed on repeat in my little boombox for quite some time.
And then there was In The Closet, the sexiest video Michael ever made. That reignited the inner fangirl in my again.
The fall from grace came shortly thereafter. I can’t deny that the allegations of child molestation — despite his consequent acquittal didn’t make Michael hard to defend. The allegations and the trial tarnished his image while the world watched. Michael Jackson became the universal punchline for filthy jokes. And he didn’t do his own image any favors in that time, or afterwards, in that heartbreaking Martin Bashir documentary, or when he dangled his baby from the hotel window… so many times after that. He did so much to tarnish his own legacy and make even his fans question his sanity. I’d see his increasingly gaunt, increasingly wan, increasingly unrecognizable visage on television shake my head and think, oh Michael. What has become of you? What have you done to yourself? What’s happening in your mind and in your heart? Maybe even he wondered.
Michael Jackson became Shakespearean tragedy. He became Howard Hughes. He became Citizen Kane. He became Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond — terrifying, confused, detached from reality, detached from his roots, detached from what made him the world’s superstar. I was cheering for him to make a comeback, but I must admit — I did on Twitter recently, maybe 2 weeks ago — I had knots of doubt in my stomach that he had the physical ability to do so. And now, the King of Pop, the boy from Gary, Indiana who showed the world music and moves we will never forget, is dead at the age of 50. To borrow the title of one of his most maudlin songs, Gone Too Soon.
I’ve been fighting with myself to not snap like an attack dog at every online comment that disparages his name and questions his legacy. I’ve been trying to laugh off the people who seem so confident in theirknowledge of who’s got a place in hell and who doesn’t. I’ve been trying not to take it personally. But for some reason, this cuts close to the bone. That’s because his music truly was the soundtrack of my life.
So many memories, so much emotion wrapped up in his silken voice. So sad to think that he is no longer with us.
I choose to celebrate his legacy instead of express bitterness at his transgressions and strangeness. I choose to remember the time, when I fell in love. I hope in death, he finds reprieve from the physical and mental pain he so publicly endured.
Oh, Michael. All I can say is, I hope you truly do Rest In Peace.