It’s hard not to sound cliché when writing a post about Michael Jackson. Let’s be honest, on the freaky scale of 1 to 10, the dude was about a 14. Amid allegations of child molestation, the evolution of his bizarre appearance, and his eccentric behavior over the last 20 years, it’s almost hard to remember the “original” fresh-faced young entertainer that dominated the 80’s pop music scene. Nonetheless, his music and videos were a huge part of my childhood, and he not just influenced but defined entertainment for an entire generation.
When I first heard the news he’d passed away late Thursday (not on CNN but on Facebook, no less), I was shocked and saddened, though I still couldn’t put my finger on why exactly. After all, I didn’t know him personally, and his music hadn’t been remotely popular in more than a decade. But when a childhood idol dies, I think you lose a little bit of your past and realize that we’re all quite mortal.
Jackson’s untimely death was my generation’s Elvis moment, and like Elvis, there were 2 versions of him: the young, normal looking guy, and the thing that looked like a cross between a grey alien and Ari from Planet of the Apes.
One of the first things I did was to download Thriller again. When I was young, I loved that album with a passion. I originally had the LP when it was released in 1982; it was one of the few records in my collection that was “mine” and hadn’t been handed down to me by my older sister. I played it almost continuously, even the tracks I didn’t especially like, because to skip over a track, you had to physically move the needle. Maybe I’m looking through the prism of nostalgia, but after 25 years, I’m surprised at how timeless it still seems.
I’ve previously mentioned that growing up, my family didn’t have cable TV (we lived out in the sticks), so most of my early MTV experience was gained from weekend sleepovers at my friends’ houses. And in those days, Michael Jackson’s Beat It, Billie Jean, and Say, Say, Say videos were in pretty heavy rotation. We also had a bootleg VHS tape with Making Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a behind-the-scenes tour of the epic video’s production, which I digested weekly.
On August 9, 1984, my mom took me to my first rock concert (hey, I was 10), which was the Jackson 5’s Victory tour. They played three shows at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, and we attended the final night. I remember that I wore a knock-off version of the Beat It jacket, a Michael Jackson t-shirt, and some black nylon parachute pants. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned the unspoken rule about not wearing the band’s gear to a concert. Our seats were in the nosebleed section; in fact I had a better view of the Jacksons on the jumbo-tron screen than on the stage, but I didn’t care. Seeing Michael Jackson live in concert is a memory of my childhood I’ll always cherish.
Ginny, Logan, and I were visiting my parents this past weekend, and of course with every news channel covering Jackson’s death, our conversation naturally wandered into that territory. Lo and behold, my mom still had that old vinyl jacket, and she gave it to me to bring back home.
You know, I’m really glad we still have Jermaine Jackson just for comparison purposes. You can look at him and say, “that’s what Michael would’ve looked like without all of the plastic surgery.”