Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP - Michael Jackson

Yesterday, I spent 8 hours driving to see my parents in Ohio. When I got out of the car, I did not expect that the first thing my mother would say would be, "Was Michael Jackson on your list?" I stared at her for a second, and said, "wait - Michael Jackson died? HOW?"

Of course, lots of tributes will come in; some longer, some shorter, most more eloquent than mine. I'll just leave it at the fact that, as someone born at the very beginning of the 80s, Michael Jackson was probably the biggest cultural component of my growing up - moreso than Transformers, than Schwarzenegger movies, than pogo balls and Michael Jordan and Hulk Hogan and anything else from my childhood. Michael Jackson was huge, and great, and the memories have gone from when I was about 3 (I remember the Thriller singles hitting the radio, one by one) to the present.

There was the day, when I was 8 or 9 (and thus, a good 6 years after Thriller), I had spent the night at a friend's house, and his mom was getting ready to take me home and insisted my friend come, but the Thriller video was on. The kid was so angry, he started crying. Over Thriller. Which had been out for 6 years. And I wasn't (and am not) mad - to quote Dave Chapelle, it was "Thriller, man. Thriller."

I remember watching the episode of the Simpsons, just so I could see the debut of the "Black and White" music video. To this day, it is the only Simpsons episode I have seen from start to finish, and I played my Dangerous tape so many times as an 11 year old, it eventually wore out. By the time the allegations broke, I was old enough to be familiar with disillusionment (I was a Cleveland sports fan, after all), but that A) didn't stop the shock and disbelief at the accusations leveled against Michael, and B) stop me from saying, "but the music....".

Last year, when I worked at a Borders books temporarily, it was late on a Friday night, and we were playing the 25th anniversary release of Thriller on the store radio. The security guy called all the staff over to the video camera screen he had on the main floor, and we gathered around, everybody smiling as we saw that, in the children's section, a kid who looked to be 9 or 10 was pulling out all of his dance moves to "Billie Jean." A 9 year old kid. And what was more, he was pulling out Michael Jackson's moves - not the ones from Black and White, or Scream, but the Moonwalk, moves from "Thriller," - old school Michael Jackson. I mean, this kid probably wasn't even born in the 1990s, and he knew old-school Michael Jackson moves. And the moment "Billie Jean" came on, that kid couldn't help himself. And all the Borders staff stood around the camera, in what would have been a voyeuristic and cynical move, if we hadn't all been smiling and wondering at the power of that song, and the joy of that kid, a joy that I think it's safe to say we all kind of shared. It may be cheesy and trite, but that doesn't make it any less true. That made every staff worker's night that night.

And just two weeks ago, a friend and colleague of mine and I were sitting in Rio discussing just how amazing Michael Jackson's music was and still is, and how nobody, but nobody, ever danced like that or will ever dance like that again. The next night, I was flipping channels on MTV Brazil (where they still play videos), and caught the "Smooth Criminal" video, which (together with "Billie Jean") was always my favorite. For four minutes, I was just ear-to-ear smiling, not able to believe my luck that, not only had I caught a music video on MTV, but it was "Smooth Criminal." When somebody gets 80s nostalgia and plays all the horrible, popular songs from when I was growing up, I always cringe at every song - every song that isn't a Michael Jackson song.

I'm not quite sure his death has settled in for me yet - I feel like the loss of what is unquestionably one of my favorite parts of my childhood, and the loss of the biggest celebrity in my lifetime bar none, should feel....I don't know, grander. Right now, all I can think is, "What about his kids?" My deepest sympathies of course go out to them, and to all of his family and friends. I just hope that one day, his kids know that people remember him not for the transformation in appearance, or for the weird charges that were never proven, or for holding one of them over a balcony, but for what was most important and best about Michael Jackson, for what he gave to generations to enjoy forever: his music.