Today marks four years since Michael Jackson died. Here’s something I wrote from around that time.
On the morning of 9/11 when I got the call to wake up and turn on the TV, I imagined the only news story I could think of that would warrant the call. “Michael Jackson must have died.”It was the biggest thing I could conceive of in the back of my subconscious.
Something interesting to me- it’s only now that he’s died that I stop to realize that he was the entertainer of my time. I was born in 1978, and Thriller was out when I was a kindergartner. I had a folder, you know how in kindergarten you don’t have a bag or a trapper keeper, you’ve got a folder you put your drawings and shit in? That and a lunchbox, mine was a Dukes of Hazzard.
Anyway, I had a folder that was made to look like the cover of Thriller, with the record coming out of it. It made me very popular. There was a hand full of black kids in the class, and we were big friends after that. And I never thought about it until I look back now, MJ wasn’t just the first celebrity I knew of, he was also black, and it never was even a thing. Entertainment brings us together in ways we can’t even conceive of.
I saw Motown 25. I remember sitting through the other acts (who would all later become pretty much my favorite musicians) waiting for Michael Jackson. Even watching the Jackson Five part waiting for MJ to do his own thing. I saw the Moonwalk and figured I could do that. I couldn’t do that. My cousin said he could do it, but all he really did was walk backwards while wearing socks on a hardwood floor.
I saw the Thriller video when it was televised. We didn’t have cable so we didn’t have Mtv. It was on network TV in prime time. It scared me, but I toughed it out. There was a whole special about how they made the video.
There was cable at my cousins’ houses. I saw the Billie Jean video. I distinctly remember his dancing lighting up the squares on the street, and him running up the fire escape stairs on that building to get away from Po-Po. I also saw The Wiz there. It was some shit. I remember distinctly asking my mom “When does he come on?” Diana Ross wasn’t cutting it.
When he caught on fire, I freaked out. My aunt made jokes, the grownups laughed. I knew everything was OK.
Bad video was also televised on network TV. I was a bigger kid, old enough to talk back. Mike was looking weird and I wasn’t 100% sure that it actually was him. Until he danced and sang. He had black pants with a red stripe. That was cool. I’d never seen what a subway looked like before. Or seen anything directed by Scorsese, who would become my favorite director. Not to mention that the song was awesome.
Moonwalker was a movie and a game at the arcade that I played every time I went, and then on Sega Genesis which I rented at least twice. I don’t think I ever beat it. It was cool when he turned into a spaceship. As a family we went to Disney World and saw Captain Eo. My first 3-D movie in a theater. Once again, MJ was tripping me out.
The Black Or White video premiered on Fox after The Simpsons on a Sunday night. This was where they had the faces of all different races transforming into each other. I was bussed to a school across town where race relations weren’t always too great. Everybody was talking about Michael Jackson on Monday. Everybody. Singing the songs, dancing. I was heavy into the Beatles, and I found out how MJ and Paul McCartney had collaborated. Somehow I missed that before. I was as high on MJ as I had ever been.
This was also when he had the video where he was yelling and handling his package and smashing up a car. That was bizarre. But we all let it go. Then there was Remember The Time. Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson as Egyptians. We looked past the weird stuff that was going on because the songs, the dancing, the personality was exploding.
The stuff that came after that, you know what? It doesn’t matter anymore. I feel that way, and it seems most people do as well. He’s loved in spite of those things, and he’s not fascinating because of them. Not really.
He made Off The Wall.
He made Thriller.
He made Bad.
He had a doll, a jacket, a glove, a dance, a sound. He was part of the zeitgeist. So much so that I never had to think about if I was a fan or not. In my world, for people my age, it was automatically assumed that you were a Michael Jackson fan.
There will never, ever be another.