Monday, June 29, 2009

Remembering Michael Jackson

I couldn't put it better than rapper-turned-actor Ice-T did (man, if I had a dollar for every time I said that ...):

No matter how tough you are, Michael Jackson will have the biggest gangster in the front row screaming like a bitch at his concert. That's about the best compliment you can give.

I would only add that I did have the pleasure of seeing Michael Jackson perform at Wembley Stadium in London, England in the summer of 1997. No shit. It was phenomenal. I doubt very seriously that he sung more than the odd line per song, if that, but it was hands down the greatest concert I have ever seen, bar none. And really, second place isn't even close.

Actually, you could argue it was not so much a musical performance as it was performance art. You tend to overlook the lack of live vocals due to the sheer spectacle unfolding before your eyes.

Trying to explain why Michael Jackson's death to our eight-year-old, Rodney "Warm Rod" Lincoln, Jr., has been a trip. Think about it - how do you explain the death of Michael Jackson to someone for whom Michael Jackson means absolutely nothing? The best I've been able to come up with is to have him imagine if Miley Ray Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Zach and Cody (from the "Suite Life") all died.

But even that doesn't capture it adequately. One thing that has been interesting to read in all of the handwringing over MJ's passing is the racial bariers he broke down. I missed that on the first go round; and that has kind of blown my mind.

Off the Wall came out in 1979, a year in which I was riding big wheels, going to preschool, and otherwise living large. Thriller came out in late 1982, and dominated the charts and MTV for the next 18+ months. In this span, I rode a two-wheeler (sans training wheels) and completed first and second grade.

I don't have any concept of a pre-Michael Jackson world in which the barriers he broke down still existed. They say before Michael Jackson, MTV didn't play "black music." In hindsight, I say, "Well, I guess that explains why Culture Club got so much play back then." (alternate joke: "flash forward 30 years, and MTV isn't playing any "white music," either. They call that progress.").

Seriously, though, it is amazing to think about being among the first of an era who don't find anything unusual about the crossover appeal of a guy like Michael Jackson. Likely this is not as mindblowing as being in first grade the same year that schools were integrated in the 1950's. Still, it's interesting to have something that I always thought of as ordinary characterized as anything but.

I have been listening to what I guess was probably my second or third copy of Off the Wall (I seem to remember having a couple of cassettes back in the day), and I'll probably download Thriller from iTunes soon. I'm getting all caught up in the nostalgia.

I'm willing to overlook the wierdness and the allegations of what he did to young boys - I think those allegations smack of greed, opportunism, and extortion just enough to entitle MJ to he benefit of the doubt that he actually molested anyone. But it's a close call.

I am choosing to remember what all of Michael Jackson's music meant to me as a kid, when he was the biggest star in the universe. The years of 1979 - 1984 were good, happy years for the Hot Rod, and Michael Jackson supplied a healthy number of cuts to the soundtrack of that time. I couldn't get enough of his music and I wanted to know everything there was to know about him. By the time he jumped off the deep end in the late '80's, I had already moved on to other musical obsessions, but damned if Off the Wall and Thriller don't stand up to the test of time.

Had he been able to pull off his comeback shows in London, he would have slayed people. I would have purchased the DVD's. I would have been transported - magically - back to those great, carefree years, just as I was in 1997 in Wembley Stadium.

Wasn't meant to be, I guess. Our loss.

The only other thing I can think to say, and it should be said, is that obviously Michael Jackson was a deeply, deeply troubled soul. One can only hope he has found some peace now.

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