Yesterday, the day before Susan’s birthday (which is today; happy birthday sweetie!), I took the kids to the mall to do a bit of shopping. As I exited the interstate, a local disk jockey interrupted programming to announce that Michael Jackson had collapsed in his home and was being transported to a local hospital. While pulling in to the parking lot, the same disk jockey announced that Jackson was reportedly in a coma. By the time we entered the mall, we saw people standing around flat screen televisions, and saw the news headlines for ourselves.
Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, was dead.
How you reacted to the news (and what you thought of Michael Jackson in general) probably has a lot to do with your age. Throughout the early and mid 1980s, Michael Jackson was the biggest pop star in the world. If you’re my age and a fellow “child of the 80s”, when you hear Michael Jackson’s name that’s probably the era you think of.
When I hear Michael Jackson’s name, I remember Thriller coming out in fifth grade. I remember watching Michael moonwalk for the first time and spending the next several weeks trying to learn how to moonwalk myself. I remember a time when you couldn’t turn on MTV without catching a glimpse of Billie Jean, Beat It, or Thriller. I remember the debut of Thriller, and the debut of “The Making of Thriller”, both on MTV. (I taped them both and watched them often.) I remember We Are The World, which Michael sang on and co-wrote. I remember when his hair caught on fire during the taping of a Pepsi commercial. I remember watching people morph for the first time at the end of the Black and White video.
I remember the jacket. I remember the glove.
Michael Jackson was one of the most famous people on the planet and soon he was one of the richest. They say money can buy anything but happiness, and with his riches Michael bought his own reality. In the early days, Jackson’s quirkiness was odd, but cute and seemingly harmless. According to the tabloids his best friend was a chimpanzee, he slept in an oxygen tent, and he was having his skin bleached to become white. He build Neverland Ranch, a $100 million, 2,800 acre ranch full of amusement park rides, zoo animals and a giant compound. Somewhere down the line, “cute and odd” went from eccentric to downright bizarre. Michael was rarely seen in public without a surgical mask. He married, and divorced, Lisa Marie Presley. When paparazzi wanted photos of his children, he recklessly dangled one of them over the edge of his hotel room balcony. Rumors of sleep overs with children turned to accusations of “improper relations” with children … and at some point in time, Michael bought himself a new head; his hair, his chin, his nose, his skin … all different. When Michael showed up for his court trial, his face was literally a mess with a hole where his nose once was. It was difficult to believe that this was the same person so many girls swooned over just a few short years ago.
Like so many other young superstars, Mike ran into financial troubles later in life. (Who knew owning your own 2,800 acre ranch would be that expensive?) Neverland Ranch and its contents went up for auction. After a break from the public eye, a 50-show comeback tour was planned. Unfortunately, that never happened.
I truly feel sorry for generations younger than mine who only knew Michael Jackson for his crazy antics and bizarre behavior. They will never understand what a great performer Michael Jackson was in his prime. Online, I’ve seen several people say, “I never listened to his music, but …” — that right there dates them. There isn’t a single person my age who never listened to his music, willingly or otherwise. There’s a reason Weird Al parodied Michael Jackson and had hit singles not once but two albums in a row (“Eat It” for Beat It and “Fat” for Bad); Jackson had appeal that crossed racial, age and even language barriers. He was Jackie Robinson, Tiger Woods and Obama all rolled up into one likable dancing machine.
To those who are too young to remember, I realize it’s cool to hate Michael Jackson. Just remember that there was a time when it was cool to like him, to love him, to want to dance and dress like him. As nutty as he ended up, he’s my generation’s Elvis, our John Lennon. The closest thing to this my generation has experienced was probably the death of Kurt Cobain, which happened only 2 1/2 years after the release of Nirvana’s major label debut, Nevermind.
You can say one thing for sure; Jackson sure would have loved all the publicity he’s getting right now.
Rest in peace, Wacko Jacko.