Like millions of other people last year, I was shocked when I read the headline that Michael Jackson was dead. It was one of those moments when you remember where you were when it happened. I personally had a great deal of stress at the time of MJ’s death, and never really stopped to consider the full impact the news had on me. Now that the anniversary of his death is making headlines, the many memories I have associated with him have been bubbling up and I’m surprised at how many there are.
As I remember where I was when I heard of his death, I also remember where I was the first time I saw the Thriller video. It was 1983 and I had recently turned nine. MTV had only been around for a couple of years by then, and was not found in many households. My mom was visiting with one of her good friends when she called me over to the TV to see this spooky new video. For the next quarter hour I watched, spellbound by the story of a date night gone terribly wrong that featured a werewolf, dancing zombies, Vincent Price’s creepy bridge narrative, and a twisted roller coaster ending.. “Oh my god, oh my god.. they’re gonna get her!… Whew! It was all a dream… Oh my god he has yellow eyes! And the creepy guy is laughing!!” For a child with an overactive imagination like mine, this video was napalm of the mind. Until I saw it one hundred thousand times.
During the mid 80’s Michael Jackson was like a deity. He was everywhere and he was worshipped. I was living in Oklahoma in 1984 and my best friend’s name was Starcey. Starcey and I were Michael Jackson. We wore a glove on one hand. We had jackets with many pointless zippers. We mimicked his moves. And we knew his songs. When we weren’t reading my illustrated Return of the Jedi book, we were pretending to perform MJ videos. Starcey did all the words in the Thriller song and I did Billy Jean. Our friendship was almost entirely based on our love for Star Wars and Michael Jackson, haha! It’s crazy how well I remember it.
I remember Beat It was significant because it featured a guitar solo by Eddie Van Halen. And my mother was in love with Eddie Van Halen.
One day, while my parents were away, the neighbor kid I sometimes hung around asked to come over and watch the Thriller video. We had it on VHS and he hadn’t seen it a long time and really wanted to. I wasn’t supposed to have people in the house while my parents were away (and I probably wasn’t supposed to be screwing with the VHS player either). He convinced me to let him in by offering me five bucks. I knew my folks weren’t going to be gone long and the video was sooo long. I was freaking out, sure that they’d come home any minute, so I started fast-forwarding it half way through. The neighbor kid got all pissed at me and refused to pay, and our friendship was never the same after that… Psht, he probably didn’t have it anyway.
At some point, MJ started endorsing Pepsi. And so Pepsi started tasting better than Coke. Pepsi was “the taste of a new generation.” Now, I was too young and stupid to be brainwashed by slogan marketing. I was too stupid to know what a “generation” was. But I’ll be damned if Pepsi didn’t start tasting better just because MJ danced around with a can in a commercial. It’s funny… I look back somewhat bitterly on that now. I feel soda became over-popularized at that time and became a harmful substitute for water as a refreshing beverage. Soda should be a dessert. It’s carbonated sugary syrup. I digress.
I was way into wrestling when I was a kid. The stupid fake kind, yes. There was a tag team called the Pretty Young Things. My memory of them is pretty fuzzy, but I remember that they tried to look like MJ with one glove and they were introduced with the song PYT. As PYT was one of my fave songs, I had to cheer for these dippy guys.
In junior high I took a music class, and we had an assignment where we had to demonstrate musical form. A couple of my friends choreographed a dance to Man in the Mirror to demonstrate the form of the music and I imitated MJ and lip-synced the words. I am glad this was before video cameras were in mobile phones that everyone carries (a future none of us probably would have predicted).
During this time, the many oddities of Michael Jackson were beginning to overshadow his music. None of this really fazed me. I’ve never been one to care about what celebrities do with their free time or money. It wasn’t until the molestation accusations surfaced that my opinions started to change.
None of us knows if any badness occurred. I feel that there’s almost nothing worse than an innocent person getting persecuted for a crime they didn’t commit. Unfortunately, he created the conditions for the perfect storm. Either he did something really bad, or really bad people took advantage of the ridiculous environment he created. I want to believe the latter.
Speaking of “Bad”, I cringe when I see that video now. It is so lame. Wesley Snipes was good in it, but almost a bit too dramatic. And there was actually a part where gang members were smoothly dancing in roller skates. That is simply not intimidating in any way.
The first song I ever downloaded onto my i-pod was Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough. In fairness, that may have partly been a function of my mood that day, as there are many songs (and artists, for that matter) that I like more. Disco must have been hittin’ the spot that day.
The first in-service I delivered at the end of my first clinical rotation of PT school was the week of Halloween. Appropriately, I chose the horrific topic of Necrotizing Fasciitis (the flesh-eating bacteria). I had worked with a patient my entire eight weeks there who had been victimized by it. My whole presentation was quite Halloweeny, and it ended with an ugly picture of my face in which I had the two yellow eyes from Michael Jackson’s Thriller slowly fade in to my eyes as Vincent Price laughed on. It was pretty dope.
Michael Jackson has clearly left an imprint on me. It’s funny when I see younger people who are big fans of his, and I know that they never grew up with MJ as I did. They never wore the glove. They never did the dance. They never tasted the sweeter Pepsi. It’s funny because I now know how my folks felt when I would carry on about the Beatles or any number of other bands from their amazing era of music. Even as I fondly remember these indelible moments of my life influenced by the King of Pop, I smile as I think of the most recent instance of his presence. Lately, when my girls ask me why I get to do things that they can’t, or why they should listen to me, I sometimes say, “Because I’m Dad! I’m Dad! Ja-knowit! Ja-know!!” The answer usually does not suffice. But I get a little tickled thinking that my kids may remember something like that some day. A small piece in their own treasure box of memories. A piece inspired by the one and only Michael Jackson.