Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson Has Died.

It seems surreal, and very UNREAL, to be typing those words. I'm honestly shocked. I was shocked like this when I found out that Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Belushi, John Lennon, and Mayor Harold Washington had died. Those people... you just don't expect them to DIE at that point in their lives. It's almost like you want this to be one huge April Fool's joke, except 86 days late. Something tells me this won't be the case here. That really bums me.

I was a child of the '80s, and when Thriller came out, Michael was inescapable. And we all ate it up. I got both Thriller and Synchronicity for Christmas in '83, both wrapped in the same package. I never owned a single white glove, but I did sort of learn a half-assed version of the moonwalk, and took breakdance lessons at the Olympia Park fieldhouse. I remember Michael on the American Music Awards, and later that year at the Grammy's. Memory isn't serving me; I can't remember if he was a part of that very first MTV Music Video Awards, but I certainly remember him winning a whole lot of moonman statues that night. Now that I think of it, I think he WASN'T there, but that Diana Ross collected those statues on behalf of her close, personal friend, Michael Jackson. I still remember that on the LP of Thriller, the track "Billie Jean" (side 2, track 2!) has what appear to be zebra stripes on the surface. I know now that's because of the way that backbeat translates out to vinyl grooves, but at the time, people said it was proof that the song was a hit, or was powerful, or something. I remember that my folks didn't have MTV, but that my Aunt MaryJo did. I was staying overnight at her house around that time, and was finally able to watch the legendary, landmark video for "Thriller". Say what you will about it today, but at the time, that damn video was KILLER!! Especially for a 10 year old like myself. And for my generation, he was the new hardest-working-man-in-showbiz. He took James Brown's intense stage act, modernized it, and set the stage on fire. It was truly a fun time to be a Michael Jackson fan.

When Bad finally came out in 1987, I had moved on. I didn't begrudge him any of his success, but I certainly never was moved to go out and buy it. I do think that a whole lot of music industry executives (and to an extent, Michael Jackson himself) always asked themselves why they were never able to replicate the massive success that he had with Thriller. To me, that magical time of 1982 to 1984-ish represented a period when the man could do no wrong. When you look back at the red-and-gold-fringe jacket Michael wore to the AMA's, you think, "How the hell did he pull off wearing that crazy jacket??" But back then, none of us even questioned it. (David Lee Roth was afforded the same luxury; anyone who would have thought of wearing that crazy costume he wore for the "Jump" video would have been laughed off the planet. But DLR was given a pass... because he was DLR. Same thing for Michael.) Even back in the height of his popularity, most of us dismissed his peculiarities as, "That's just Michael." For him and his handlers to even have thought that he could even match the success of Thriller (or to be disappointed that they couldn't match it) was, in hindsight, delusion on a huge scale. Thriller was a once-in-a-lifetime event, that while it made Michael, very well could have ultimately undone him, too.

As the years went by, Michael remained an electric performer, and could still be counted on for great entertainment... until about 1995. At that point, his weirdness and scandals slowly brought down what was left of his good reputation. It was sad to see him dragged through the mud like that. I honestly always felt sorry that (purely in my opinion) here was a man whose childhood was spent being a superstar, to the point that he never truly knew what it was like to be a normal kid. Supposedly, he spent a significant portion of his adulthood (and fortunes) trying to be a kid again as an adult. This, of course, caused a boatload of problems for him, and probably not all of them his fault. Regardless, the man was the target of a whole lot of nastiness, I'm sure a lot of it undeserved.

I still don't believe it. But since no one is telling me otherwise, I guess I'm going to have to accept it. Michael Jackson is dead. Michael, thank you for all of the entertainment that you gave us; you will never be forgotten. May you be at peace now.

Some photos borrowed from www.photofeatures.com / Chris Walter. They are marked as such.

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