Michael Jackson is dead. It’s troubling both that he’s gone and that it’s not more jarring that he’s gone. In too many ways the Michael Jackson I idolized as a child has been gone for some time. Long before his untimely death, he also experienced an untimely destruction at the hands of a painful childhood, as well as the ugliest parts of our culture. He was a genius, but in the end he paid a high price for that genius and the resultant fame. Sadly, it seems that price for his gift included his sanity, as well as genuine human relationships.
Far be it from me to pick apart the ins and outs of his psyche, or to attempt to divine what happened that made things go so terribly wrong. What seems clear is that Michael’s story was tragic long before yesterday, I wish so very much that it had gone differently.
It would be utterly impossible to overstate the impact Michael Jackson had on my childhood, and I am one of countless children of the 80’s who could say the same thing. There was simply nothing and no one cooler than MJ. He wasn’t the King of Pop, he was its god. It was like he possessed some sort of magic unique only to himself. He had the entire world in the palm of his hand. He controlled an audience like no one else I’ve seen.
I remember when I was a kid, we watched a concert which was broadcast on HBO, it was the Dangerous World Tour. At the begining of the concert Michael simply stood completely still for what seemed like hours. Then, whenever it seemed like the crowd was at a fever pitch, he would move his shoulder in a way only Michael Jackson could, and the huge crowd would scream and applaud even more thunderously than before. As a ten year old kid, it was quite possibly the most exciting thing I’d ever seen. He seemed immortal, superhuman.
The memories of MJ come so readily. I remember smiling for hours after seeing the amazing 3D Captain EO film at Disney World, even the third or fourth time. I remember waiting like it was Christmas Eve when each new music video he released was nationally televised. There was the first time I saw the video for Smooth Criminal, inspiring both attempted imitation for weeks afterward, as well as brain-bending attempts to figure out how the hell they leaned so far without falling over. There was the moment I was finally old enough to appreciate the music video for Thriller without being afraid of it, it became the standard by which I would judge every other music video afterward.
Then, above all else, there was The Moonwalk. The world was a different place after Michael did the Moonwalk for the first time. Who doesn’t remember the first time they saw it? It sent chills and shivers and excitement through the world. It is also the most butchered dance in history. Here is a little helpful hint to help you out, what most people get wrong is they move the wrong foot. The foot that moves backwards it the foot which stays flat on the ground, while the foot with its heel in the air is the anchor. While we’ll never look like Michael when we do it, doing it correctly really does make all the difference in whether or not you look like a total idiot when you break out a Moonwalk with friends in memory of MJ.
What kid didn’t try to imitate Michael’s moves? Who isn’t tempted to dance every time one of his songs comes on? When I teach my kids about music, there will most certainly be considerable time devoted to Michael Jackson. His is a musical legacy that saw him breath art back into pop music, if only for a brief time.
I will miss you Michael Jackson, then again, I’ve missed you for some time. What you offered the world filled so many of us light and warmth, it saddens me so much that it seems your life was filled with so much cold, darkness and loneliness. Rest in peace, brother.