Michael Jackson died yesterday.
I wasn't going to write anything about it. I haven't followed Michael Jackson for a couple of decades. I've been aware of the freak show that his life has become, and I thought I no longer cared. I saw him as a pathetic figure. His life no longer held any interest to me.
But I find I can't stop thinking about him.
This isn't about the things he may or may have not done. It's not about dangling babies or masks or plastic surgery or failed marriages or seedy allegations. It's not about the life of Michael Jackson at all.
It's about my life.
When I look back at my life, certain music appears, like sign posts, reminding me of certain times and places. Michael Jackson's "Thriller" is like a billboard.
Thriller was released in 1982, and it set the world on fire. It is still the best selling album of all time. Thriller changed EVERYTHING. I wanted to look like him. I wanted to dress like him. I wanted to move like him.
No one ever moved like Michael Jackson. I have one indelible Michael Jackson moment. It's the moment that everyone knows. The Motown 25th Anniversary television program. I was watching because I knew Michael Jackson would be performing "Billie Jean."
There was the glove.
The white socks and loafers.
The song and the dancing.
He moved backward.
WHAT WAS THAT?!
That was the first time I had ever seen someone moonwalk. It was surreal.
The next day I -- we -- everyone -- found a new use for our sunday shoes. I practiced for hours -- days, months -- trying to learn to moonwalk. I remember watching myself in the glass of the sliding door on my aunt's deck. And one time -- only one -- did I move smooth enough to feel like I had done it. It feels ridiculous to say so, but that was a real highlight for me as a kid.
Then came the jackets with the zippers, the Thriller video, the Eddie Van Halen guitar solo on Beat It. We are the World. Michael Jackson was everywhere. He was a cultural juggernaut that I think, for my generation -- this generation called "X" -- was only eclipsed by Star Wars.
Michael Jackson was a beacon. He was a pop culture god. He gave us dance. He introduced us to music we had never heard before. He launched, for better or worse, the world of music videos. Michael Jackson was our Elvis, our Beatles. And like they had been for the previous generation, he was our great departure from the music of our parents. Without any exaggeration, he was the King of Pop.
There will never be another phenomenon like Michael Jackson. The music world is different. No one can maintain that kind of supremacy any more, there are, simply, too many choices.
I don't pretend to know what his life was like. He often seemed so lost -- so out of touch with reality. So out of control. It was a sad and pathetic spiral downward, and as with Elvis and the Beatles, we're so often left wondering at the fall from grace. I can't excuse much of his behavior, and I, along with most people I suspect, feel there was plenty to be concerned about -- though I think it's important to point out that he was acquitted of the most damning charges. Say what you will about justice being administered differently to celebrities, we could also talk about the lucrative business of exploiting a celebrity as well. His life was not perfect, and his legacy will forever be a paradox of the highest heights and the lowest lows.
I don't feel like judging him.
I simply want to express my gratitude for the wonderful memories. I want to marvel again at those alien dance moves. I want to bask in awe, once more, at one of the most talented and exciting entertainers of all time. I want to think about the moments with friends, trying to moonwalk. I want to revel again, for a while, in the introduction to new and exciting things -- music that imprinted itself on my consciousness. Music that brought you to life.
Music that made you move.
Rest in Peace.
1958 - 2009