A rather poignant tweet crossed my eyes yesterday. So I apologize to my readers and to the tweeter for not being able to give her appropriate name, @shelliwazu will have to do. What she tweeted was thus: “I remember thinking to myself many years ago, that I would know I was old when Madonna or Michael Jackson died.”
Ironically, I had the same thought. I was 9 years old in January 1984 when “Thriller” first hit the airwaves. Jackson looked so gross in that zombie make-up. Quite the contrast to the smooth, cool looking bad ass that he was in “Beat it”, but I never agreed with everyone on what the best song off that album was. It didn’t matter though. We all had the jackets with zippers all over them. We all had the single, sequined glove and the matching socks that went under a pair of black penny loafers. It didn’t matter if you were a girl or a boy. We had them. The most popular jacket was the one from the “Thriller” video, but I preferred the jacket from “Beat It”.
I remember my mother stopping me from my usual chatting every time we heard “Billie Jean” come on the radio. After a while, we learned the lyrics and sang the song together. I remember that we all waited with baited breath for “Bad” to hit the shelves and when it did… we were. Not just us, but EVERYTHING. And you didn’t say it flat, like you meant that it was actually bad. No, you added an extra syllable. The slightly elongated “a” sound in the middle of the word along with a shift in tone always let other people know that you meant that you thought it was cool.
And now.. the subject of my childhood fandom, the man who taught children of my generation what it was to be cool… is gone.
His life has been troubled for the past ten years or so, there have been accusations that he was a pedophile, he was so severely in debt that his creditors will be picking over the remnants of his estate for years and I doubt that there will be anything left from the sales of “Thriller” to support his three children, but for a little while yesterday… none of that mattered. All that we knew and all that we cared about was that the King of Pop, the man who gave us the moonwalk and built an entire industry around his music, was dead.
I used to think that I wouldn’t shed a tear when Michael Jackson passed. I was so angry with him because all of these allegations of him being a pedophile couldn’t all be lies. How many parents did he have to buy off? How many creditors were going to sue him? What sort of legacy was that to leave for his children?
But now I realize that my anger had nothing to do with those things. It was that for most of my childhood, you couldn’t turn on a radio without hearing this man’s voice. We idolized him. We worshiped him. We all wanted to be just as baad as he was. And when those allegations began, my perfect vision of him as a pop God was shattered. Suddenly, rather than a God, Michael Jackson was a human being.
A flawed, imperfect, talented human being passed away yesterday that we happened to refer to as “The King of Pop”. And yeah… I’ve shed a couple of tears for him. How could I not? Michael Jackson was as much a defining part of growing up in the 80’s as the Care Bears and the Dukes of Hazzard. We may never know how much truth there was to those allegations against him and how many of those parents were gold-diggers simply looking to take advantage of a man who could have easily been taken advantage of. We may never know, and in the long run, it won’t matter.
He will always be the King of Pop.