It’s been almost a week since the passing of the King of Pop, and everyday we see more tributes to his musical genius and reminders of how much of an impact he’s had on pop culture.
Being a child of the 80s, I too grew up with the music of Michael Jackson. As a kid, I remember watching agog the now seminal videos of Billie Jean, Beat It and the mother of all music videos, Thriller. And who can forget his pop-locking smooth dance moves, culminating in the jaw-dropping and probably the most attempted dance move of the 80s, the moonwalk?
A few years later, I scrimped and saved my from my meager allowance to buy my first ever music album with my own money – Bad. (Original, too. Indeed, I’ve never bought a bootleg copy of a Michael Jackson album in my life, and I’ve bought every album from Bad till HIStory.)
While Thriller (my dad had bought this album, albeit a pirated copy unfortunately) was an awesome showcase of pop genius and visual extravagance, Bad was all about the attitude, baby. (Man, I really wanted a leather jacket when that title track was released. )
(Of course, there were all those rumours about MJ being gay due to the opening line of Bad that sounded like, “Your bird is mine…”, and given our juvenile senses of humour back then, “bird” meant only one thing. Fortunately, my original copy of the album came with full lyrics sheet which revealed that what MJ was really saying was, “Your butt is mine.” Which probably didn’t help quell those rumours one bit, although it did show MJ’s predilection for creative pronounciation. Shamon!)
Was there a single track from this album to which I did not try to sing along or attempted to move? (Note the words “try” and “attempted”.) They were all awesome, awesome songs, and while I know Thriller’s the ultimate MJ album ever, Bad’s still my personal favourite. Songs like the introspective “Man In The Mirror” and the sassy ode to a hot chick, “The Way You Make Me Feel”, and “Smooth Criminal” (Annie are you wokay? Are you wokay? Are you wokay, Annie?) used to get non-stop rotation in the privacy of my room.
Then came Dangerous, and I took part in various contests that were run in conjunction with the album release. I won several posters (some of which I sold to my classmates for a tidy profit), a cap (which I still have stashed away somewhere), and tonnes of calendars (again, sold to classmates). This was probably the most rewarding experience I’ve had in participating in any contest.
I loved quite a number of the songs on the album (Black Or White, Remember The Time, Heal The World, Jam, Dangerous, etc), although by now people of my age group were beginning to move away from Michael Jackson and on to lesser music like heavy metal. (Yeah, I know, I probably just made quite a lot of enemies. Heh!) Armchair critics were aplenty, saying it didn’t measure up to Thriller and Bad (but seriously, what album could??) and MJ was on the way down.
Fortunately, most industry critics rated the album well, and history now views the album rather favourably.
Not soon after, came the controversies, scandals, and what-have-you. It detracted from the legend of MJ, putting the spotlight on his erratic behaviour like never before, and suddenly it was uncool to be a fan anymore.
Not me, though. When HIStory came out in 1995, I was right there in the music store on the first day of the album launch, buying the album. Sure it was a double album, and it did seem like a dumb marketing gimmick to include a collection of greatest hits with new songs, but hey, they were great new songs! I loved the defiance of “They Don’t Really Care About Us“, the melancholy of “Stranger In Moscow“, the comforting “You Are Not Alone” (although the video starring the topless white-skinned duo MJ and Lisa-Marie was weird), and the eco-friendly “Earth Song“.
But that was to be the beginning of the end of my association with MJ’s music. I was in college at the time, and I was beginning to gravitate to a genre of music that was taking us by storm, i.e. grunge. I was now listening to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden, while my MJ cassette tapes languished at home. Angst was now the currency of choice in the music world, and we were flocking to anyone trading in it.
MJ, on the other hand, was still fending of the suspicions and allegations that continued to hound him. Despite this, he still managed to put together a world concert tour, eventually becoming probably the biggest star ever to grace our shores when he held a 2-night concert at a sold-out Stadium Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur in October 1996.
Sadly, I wasn’t in the country at the time, having left for the ivory towers of the United Kingdom just a month earlier.
Although he would later perform in London for 3-nights (in the summer of 1997), tickets for the shows were astronomical (for me, at least) and I also happened to be preoccupied with erm, other affairs at the time.
And then he just disappeared from my radar. Sure, the occasional song popped up in my consciousness (Blood On The Dance Floor), and in 2001, the album Invincible came out. I did not buy this album, which shows, I guess, how disconnected I now was to my former musical icon.
To be honest, I didn’t really think about MJ anymore, not until the sensational circus of his court trial rolled into the spotlight. I followed it like every other jaded child of the 80s, wondering whatever happened to this childhood hero of ours, in his funny pajamas and funny face.
While I, like many of my peers, couldn’t bring ourselves to believe all the allegations people threw at him (and thus was relieved when he was acquitted of all charges), I still had to shake my head at hearing all the revelations of his free-spending lifestyle and eccentric people. I blamed his handlers, his hangers-on, his posse for leading him astray, but let’s face it, MJ’s no baby. He should have been more responsible for himself, but perhaps he trusted people too much, trust that would eventually be misplaced.
I still can’t believe it. This man sang and danced to the soundtrack of my generation. His death all of a sudden leaves a vacuum of silence around us.
If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s the fact that the world is rediscovering his music anew, reveling in his dances, and reminiscing warm, fuzzy memories of a time when a young man wearing white socks with black loafers and a glittering sequined gloved on one hand tried to heal the world by getting us on our feet and rocking with him.
Rest In Peace, Michael Jackson. You’ll Never Rock Alone.