I feel thankful that I got to grow up as a kid in the 70’s where we played outside until the street lights came on, explored creeks, shot off fireworks, threw water balloons at cars and at each other, played kickball or touch football in the street, spit or rubbed dirt into our scrapes. I think it was a great time to be young, to be a child.
The music was great too. There was something for everyone. There were rock gods and bands that would see us through high school and beyond. There were concerts later, lots of concerts. There were variety shows and everyone seemed to have one or be on one. There was Motown; the Temptations, The Four Tops and sigh, Diana Ross and the Supremes. There were teen idols and two hit making family acts that seemed to be in competition with each other, one white and one black. There were the Osmonds and there was the Jackson Five. People bantered about who was better. For me it was never a question. There was always something creepy about the Osmonds, all those teeth I think. I loved the Jackson Five. At one time I had or we had 45’s of a lot of this music but over the years they were lost. Always there was Michael Jackson at the center of things.
Long before he was the King of Pop he just seemed like this fun kid who could really sing and dance. Most of his career is overshadowed by later allegations of inappropriate behavior with children. The question of did he or didn’t he still seem to plague him long after his death. Regardless his career and legacy and even his financial status was forever tarnished. If he did it, then that was a small price to pay for the damage done. If he didn’t then it was way too much. As a star and especially a star of that magnitude then you might say that thems the breaks, that’s the price of fame, that’s the cost of being the King of Weird. I don’t know of another artist more demonized for any number of reasons including buying the rights to the Beatles music and then refusing to sell them to Paul McCartney, for buying or at least wanting to buy the bones of the Elephant man, for his bizarre Neverland house that he built, for wanting to be or acting like Peter Pan the boy who never grew up, for the plastic surgeries, for the drastic change in his appearance, the fascination with Diana Ross, the strange desire to change his complexion from black to white and the stranger stories to explain it all away. He will be remembered for holding his baby off of a balcony and not seeming to understand why people were so concerned. The weirdness made the allegations of wrong doing more believable. Through it all with all of that scrutiny he is one artist I would have never wanted to be even for a single day. He always had to be on and how could anyone be normal with that sort of scrutiny. For all the success I find his life tragic and sad.
I grew up loving him and then became so disillusioned with him because of the weirdness and the allegations that it was hard for me to acknowledge that I had ever liked him at all. Maybe as a social worker I just refused to give him any benefit of the doubt. Yet his situation was anything but normal, it didn’t fit into a nice space that anyone could really understand. His death has softened me, surprised me so much that I went from quiet shock to tears. Whatever he did or didn’t do is beyond him now, beyond any of us whoever judged him which pretty much includes everyone. You can still believe one way or the other yet at the end of the day it won’t and can’t change a single thing. So what do we have left? Well, he was the King of Pop and he got that title for a reason. I thought Off the Wall one of the coolest albums ever, a grown up Michael. The relationship with Quincey Jones worked and I like that album as well as I like any album he ever did including the next one Thriller. It always was interesting to me that the Jacksons came out with Victory at the same time as Michael with Thriller. It would prove to be problematic for Michael as he had already committed to the Victory tour but Thriller soon outstripped both the Jacksons’ tour and the album. Yet Michael didn’t allow his success to overshadow his brothers on that tour. What those two albums did was give Michael Jackson one iconic epic moment when both the Jacksons and Michael performed at Motown’s 25th Anniversary show. I remember that like yesterday and sure I watched more for Diana Ross than I did for the Jacksons. I expected Michael would perform something older, but he didn’t. Instead he introduced the world to four things: 1) What an amazing dancer he was, my my my, 2) the Glove, 3) Billie Jean which is still my favorite Jackson song and 4) the Moonwalk. I remember shouting, I remember screaming and I am quite sure I said something to the extent of what the hell was that. It didn’t look real, it didn’t look possible and seemed to defy physics. It was iconic and it was genius. I bought Thriller the week after that. The great thing is that you can youtube that moment and I bet it will still give you chills.
I don’t necessarily think that Thriller has held up well with time or the follow up Bad, but that doesn’t define an artist. Michael always found a way to be changing not just his appearance but musically as well. Every time you thought he was down and out he would come back with something else. To me there is only one artist that had the pressure that Jackson had to always be on and that was Elvis. He lived his life in a fishbowl, as a spectacle. It’s hard to imagine him at home relaxing in a pair of jeans no make-up, no costumes no weird, yet I am sure he did relax at home. Yet he seems to have always been in an outfit made for the stage, like a personal uniform. People will argue about who the greatest front man is, I even had a blog recognizing what a wonderful front man Fred Schneider of the B-52’s is. I would not normally include a solo artist in that category. Michael though was more than a solo artist. He was the leader of the Jackson 5 and no matter how young he was you just could not keep your eyes off of him. Going back to the Motown 25th Anniversary show performing with the Jackson 5 no matter how he deflected to his brothers they just paled in his shadow. And any time he was with a group of performers such as We are the World he was front and center.
Look ultimately you have to make your own decisions about whether he was or was not some evil pedophile, and sexual predator. No matter what you think you can’t change what did or didn’t happen and if you believe as most that there is something after death then he has had to answer a judgment much greater than anything you can do. Personally I think he was taken advantage of, by different kinds of predators all looking for paydays but again that’s neither here nor there. My judgment means little. To me he was iconic, the King of Pop, an electrifying performer who I grew up watching. At least once a year I pull up the youtube video of Billie Jean at the Motown Anniversary show and I still get chills. That is what the blog is about, about a performer far and above most.