♣ Why Are The Great Ones Often The Most Tortured Souls? ♣
“The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.”
— Michael Jackson
SOUTHFIELD, Mich. — I was sitting on my bedroom floor looking at the website for the Los Angeles Times last Thursday when it announced the passing of Michael Jackson. I was just a stunned, shocked, and numb as anyone else. He was the first celebrity that I was a legit fan of.
For those of you who were born after 1987, Michael Jackson was, simply, the Baddest man on the planet. For a five year span between 1982 and 1987, he was the biggest celebrity on Earth. Bigger than Elvis, The Beatles, anyone other than Jesus. His videos not only debuted on MTV (which until Thriller, never played Black music), they debuted on Network TV, including all three majors NBC, CBS, and ABC. A lot of seminal moments in the first half of my life have been connected to Michael Jackson in one way or another.
Thriller was the first album I can remember. The first three videos I can remember seeing were Beat It, Billie Jean, and Thriller. Thriller was the first music video to scare the crap out of me. Mike turning into the werewolf freaked me out…I was 4…screw you! As a Christmas gift in 1983, I got the Michael Jackson doll (yes, there are pictures, and No you can’t see them!). That same year I saw the Billie Jean video where his feet were lighting up the pavement as he walked. In May 1983, during the Motown 25 show, Michael broke off the illest moonwalk of All-Time and I immediately thought that dude was a Super Hero!
Looking at the span of my life from the mid-1980s to now, there are many points where that man’s music can immediately remind me of a specific time in my life that it’s damn near scary. Case in point, after Thriller, came…
Bad (1987): This album was so dope that it produced five singles that hit Number 1. FIVE! (Bad, Man In The Mirror, Dirty Diana, The Way You Make Me Feel, I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.) It is the only album to ever pull that off. In fact, if that album hadn’t followed Off The Wall & Thriller it would likely have been even bigger. As it stands, it has sold 30 Million copies worldwide, 8.1 million in the U.S. (By contrast, Thriller has sold by some estimates between 100 and 150 MILLION copies!) I was in 3rd grade by this point. My mother, an MJ fan going back to 1969, played the hell out of this tape in the car when I was on my way to Chrysler Elementary school (Marla, Amber, Brian…I see you!). I knew every word to the first 4 tracks on this album and would often be sitting in Mrs. Hunter’s classroom with the beat to “Another Part of Me” running through my head. Plus it also produced the Moonwalker video that featured damn near every video from the album including Smooth Criminal! Which if it weren’t for the Thriller video, would’ve been the dopest of all time! How many of you tried to do the infamous “Anti-Gravity Lean” and damn near busted your ass? Plus, the first concert I went to was in 1988 at the Pontiac Silverdome (that’s right, before I ever went to a Lions game, I was at an MJ Concert).
Dangerous (1991): By 1991, I was in 7th grade and was at U of D. By this point, the game had changed, I was into hip-hop and New Jack Swing. But the world still stopped for Mike. Along comes the Black or White video and greatness ensued. Aside from the numerous jokes about his stunningly lighter complexion, the song was a beast. Plus, the rather bizarre post-script to the video where he destroys the car with a sledgehammer while grabbing his crotch made it even better. The Video that stood out for me was Jam, which featured Michael Jordan! Jordan in a music video!? Are You F-ing Kiddin’ Me!? My early teenage years were a transitional period to say the least. Needless to say, MJ was transitioning too.
History (1995): By the summer of 1995 I was at Renaissance, heavy into hip-hop (this was the summer of the Purple Tape!), and was, well, getting increasingly angry. Mike was coming off of three years of turbulance which included all the unpleasantness involving his (first) child molestation issues, and the rather angry tone of the first half of this album (the second half being a best-of compilation) kicked in right from the start. The big deal about this album to me (at 15 years old) was that Michael Jackson actually used profanity, and lots of it, for the first time. My personal favorite is how he really laid into the line from This Time Around (a song that feaured some guy named The Notorious B.I.G.) “This time around/I’m takin’ no shhhhhhhit!” like it felt great to get that out there. At that point I was an irritated, angry, and conflicted teenager how was looking to really express that frustration and that album spoke to me. Scream, This Time Around, 2 Bad (which featured Shaq), D.S., were right out of the “Get Off My Ass, Bitch!” attitude I had at that time. So while I was banging the hell out of the Purple Tape and all the Hip-Hop greatness that was out during that time period, MJ found his way into the rotation.
Before I end this, I will address the gigantic, smelly Rhino in the middle of the room, a Rhino that a lot of BLACK people in this country had a lot of fun riding the last 20 years until last Thursday. Michael Jackson was a bonafide weirdo. It was always there. The older I got, the more evident it became that the man was a very large piece of strange fruit. The fixation on Peter Pan, the Neverland Ranch, the animals, the plastic surgery, the skin color change (which has been recently been attributed to Lupus, not Vitiligo), the numerous young kids that he associated himself with, his rather improper relationship with Emmanuel “Webster” Lewis…remember those pictures of him cradling and holding Webster in the 80s…you do know that he was a friggin Teenager at the time, right!? Mike was an oddball who put himself in some terrible positions! He did himself no favors by paying the family of that boy upwards of $20 Million in 1993 to make the molestation lawsuit “go away.” Guaranteed, if I’m innocent, and I know I’m innocent, I’m not paying you shit!
No one will doubt that he wasn’t the single greatest entertainer of the last 100 years. His appeal stretches out worldwide. And while a lot of people would rather forget all the unpleasant crap associated with him for most of the last 20 years, it has to be said that all the controversy will leave a huge mark on his legacy. Just like it’s wrong to harp on all of his issues, it’s just as ridiculous to act as if they never happened in the first place. The man is a legend and his music will be his greatest legacy, and I will always be able to listen to his music and, if nothing else, think of a simpler time in my life when his music was right on point with what was going on.
Take Care, God Bless, Always Dare to Be Different, and G.O.M.A.B. (ΦΒΣ/ΖΦΒ)!
Like Michael Curry, I’m Out!
Until Next Time…I’ll Be Looking At The Man In The Mirror.