Michael Jackson Memories

I never had a Michael Jackson button on my jean jacket. Never had a lunchbox with his face on it. Never had a Thriller poster up in my bedroom, and I never wished I could marry him or be his girlfriend.

But our hearts know musical genius when they see it. And our hearts know when we've lost it. It truly feels like the end of an era... an end I knew would always come, but I never thought it would come so soon.

I remember being maybe two years old and turning a 45 record of The Jackson 5's "ABC" over in my hands. My sister told me that Michael Jackson had actually touched it and I got sooo excited.

When The Wiz came out, I remember my mom and her sisters talking about it non-stop. It was something for us, for all the people of African descent who didn't see ourselves in many positive, creative, uplifting movies.

My mom also had a Jane Fonda workout cassette tape with the Jackson 5's "Can You Feel It" on it. I think it was the first song on the tape. She played it so much, I can't listen to that song now without thinking of her exercising.

When I was seven years old, my mom bought a cassette of "Off The Wall". To this day it remains my absolute favorite Michael Jackson record. We cleaned the house to it, had family dance parties to it and played Clue and pokeno to it.

Thriller got released and Michael Jackson became MICHAEL JACKSON, the man people all over the world screamed, cried and fainted over. And not just black folks. White people, Asian people, Latino people... pretty much everybody all around the world loved them some Michael Jackson. It was beyond insanity.

With the Thriller era, Michael became the biggest pop star this world will probably ever see, and in some ways the last vestiges of any kind of normal life he had probably ended back in the early '80s.

But I didn't think of such things back then. Like everyone else, I was so proud to finally see videos by a black man on MTV. And I remember how we'd wait in agony to see the Thriller video. When it came on, it was a mad scramble to press "record" so we could get the footage onto a VHS tape and memorize the choreography.

By the time I was a 17 year-old freshman in college, the Michael Jackson I'd grown up loving looked a LOT different. The September 1990 issue of Vogue had one of the first big stories about his metamorphosis. The article had two pictures of him right next to each other: one from the Off The Wall era and one from 1990. I cut the pictures out and taped them to my dorm room door. It was the Michael of my childhood and adolescence right next to the very altered Michael of my adulthood.

As the years passed, there was so much sadness and conflict in my heart when I thought about Michael Jackson. Unlike some in our culture who seemed to enjoy mocking and tearing him apart, I felt genuinely sorry for him. I never enjoyed watching what his personal life had become.

However, I did enjoy introducing the music of "Off The Wall" and "Thriller" to my sons, even if I did my best to hide his physical metamorphosis from them. I didn't want my boys, who have at times felt self-conscious about their blackness, to see Michael's transformation. Of course, I failed and they wondered who the "white lady" on the cover of Ebony was.

And so, last summer we drove through Gary, Indiana so they could see where Michael Jackson was born. I always tell people that if they want to understand the Jacksons, they have to go to Gary. In the face of rancid air, vacant lots, boarded up houses, abandoned factories, abject poverty... when you've been to Gary, it's not hard to understand that family and Michael Jackson.

This afternoon I was on the phone with the wonderful lady who used to watch my sons when I worked full time. While chatting with her, I was surfing the web, and I popped by TMZ to see what was going on in the celebrity world.

I saw the posting about Michael Jackson going into cardiac arrest, and I seriously thought I must've been reading something wrong, so I refreshed the page. Up popped another story. And once I saw the headline, I burst into tears.

I have cried off and on since reading of Michael's death. It's weird, but it feels like a member of my extended family has passed. I feel such sadness that even in death, Michael Jackson will have no peace. The media circus will continue and people will endeavor to exploit his story for their own personal profit and gain.

In the end, all I have is gratitude for his wonderful music, for all the memories I associate it with, and I have prayers for the progress of his soul. I hope Michael rests in peace.


nick said…
I was never a big Michael Jackson fan but he was obviously one of the greats. I just hope people see his death in perspective and it doesn't turn into another insane Princess Di type hysteria.
Liz, I'm sitting here listening to early J5 and sobbing. I'm kinda surprised as the MJ I loved died a long time ago.

He was a HUGE part of my childhood and teenage years. I hate that words like Icon and Talent get thrown around so loosely. He was truly those things, an icon and talented.

I agree he is the end of an era. He along with Prince and Madonna ruled the '80s and put MTV map. The three were the same age and all transcended different generations and cultures. All have issues of course but I'm not going to think about that today.

I'm sad his life ended the way it did.

re: Princess Di. It's going to be worse. He wasn't famous for marrying a Prince. He was famous for his talent in the beginning and then all the drama in his later years. The man has been in the public eye for over 45 year. Don't compare him to Princess Diana, apples and oranges.
D- said…
I think what is most stunning with his death, is that he entertained so many generations, and influenced so many musical genres from pop to metal, and unlike so many other artists, his talent is one that is acknowledged globally.

So given the massive part he had on culture, it's weird to think he's gone.

I'm still waiting for someone to come out and say it's all a crazy lie.
Jen said…
I'm with D- still in shock.

Still thinking it's just another chapter in the bizarreness that had become his life in the last decade and a half.

His legacy is tremendous. Living in the Detroit area, the news was filled last night with fans who had headed out to the Motown museum, the head of his Michigan security detail, photographers and business people who had worked with him.

One thing they all had to say was how genuinely nice he'd been.

There was also a very touching tribute given by Nigel Lithgoe on So You Think You Can Dance. He really stated it when he said that ANYONE who wanted to be a dancer would have been influenced by Michael Jackson - such was his level of talent and his global influence.
Unknown said…
Just Like in your post, Liz, watching that video was like watching my own life play out. It was a lovely reminder of how much a part of our culture he was.....he IS.
1969 said…
I grew up with MJ and he was the epitome of the word Superstar.

You may not like him but you have to respect the music and his legacy.

Rest in Peace. You will be greatly missed.
Miriam said…
How amazing for something to touch all the corners of the world! He was definitely the king of pop.

I feel sad for his passing. I almost wonder if he didn't have the will to live anymore.

R.I.P. Michael Jackson.
It's interesting...I heard the news, processed it and watched CNN incessantly until I went to bed. It wasn't until I was nodding off that I started to cry. And even this morning it is hard to believe that he's gone!

I was one of those little girls who at age 11 had a canopy bed and a picture of MJ from Teen Beat magazine on her wall. I swore I was going to marry him when I grew up! *LOL*

As I became an adult, MJ became a passing thing. I was annoyed with him when he started the skin color transformation and even more annoyed during the Oprah special when he showed off Neverland...I knew sumthin' was up then.

He lost some of his appeal for me after than...but I never lost my admiration for his obvious musical genius! And even though I never married him, kinda got tired of him and wished he could turn his personal issues around...today I'm just sad.

Sad that a man with such an amazing talent is gone. Sad for those three children who are motherless and fatherless and will now be subjected to a future that no one can imagine.

And as when all great talents leave us, we are just left with this incredible feeling of sadness...
Dena said…
thanks for your thoughtful words, liz. this has been hard for me too (i know you understand). i'm still processing the loss of one talented soul. mj brings back nothing put great memories from my childhood!
I feel like so many of us are fortunate to have grown up on MJ's music. I feel bad for my students, many of whom barely know who he was or how talented he was and what he contributed to music.
Mes Deux Cents said…

I don't even know if we have the perspective right now to see how big a star Michael was and the influence he had. He changed the world in so many ways; he changed music, style, the entertainment media and he even changed the blueprint for being a star. Maybe in 10 or 20 years but I think, at least for me, there is so much emotion right now that it's hard to see all he did clearly.

And I’m still stunned by this.
Liz Dwyer said…
I was wondering yesterday how do we properly honor an icon like Michael Jackson, while keeping in mind all the very serious problems in this world? I was quite affected by Diana's death, it happened the night I moved to NYC and I'll never forget the newsflash announcing it. But I think what people will feel and express for Michael Jackson will be beyond what happened in Diana's case.

I feel the same and am still trying to figure out the feeling of surprise because yes, the Michael I loved was gone by the time I was 18 or 19. Good point about him being famous for his talent and that making him different from Diana.

So true, the entire world loved him. I remember when I lived in China, folks there knew Michael Jackson -- I bought lots of MJ bootlegs there! Now we have an entire media circus going on. 911 calls being played, photos of him on a stretcher. It's just nuts.

I saw some of that footage of Motown. Nigel Lithgoe was so right. Me and all my wannabe dancer friends were VERY influenced by Michael. He was such a precisionist in his dancing. It was just magic to watch.

And will remain a part of our culture. I found myself thinking about how 300+ years later, we're still listening to Mozart. The same will be said about Michael Jackson.

Total superstar. Wish I'd gotten to see him perform. I've had to bite my tongue a lot today because folks have said some insanely disrespectful things about him. I don't think we have to act like he didn't have issues, but the music and the moves do speak for themselves.

Touched every corner of the world, indeed. I don't know how long I'd last being hounded like that. Would I be consumed by demons and lose touch with my soul? I don't know.

When I woke up this morning, I just felt so numb. LOL about the Teen Beat magazines. Yes, a whole LOT of ladies thought they were marrying Michael, didn't they? It's sad, with the physical changes, every time a new record would come out, we'd like, "Okay Michael, it's time to stop now. You need to cut it out." But it just kept up. It's all so sad.

I absolutely do understand. I thought of you when I heard, and of Kels... and David. Ugh, such a big influence on all our lives.

Yes, I feel bad for those folks who were born in 1990 or 1995 and don't really know the Michael I grew up with. Maybe that will change now.

I'm still stunned, too. You're probably right. We do lack perspective now. I just don't want to see a tribute show with Chris Brown and Justin Timberlake. I definitely don't want that.
Mes Deux Cents said…

I'm with you, I don't want to see that either but I have a sinking feeling that someone is already planning it.
So many celebrities today are famous just for being famous. Michael Jackson was brilliantly talented, an entertainment genius who changed the world enormously. When he began to change his skin color, too, it made me terribly sad, but his music and dancing always made me happy.

My children grew up with him as I did Elvis and the Beatles. Trite as it is, it's fair to say that there will never be another MJ.
Lotus Flower said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lotus Flower said…
Ugh, so depressing. One of the greatest icons of all time, without a doubt. Hopefully Michael is in a better place now. RIP.

I remember as a young child listening to the Bad soundtrack
(I used to sing around the house "I'm bad, I'm bad, I'm really really bad!" until my parents begged me to be quiet, lol) and, of course, the Thriller album. I still have the original phonograph record of Michael in the famous white suit and all, lol. And I can't forget Jackson 5. Wow! Rockin Robin, ABC, etc was - and still is - the shiz-nit! I still play them over and over on my Ipod.

With that said, I also agree with Nick. Sometimes we have a tendency to get a little carried away with celebrity deaths and forget the fact that they are NOT immortal.
Liz Dwyer said…
BET Awards tribute with Chris Brown on Sunday night. Ugh.

Yes, his music always made me happy, too. I was reading something today that was talking about how he raised so much awareness of HIV, and his humanitarian activities. It's nice to remember those things now because undoubtedly the coverage will get uglier as the weeks go on.

LOL, that's so funny you went around singing that song. I think any parents would not be loving their child singing that. We'd be thinking the child will take it to heart and act up! No, they aren't immortal beings, but I suppose knowing that doesn't make it any easier. I will probably be a wreck when the firt member of Depeche Mode passes. I hope that's a long, long time from now.

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