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Where does the good go

King of Pop: Once and forever

It’s a somber commute this morning as I’ve been trying to put into words why I’ve been so struck by Michael Jackson’s death.
As a kid growing up in the ECB, it was always just me and my mom.
We were always together, mostly because I wasn’t allowed to leave the apartment unless she was walking me to a bus or the library.
We were also poor, so activities were pretty much limited to board games that I had to let her win, TV that she would make me stand at, twisting the dial until she told me to stop at whatever she wanted to watch and records. My mother has hundreds and hundreds of 45s and LPs. The artists were all black soul singers from the sixties.
Chilites, Tamettes, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, and on and on. She’d show me how to put them on the stereo.
“Be careful with the needle!” (I am struggling right now to find the vocabulary to explain how we used to get music out of an album cover to our ears! Needles! Dials! Grooves! Barbarism, I declare.) Michael Jackson was in that collection too, of course. But he was lumped in among a cute kid band from Gary, Indiana. Sorry, I’m getting ahead of myself.
So there I was, the honored guest in my mother’s life. Totally fine, if you’ve ever heard me say the words “you’re not the boss of me,” it’s because you know who is the boss of me? My mom.
And then one night we’re watching TV, the Motown anniversary special, and straight-fire magic happened.
Now, while our television watching wasn’t as difficult as our music listening, it was NOTHING like today.
Every household memorized the precise geometric shape that their antennae needed to make in order to get a clear picture. You certainly couldn’t rewind the show if you missed something. Heck, you couldn’t even RECORD it! You copped a squat and you opened your eyes.
So imagine, just imagine what must have transpired in a brief FIVE minutes of fleeting television that took a former child star and transformed him into an international superstar. In FIVE minutes of live television Michael Jackson debuted Billie Jean on a national scale, defied gravity as he slid *backwards* from one side of the stage to the other IN PENNY LOAFERS. Oh, we opened our eyes all right! We watched AND remembered!!
One take was all he needed!
My entire second grade class was sliding around like moonwalking fools, gyrating our hips and denying paternity the whole following Monday. And if you couldn’t moonwalk, you were mocked! So be darn sure all those kids were at home: barefeet or in socks pulling their feet under their bodies in one direction and then the other.
Michael. Freaking. Jackson.
Honored guest in my mother’s life was nice and all, but now I wanted more!
“Um…so you know how I got a 100 on that fractions test?”
“Mommy, I did the dishes.”
“Mommy, do you want me to iron your uniform?”
What. Do. You. Want?
Thriller.
I wanted my own record! That I could play all on my own whenever I wanted!
No more doo wopping Chi-lite old people’s music.
I was young! Hip! It was the eighties, dammit! Gimmee!
And she did!
And I wore that album out.
Me and Itza had dances for EVERY song!
Even our ballet school teacher choreographed a number for us to do to “Thriller” – the song, not the whole album.
Oh, and who can forget the first time they saw the Thriller video??? It was like a MOVIE (not that I went to movies then #Povertysux) I didn’t sleep for a week for fear of zombie dancers!
(If they can dance, what couldn’t they do?) And then you had to watch “The making of Thriller” and sat there amazed as the makeup artist transformed Michael from man to monster while he giggled under the latex.
I had Michael Jackson fever! Pins, posters, Teen Beat magazine covers. I had the shoes, the jacket with the zippers! I had the unauthorized biographies, membership cards for fan clubs. All I talked about was Michael Jackson and how we were going to tour as Dawn and Michael Jackson! (Reverse alphabetical order, what?) I wished him happy birthday every August 29th for years! I knew the answer to the question “does Michael Jackson like coke or pepsi?” Neither, HA! He doesn’t drink soda, noob!
I knew he grew up in Gary, Indiana. Knew the names of all his family. Pets. I would scream “I love you Michael,” when I saw him on TV.
When many of my friends switched over to New Edition or Madonna, I was still all about Michael Jackson.
I watched him struggle to become a mainstream artist even while trying to please his old “Jackson 5 Motown Five” fans.
He didn’t want to be a black star. He wanted to be a star star. (Though his work on We are the World/USA for Africa, he did recognize his importance and influence as a black celebrity to help Ethiopia. (And um, that might be a quote from a third grade essay I wrote on who my hero was.)
I think many of the physical changes we witnessed were an outward manifestation of his desperate attempt to be more than “accepted into white America.” He wanted to be white America. He wanted them to love him. His music, his movies, his moves. Yeah, he wanted to be the new Elvis.
And as only one of a handful of black kids, with no money or athletic ability, at an overwhelmingly white prep school in an Italian neighborhood, I desperately wanted Michael to succeed.
But kick ass special effects notwithstanding, it did matter whether he was Black or White.
He was never going to be Elvis, but his old Jackson 5 fans never abandoned him. Nor did that generation of slack jawed kids who remember thinking “yeah, who needs two gloves?!”
We remember the hotness of the Smooth Criminal video. We saw The Wiz. (Oh, stop it, you know you did.)
When he declared himself the King of Pop, we were compliant.
“Ok. King of Pop it is.”
I obviously never saw Michael Jackson in concert – even when I grew up, the $600 a pop tickets for his show at the Garden stretched the limits of my then corporate lawyer salary.
But I saw Moonwalker well over 200 times. I listened to my Bad tape until it popped. I remember falling asleep to “You are not alone” during the nights of my first full summer away from home since I was seven.
I didn’t really want to address any of the unpleasantness during the last seven or eight years, but since I firmly, absolutely positively believe that, because of his background, Michael Jackson would never ever have exploited a child, I can simply say that a jury of his peers found him not guilty. Not once, but ten times. On even the simplest of charges to prove like “recklessness.” And sure, I threw up a little (natch, a lot) in my mouth when he was frenching Lisa Marie at the MTV awards, but it was for the same reason I had to look away from his ghostly image whenever he’d flash on the screen during (What turned out to be) the end of his life. That wasn’t who he was. That was something he was trying to be and it didn’t fit.
I imagine that he was a great dad. I know he was a great singer and a PHENOMENAL performer.
Al Sharpton was right when he said Michael Jackson was a trailblazer who gained mainstream acceptance for people of color before Tiger, before Oprah and before Barack Obama.
And I hope in the end, that was enough for the artist who wanted to be King.
Godspeed.

11 Responses to “King of Pop: Once and forever”

  1. DRobbSki Says:

    “So there I was, the honored guest in my mother’s life. Totally fine, if you’ve ever heard me say the words “you’re not the boss of me,” it’s because you know who is the boss of me? My mom.”

    My favorite of all your text that I’ve ever read.

  2. Yaron Says:

    He was the greatest: a phenomenal singer, the greatest dancer in pop music, arguably the greatest dancer of the 20th century (I’ve heard indirectly that that’s the opinion of some professional dancers). It’s sad that, by committing his crimes, he forced millions of fans to cover for him. Regardless, this was a nice tribute to a certain magical time in history.

  3. tae Says:

    I’m mostly with you. I’m not entirely sure that he wouldn’t ever hurt a child. He was so out of touch it was frightening. I don’t think he would have known what is or is not appropriate.

    His appearance broke my heart, especially the past few years. I kept hoping he’d snap back into it and make a phenomenal comeback. I knew it wouldn’t happen, but boy did I want it to.

    Want to really have a good cry? Watch this. I almost lost it.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSNwxeY09bE

  4. Dawn Summers Says:

    I agree that he didn’t know what was appropriate. His whole I’m a kid too thing was cute and all, but he did need to recognize that while his heart may be eight, his body was 42! But I don’t think his intentions were ever at all impure or lascivious. He just thought they were playing.

  5. Karol Says:

    Oh Dawn, welcome, kid’s intentions are often impure and lascivious. And it’s fine when both people involved are 9, less when one is in his 40’s.

    But you’re right, jury of his peers, etc.

    I’m surprised you think he was a good dad when one of the few moments of him+with child is him swinging the kid off the balcony. I think he lost his mind in all the fame and didn’t know how to be a good anything, not father, not friend, not person. We’ll read all about it when Blanket writes his tell-all.

  6. Dawn Summers Says:

    Blanket’s too young, you probably want to hear from Prince Michael I. But indeed, I only *imagine* he was a good dad. No way of knowing, just seems like it was something he was hellbent on doing. And the dangling over the balcony thing was a lot of fury signifying nothing. He had a grip on the baby, was ust overzealous. Like when that Aussie croc hunter guy was feeding the animals with his baby son under his arm and everyone was like “blah blah blah.” I’m sure every parent has a brainblip moment like that, 999/1000 no one ever knows. With celebrities sometimes it gets photographed. doesnt mean they are “bad parents.”

  7. elana Says:

    How do you indicate dry heaving in a comment?

  8. pearatty Says:

    This is a really touching tribute — He was lucky to have a fan like you, Dawn.

    I disagree about his parenting/character, but I’ll leave it for another time.

  9. chsw Says:

    More about MJ from Jimmy Kimmel and Debbie Schlussel: http://www.debbieschlussel.com/archives/2009/06/hilarious_best_1.html

    BTW, the first rock concert I went to was an MJ concert just after he had broken the J5 but before the moonwalk, the surgeries and the increasing weirdness.

    chsw

  10. lightning36 Says:

    No question about the talent. However, I saw him as a sadly pathetic person. To have all that money and all that fame and yet seem so unhappy with himself and life…

    And yes — I believe he molested young boys and bought silence. Maybe he was misguided guy who had an infantile sexuality. But a criminal act is a criminal act. No telling how many young boys he messed up.

    I would prefer to think that you are correct. But I don’t really think so.

  11. King of Pop Almost Died Same Way Once Before | My Price Savings Says:

    […] King of Pop Almost Died Same Way Once Before By Fox News • Jun 29th, 2009 • Category: News Jackson died of cardiac arrest Thursday, but almost the exact same scenario played out in 2004 when his brother Randy found him unconsciousRelated BlogsRelated Blogs on King of Pop Almost Died Same Way Once BeforeClareified » Blog Archive » King of Pop: Once and forever […]

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