Friday, June 26, 2009

On Michael

Thriller was huge when I was in elementary school
at Cleveland's St. Michael parish school in the early
'80s. I mean HUGE. Even I, whose record collection
consisted of a handful of read-along-with-me
Fisher-Price records, was familiar with the songs
on Thriller.*

A few years later, my friends and I were all hysterical about acquiring the "We Are the World" record. (Yes, record... and not in a "we're so punk we only buy vinyl" way, but in an "it's 1985 and tapes have barely been invented yet" way.) Vivid is my memory of a birthday party at Julie Hilberg's house, where a fanatic crowd of pre-teen girls, of which I was one, played and replayed the seven-inch, singing along badly but enthusiastically. We reluctantly tore ourselves away when our various parents picked us up at 8 PM.

As an adult, I've rarely thought about Michael Jackson without wincing. For decades now, the guy has been both horrifying and piteous, and probably a sex offender. In a phrase, intensely troubled. But it's hard to sever the emotional connections that we have made with music, so I and others will continue to have a place in our hearts for the best of MJ's pop songs. Have you seen that dumb Jennifer Garner movie, 13 Going on 30? If so, you remember the actually-really-cute club scene where everyone is too cool to cut a rug until the DJ starts spinning songs from Thriller.** For me, that scene works as a microcosm for the public's relationship with MJ... even when you don't want to, even when it isn't cool, you just can't help shaking your ass to some of those dance songs.

Because I don't want this blog entry to come off as a loving tribute to a guy, intensely troubled or not, who almost certainly molested children for Chrissakes, I have to include the 2004-ish "I'm done with Michael" riff by the skillful Chris Rock. Watch and listen here.

* Hell, even my friend Donna, growing up in the Soviet Bloc around the same time, knew those songs. "Michael was my first connection to life outside of communism," she says.

** I heard a story similar--extremely similar--to this on NPR on the day of Michael Jackson's death. Some reporter with a sincerity-leaden Sarah Vowell voice recounted being in a club where everyone refused to dance until the DJ played "Thriller." I was like, that didn't happen to you! That's a scene from that Jennifer Garner movie!

1 comment:

  1. what a fabulous memory you have! i can barely remember my birthday part from last year!