Wednesday, August 24, 2011

My Ipod Made Me Do It.

Today my ipod took me to the past with the music of Michael Jackson.  I have a few of his albums from when I was young, I don't really like his last few, but I have a soft spot for "Off the Wall", "Bad" and especially "Thriller".
I was 7 years old when "Off the Wall" was released, and I didn't become aware of it until years later, when in 1984, "Thriller" hit the radio stations and tape (yes, children, tape) players of my friends and sister. I was 12 years old.  That's the time I began my pop culture education, probably like most of you.  I hadn't really been into music before that, just listening to my dad's records, mostly ABBA, Herman's Hermits and whatever he had on the record player.

When my sister bought "Off the Wall", we must have only played a couple of the songs over and over.  I am not a big disco fan, and much of that album is deeply disco-style. I do remember "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough", nearly word for word, as well as "Rock With You" and "Off the Wall".  These were songs my sister and I probably sang along to and really loved.  But nothing came close to how much I loved the album "Thriller".

Michael Jackson led the way for other artists with his smooth transition from the disco of the 70's to the rock/pop of the 80's.  It's very different from what Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Doors, etc. were singing during those years.  It's completely different from hard bands like Rush, AC/DC, Kiss, etc. as well.  His music has a definitive "pop" feeling to it.  It's also very different from the 50's and 60's bubbly popular music.  It was unique (in my opinion) and almost every teenager in the 80's embraced it, sending "Thriller" rocketing to #1.  We loved it.  The album uses various musical styles, including what could be called "post-disco", in "PYT", R&B, but mostly pop.

The title song on the album "Thriller" is unique, nothing like it has ever come along that is quite as effective, and the music video, which we all tuned in to MTV to watch.  It was mesmerizing, scary, and very fun.  I loved it!  I even went so far as to record it (yes, children, you used to record TV) on the VCR (you remember those, right?) and play the zombie dance sequence over and over to learn the moves.

The best memories, though, are of sitting in the bedroom I shared with my older sister and listening to the tape over and over again. I remember that with such a warm feeling of camaraderie and friendship with her.  It wasn't too many years later that she went to High School and we decided we didn't much like each other any more, so I'm so glad we had those years together, sharing music.  (We are now very good friends again, lest you think we never got over our teenage nonsense.) She had a box of memorabilia that she stored under her bed-- a couple of commemorative pepsi cans, magazines, etc. (I wonder where that stuff went?) that I used to covet.

I also liked "Bad" (1987) quite a bit, though it never captured my heart the way "Thriller" did.  It was good, but it didn't have the sweetness of "Thriller".  It does, however, have some excellent dance numbers and in the show number "Smooth Criminal", it's obvious that Michael was enjoying living out an old-time movie fantasy, so it's fun to watch and listen to.

I never fully believed he had a skin condition, though I suppose it was probably true.  It was very odd to watch this man who was born black with normal features morph into a pale, plastic, broken-beaked man.  His nose became a tragedy of plastic surgery, and the rest of his face was incredibly strange as well. It was heartbreaking that the young man I thought was so cute in the early 80's had disappeared, mutilated by well-paid plastic surgeons (not that I see him as a victim of his surgeons, though- it was a tragic addiction that I watched in horror over the years.)

It was very sad for me when Jackson started acting bizarrely (well, more bizarrely) in the late 80's and 90's, taking vacations with Macauley Culkin (who was still quite young), showing his Neverland Ranch (which was kind of fascinating in a sad, I-wish-I-were-a-child way), supposedly fathering a few oddly-named children, marrying and divorcing the daughter of Elvis Presley, marrying again, divorcing again, and of course, being accused of child molestation.  He was never convicted, but no one ever looked at him the same.  It was very sad; regardless of whether he did it or not, people were hurt and his life and career would never quite be the same.  It's possible he was guilty, it's also possible that these people saw an opportunity for a settlement from one of the wealthiest people in America and jumped on it.  I think he was looney, but I don't dare really even have an opinion as to his guilt.

 I will always love those 80's albums by Michael.  I was sorry he died the way he did, so young and leaving three children behind, but in the end, it's probably just as well.  Would his face have deteriorated until we were watching a skeletal MJ sing and dance and try to defend unusual behavior?  Would he have had more legal trouble?  They say he was out of money; his career was declining; he was becoming not much more than a sideshow freak. Then again, maybe he's still alive and living in South America with Elvis...

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