To say that the world has become a lot poorer is a sadly exhausted cliché, one of those rhetoric devices of grief to be used when someone dies. And yet, I found it to be painfully true when I heard of Michael Jackson’s death. I remembered when I used to joke that we were privileged to be contemporaries of a black man that was capable of becoming freakishly white. Only later did I reason that it was something truly important; not the politically incorrect move on the race playing field – he didn’t need it. He was already a millionaire, an icon, an idol when he went for it. It was the fact that he was so abnormal, so outside of the norm, that he became unique, even if he looked like some kind of musical Bizarro Superman. And how refreshing that was in a media landscape progressively possessed by the vacuous reality-show sameness of everybody in it.
I can’t say that I particularly enjoyed Michael Jackson’s music. At least not to that degree when you have to buy all is albums, know all the lyrics by heart. I’ve enjoyed some of the songs from the Bad album (1987) and can scarcely remember the titles of any of his later songs. But his music went beyond that. It was part of my – or should I say, ours – soundscape; one couldn’t be a total stranger to his music, not when it poured from every radio, every TV screen, every record store. It was, as few others are, a permanent fixture of my life.
And none other as much as the themes from his Thriller (1982) album. I can’t say how many times I’ve heard Billie Jean, or to how many sweet moments from my youth that theme is attached, like the soundtrack of my own inner biopic. I was but twelve when the amazing Thriller (John Landis, 1983) video clip hit the news and changed forever the face of pop music, popular perceptions of horror and popular entertainment. It surely changed me. It was the first time I ever remember hearing the voice of Vincent Prince and instantly falling in love with it. I had yet to see An American Werewolf in London (1981) and didn’t yet know who John Landis or Rick Baker were. But that video, that voice, that music, were the hook that forever dragged me into the horror territory. And I still find absolutely amazing the way Jackson choreographed the unmistakable break-dance moves with the iconic shuffling and dragging and stiff movements of classic zombies.
When one goes to the bottom of the death of someone like Michael Jackson and the ways it impacts one’s life, one’s hard pressed to say from where stems the pain and the longing. As I write this, VH1 is playing a “10 best Michael Jackson Videos” as surely must be all other music channels and radios around the world. For me, Jackson was always that and nothing else: the music, the videos, the soundtrack to my life. And all that still remains. And yet, with Jackson, the outsider, the eternal child, the king of pop, the Bizarro Black Man, there went also the promise of constant – if eccentric – change. He was the well from where had sprang so many of the magical moments in my youth. With him, there also died of piece of each one of us. And it feels like a piece of cold hard steel in my chest.