It probably helps that as Michael Jackson was growing up, so was I, albeit he had an 11-year headstart on me. Nonetheless, I can think of very few minus the truly jaded or cooler-than-thou who didn't at least appreciate what Michael Jackson brought to the table as a performer, be it as a standout component in a group or a singular shining star which outshone the spotlight chasing his form as hungrily as paparazzi over the course of his successful though troubled life.
People are comparing the death of Michael Jackson to Elvis Presley's passing, which is accurate is many aspects. It's been since Elvis found his true Graceland off of terra firma and John Lennon was violently jerked from the planet he loved so much since a major celebrity's death has impacted the world so greatly.
Ironic that only a year ago, conversations about the headline-torched Michael Jackson could rarely come up without comment about his unpredictable behavior much less obligatory foul pedophile jokes. After the world mourned Jackson's exodus from this life Thursday into Friday, said black humorists still found ways to make their irresponsible voices heard by rehashing the ugliest moments of Jackson's life. That seems to be the human nature which Michael crooned softly about on his mega-platinum Thriller album. Even he apparently knew the price of fame would one day betray him as much as it embraced him.
I'm not going to lie and say I wasn't shocked by Michael Jackson's weepy facial alterations and skin bleaching though I did entertain inside my head the possibility the man was very sick and few people took the time to propose that inside their own minds. As with anything else in this brutal society, people consistently mock and ridicule what they cannot possibly understand, nor do they wish to try.
Jackson certainly crossed the line by dangling his child outside a hotel window, whether he felt in control of the moment or not. The gesture was a bit of a backlash against a headhunting press and it could've cost the life of his precious son. The fact remains thereafter Michael Jackson was hauled into court and made to face the world he'd entertained for nearly his entire life.
It's been suggested Michael and his J5 sibs experienced a rough upbringing like Brian Wilson and his brothers. Add to this a fame so vast it impresses everyone but the paternal figure they most seek to appease and you can get an idea of why Wilson collapsed into a drug fugue. Ditto for Michael Jackson, the King of Pop bearing double the weight on his shoulders than Wilson, who so very much wanted to be a father himself and who wanted his legacy preserved for his kids. As a recent father myself, I've seen my child look to me for my approval whether the behavior is favorable or not so much. When denied the love and acceptance every being wants regardless of stature, certain adjunct patterns are likely to happen, as was the case with Michael Jackson.
At a young age I'd been well-exposed to the J5 and Motown. As heavy metal, punk and new wave were building themselves up in the late seventies, Michael Jackson the solo artist came and broke dance rock into a mainstream that was already in the midst of rejecting disco. Off the Wall, at least for the first five songs, is a fireball of rhythmic energy and here is where I would personally liked to have been a fly on the wall to see Michael's private life. We could speculate he was pulling down all the tail he could handle in this formative transition from the angelic afro-dashed child to the ultimate onstage seducer. But did he? Only those closest to him will be able to testify.
Michael Jackson may not have had the most masculine speaking voice but he undeniably projected the alpha male aggressor gene onstage with his confident gesticulations, lip-biting snarls, his militaristic stage garb and that eye of the tiger Survivor made as hip lingo in the same timeframe Jackson rose to prosperity. "Billie Jean," for example, is as fierce in tempo and delivery as much as it is sugarpop nirvana.
I have to say it; Michael Jackson was there first in my life before I turned metal. 1982 affected almost everyone in different ways. Mine was spent in obsession with E.T., G.I. Joe, Star Wars, Atari 2600, MTV, Prince, Devo, Duran Duran and Michael Jackson. "Billie Jean" blew me out of the water at age 12 to the point I had no issues with it appearing on the tube every single hour as MTV had just hit the cable airwaves. In fact, I looked forward to each showing. Yeah, in the privacy of an empty house, I got on my feet and tried those slick moves and gyrations (primitive compared to what Michael developed later on) and realized how freaking painful it was to move on those ankles and toes without the benefit of formal dance training. It only escalated my respect for MJ.
Shortly after this period I was introduced to Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio by my cousin and my course of music appreciation would be dramatically shifted for life. As I got older and more "metal," I turned into that ultra snob which most headbangers became, where anything that wasn't heavy as concrete-filled testes just wasn't "it." Of course, part of this angry metamorphosis was backlash towards the "devil worshipper" accusations I faced in freshman year in high school, but my mouth and joining weightlifting brought me out of that hazing ritual to where I got along with most people.
What they didn't know in my protective shield of heavy metal "anti-coolness" is that I could be found spinning Madonna, Michael Jackson, The Police and Tears for Fears in my bedroom, though I certainly couldn't admit this to my metal brethren! I'd have felt far worse a backlash from possible rejection by my own kindred, so I kept quiet the fact I went to sleep with Madonna's Like a Virgin many nights as I likewise never admitted that I respected Michael Jackson with all my heart.
The older you get, the sillier you feel in retrospect about who you were as a teenager. I've found there's nothing at all shameful about liking Vanessa Carlton as much as Judas Priest, or D'Angelo as much as Slayer. You hang with me these days, you're likely going to get Twisted Sister followed by Jerry Lee Lewis then Thievery Corporation then Darkest Hour then System of a Down then Steppenwolf then Bauhaus then Depeche Mode then Bad Brains then Minor Threat then Joy Division then Pelican. Yes, you're possibly going to get Michael Jackson's Bad or Off the Wall thrown into the mix before I pull some Four Tops on you and then get metal on you again.
I've written for six years now about metal, punk and rock and I still feel passion for these genres, there's no denying or changing it. The Ramones saved my soul and I will love them until I depart for the great rock club of the afterlife. Black Flag is the angriest music I've ever heard and I still hold a candle for that aggression when I'm feeling the same way. The Who continue to astonish me with their larger-than-life arena rock only Led Zeppelin bested them at. Iron Maiden is still the greatest metal band history has ever seen, as far as I'm concerned. Isis puts me onto a cosmic plane very few musicians have the capacity to do. Sade is one the sexiest voices I've ever heard, one who can put me in the mood as quickly as Barry White. The Japanese drumming ensemble Kodo are martial artists of their craft and I'm always shattered to consume their bombast. The Police, The Cars, Talking Heads and Duran Duran remain in my ears four of the greatest bands to evolve from a punk base into pop superstars. I'm lately obsessed with seventies pop, soul, funk and folk music, the last great era for all. Prince, well, I've stayed true to him even through the hard times; there is no greater-gifted overall musician living on the planet.
Then there's Michael Jackson, a man whose presence created gluts of saturation during the eighties to the point he had as many detractors as fans. It was impossible not to have haters since he was ram-rodded into our faces on a daily basis along with Bill Cosby, Cabbage Patch dolls and Ronald Reagan.
Still, you have to tip your hat off to Michael Jackson. If you're a rocker at heart, how can you not appreciate the fact Jackson was savvy enough (like Johnny Cash) to recognize the value of other genres and artists to the point he recruited Eddie Van Halen, the most respected guitarist of the eighties, to peel off a juicy solo on the street-tough "Beat it?" Ditto for hijacking Billy Idol's shredder Steve Stevens for some wicked chops on "Dirty Diana." On his Dangerous album, Michael Jackson let the rock come out on his peace train ride "Black Or White" and he took a page from Prince's book "Remember the Time," one of Michael's funkiest cuts ever.
Yeah, the metal magazines used to have Michael Jackson dartboards in them, but I guarantee you the editors were jamming to "Smooth Criminal" because that song is damn near perfect. I saw no qualms (at the time) with the the George Michael dartboard and the Bret Michaels dartboard, but even in my metal-til-death ethos of the eighties, I thought the Michael Jackson dartboard was out-of-line. Albeit, the grocery store I worked at in junior and part of senior year used to peddle "Beat It" shirts to the point it did annoy me, particulary since they were as hot a seller as New Kids On the Block shirts, neither of which to me at that point in time could make you as cool as wearing an Overkill shirt.
The sad reality for Michael Jackson is that he was forced to embody his song "Leave Me Alone" from Bad and exile himself in the face of mass accusation. I find it hypocritical the world has dropped to its knees in mourning for Michael Jackson, though it is the right thing to do for a man who brought more love into this world than hatred. Despite the smug pricks who crept out of the weeds with their insistence of telling Michael Jackson jokes on a day the world lost him and Farrah Fawcett, this indeed is an Elvis Presley moment for our generation, never mind the King of Pop was briefly hooked up with The King's daughter. It smacks Generation X perhaps harder than most since we came up with Michael, but the depressing part is that MJ didn't get his '68 Comeback Special like Elvis, even if Jackson was about to embark on a world tour.
Did he still have it? Was Michael Jackson about to erase the taint from his otherwise stellar career? These answers will remain swirled about the "what if?" ether. One thing is for sure, just out of curiosity, I peeked at a few record shelves in stores yesterday and everyone was blown out of their Michael Jackson stock. Doesn't matter whether you're ebony or ivory, metal or pop, Michael Jackson meant much to this world and it took his death to prove it.