Friday, June 26, 2009

The King is Dead. Long Live the King.

I remember the first time I heard the name Michael Jackson.

"Is he a baseball player?" I asked my friend Martin Ruppel.

It was 1983, and I was more concerned with filling my hockey sticker album and playing my Atari than I was with the music world.

"No, stupid," Martin said, "He's a singer. You know...'Beeeeaaaat iiiiiiitt, beeeeaaaat iiiiiiiitt!'? That guy."

"Oh, him," came my enthusiastic reply.

Martin and I were neighbours. We hung out nearly every day during the summer holidays, which we spent playing board games, riding bikes, swapping hockey stickers & cards, and Atari games, and more importantly, listening to music.

The radio played constantly at Martin's house. With the album Thriller having topped the charts, with many hit singles off that album, it also meant that Michael Jackson played constantly at Martin's house. Of course, in short order we knew all the words to every song...

At my birthday party that year, my dad rented a VCR and the Thriller video. It was a blast... imagine a room full of ten-year olds, hopped up on sugar, clumsily trying to emulate the King of Pop's moves!

In 1983, what kid didn't want to be Michael Jackson? That Christmas saw a lot of sparkly gloves, red leather jackets (covered in vestigial zippers), and instructional videos on how to "moonwalk" appear under the Christmas trees of my friends. There were moonwalking contests at school, both impromptu schoolyard affairs and officially sanctioned contests in the school gym. Kids were warned they weren't allowed to wear their sparkly gloves while school was in session, and any-and-all Walkmans (Walkmen?) would be confiscated until the end of the school year.

"Weird Al" Yankovic's parody "Eat it" came out not long after, which took my elementary school by storm. I remember I was eating lunch at Martin's house when I first heard the song. Martin had just made us some corned beef & mozzarella sandwiches and was bringing them to the living room when the song came on. He grabbed a sandwich and started eating it while singing along with the radio, hopping on the furniture like a ten-year old Tom Cruise. I never laughed so hard in my life.

Twenty-six years on, and I remember it like it were yesterday.




I was listening to my shortwave radio last night. The portable antenna I bought arrived in the mail yesterday, and I was keen to try it out. Wow, what a difference from the antenna I'd made from an alligator clip, fish hook, and speaker wire! Most stations were coming in clear as day, and I was able to pick up (however faintly) stations I'd never heard.

I thought it odd that a Bolivian station would be playing Billie Jean in the middle of the night, but shrugged it off. It's still one of my favourite songs (love that bassline!).

Spinning the dial further, I caught the name "Michael Jackson" in the midst of a Chinese broadcast. Wow, weird coincidence.

I caught snippets of Billie Jean on a couple of more stations, and the full enormity of it hit me when I found Radio New Zealand International. The King of Pop has passed on. Cardiac arrest at age 50, just before his world tour.

I was stunned. Wow, Michael Jackson is dead... it's hard to believe, but it's true.

I'm not sure how I feel. On one hand, his music reminds me of a happier, more innocent period in my life. On the other hand, I remember the person he became later in life. Whether troubled, ill, or perverse, "Wacko Jacko" was too weird for words, and an object of much scorn and derision.

I guess I want to remember him the way he was when I was ten. Michael Jackson's Thriller still evokes memories of happier times of bike rides and best friends, of bad dance moves and worse fashion, and for that, Michael, I say thank you.

Out of respect for the deceased, comments are closed. If you want to make pedophile jokes, do it on your own fucking blog. You know who you are.