It’s been a couple of days now since Michael Jackson died, but even now when I watch some of the news coverage, I still can’t quite believe this is all really happening. It’s as if his entire life was some amazing, epic and tragic novel. His death is like a fitting final chapter to the story, and even then there’s still so much more to come!
Since I was a kid I’ve always been a huge Michael Jackson fan, but up until the last few days, I never realised how much. Watching the BBC news on Friday morning I was amazed to find a few tears building up as I watched the reports. The same thing happened later that evening as I watched the video of Beat It on You Tube, which is my favourite Jackson video. I never imagined I’d ever feel that way about any singer or celebrity.
I’m one of those people that have always viewed and separated Michael Jackson the singer/performer from that of the man and celebrity. I know there’s some overlap, but for me it was always first and foremost about his music, his singing and dancing, no matter how bizarre, strange, and worrying his personal life was, I never forget what made him famous in the first place.
Earlier in the year I was reminded of his talent when I bought a triple CD box set of Motown records to celebrate their 50th anniversary. There was a track on there called ‘Got to be there’. I wasn’t actually familiar with the song, but I instantly loved it. I looked inside the CD sleeve to see what year it was made, and what I found amazing was that he must have been about 10 or 11 years old when he first sung it. He managed to convey so much soul and emotion into the song I thought to myself:
‘You’re like 10 years old, but yet you’re singing about love, romance, and relationships like you been through all that sort of stuff.’
I said to my mate that when I was 10 I could barely articulate my feelings about anything! The song just reminded me of what a child prodigy he truly was.
It feels as if Michael Jackson was always part of my life, he was always there. I think my earliest memories were staying up to watch the video to Thriller when it was first released. It was round at my aunt’s house, and me along with some of my extended family all gathered around the TV to witness this event, and that’s what it was, a real event. Although I was very aware of music and different artists, there had never been so much build up about one singer that I was aware of.
The video itself was like a mini film; it was about 15 minutes long, part horror film part music video, as a 7 year old it was really exciting, and a bit scary. Following other singles from the Thriller album like Beat It and Billie Jean I considered myself a Jackson fan.
After the success of Thriller, you wanted to know how he would follow it up. The period waiting for his next album from about 1984 to 1987 seemed like an absolute lifetime as a child. When the single and video for Bad was eventually shown on terrestrial TV for the first time, it was again a major TV and musical event. I wasn’t disappointed and I remember thinking that I wanted the album as soon as it was released.
I eventually got the album for Christmas on cassette. (There’re probably kids out there today who have no idea what tape cassettes are) It was the first proper record I ever had, and it was probably another year or so before I started buying records for myself. I loved the album, with Smooth Criminal being my favourite track. It certainly got plenty of rewinds on the little tape recorder I had.
Looking back, the years following the release of Bad were the ones in which his strange private life began to become as big a story as his music. His face and skin colour began to change significantly from how he looked in the 70’s and 80’s. I again wanted to focus on the music, as when he appeared on stage he seemed to be more ‘normal’ than when off it.
In 1991 he released the album Dangerous. Again, I got this for Christmas. I like the album, although I always thought half of it was very good, and the other half a bit so so. In terms of his music this album was really the beginning of the end for me.
At the time I never imagined that he would never produce a record again that I would not want to listen to, but the fact is that’s how it turned out. The last 15 years have been such a disappointment for me, as his music, talent and influence took a back seat, whilst the scandals, private life, and facial changes became ever more prominent. By the end of the 90’s I would look at photos of him and think:
‘What have you done to yourself? You look terrible’
When I finally got round to buying the album ‘Off the Wall’ (Still my favourite album) I was a bit of a shock to see this black man staring back at me on the front cover! The plastic surgery that he had, went to such an extreme that I look at it as almost self-mutilation. I wished he’d stopped it all towards the end of the 80s.
Over the last 10 years of so he’d become a sad parody of himself and of celebrity culture in general. I was always a bit sceptical about the 50 date London tour that he announced earlier in the year.
Did he have anything to really offer? A few weeks ago I’d begun to hear rumours that the physical demands of such a gruelling tour might be too much for him and that certain excuses where already being lined up for him to pull out. Last Thursday when I first heard he’d been rushed to hospital, I didn’t even bother to find out more about what was happening, I thought it was so unsurprising!
Like many people I've been reminding myself over the last few days of just how good some of his music was. I’ve loved watching videos like Beat It and Smooth Criminal and I’d forgotten just how good a dancer he was. Some of the choreography is amazing! It was so ambitious and on such a grand scale, it still dwarfs much of what you see today on MTV.
As I said earlier, he hadn’t really done anything of note since the early 90’s but I started to think that his peak was so great and so significant; that there was nothing else he could really do to top it! I can’t think of any singers who start their careers off in their 20’s and 30’s and then achieve their commercial and creative peak in their 40’s and 50’s, so maybe it’s understandable that his musical output was virtually non existent over the last 10 years.
I always hoped he’d perhaps make a real comeback and remind people what made him such a star in the first place. I thought it would have been great if he could have hooked up with producers such as Timberland, The Neptunes, or Kanye West. For me that would have been such a winning combination, but it’s not going to happen now.
Jackson’s music will always be a big part of my life, and his career is still an example of what can be achieved with amazing talent, ability and hard work. Unlike many people today who dream of being famous for the sake of it, I’m glad I grew up in the 80’s dreaming of being able to sing or dance like Michael Jackson and have some proper talent. Even today I haven’t given up the hope of being able to do a decent ‘Moonwalk’ it would be like my own little tribute to a true musical and cultural icon.