On Memories And Michael Jackson

Published on July 30th, 2009 in: Editorial, Eulogy, Issues, Music |

It would be absurd to have a magazine devoted to pop culture and fandom and not have something to say about Michael Jackson. The man contributed so much to our culture that we were often unaware of references to him. Upon his death, these references we had seen before somehow became more poignant: a zombie character in a video game wearing a red jacket and walking backwards used to be a funny homage, worthy of a chuckle. Today that same image evokes emotions on top of that, as we realize it as a caricature of a man we never fully understood, even if we did love his work.

thriller picdisc

I was on my way home when I heard the news. My phone rang as the train pulled up to the station. “Did you hear about Michael Jackson?” Less Lee asked. “People are saying he died.” In my bleary-eyed state I found it hard to imagine. He was too young and, besides, hadn’t he died in 1983, and was since replaced by an alien being? Quite likely I just didn’t want to believe it could happen to someone who was such a childhood hero of mine, even though I did stop following his music shortly after the debut of the “Black Or White” music video (the extended version of which was the second thing I recorded from television, at my parents’ request, no less). After the shock wore off, and the jokes I made began to fade away into the echoes of everyone else’s, I truly felt sad. A connection to the past was severed, and there would be no comeback special.

In every friendship I’ve ever had, I’ve at some point brought up the story of how when I was a kid, I thought Michael Jackson was magic. His music videos are among the first I remember seeing and acknowledging as music videos. In “Billie Jean,” he steps on sidewalk stones and lights them up while another person cannot figure it out. “Thriller” truly terrified me, both the song and the video. Vincent Price’s narration was too scary for me to handle—and the video! I don’t think I’ll ever not have chills while watching the shot where Jackson lifts up his head and reveals he has changed. I used to think he could do that at will, and that he had a second set of eyes that would drop down (they were robot eyes) to achieve this effect.

mj pins

Michael Jackson was also the source of my first misheard lyric, and it was something that another kindergarten student got upset at me for. I thought the line in “Beat It” was “Show them how fucking strong is your fight,” which actually makes more sense than “funky” but I am left to wonder where I would have heard the f-bomb at such a young age.

I didn’t listen to much music through grade school and high school, but I always had a certain fondness for the album Thriller. In Grade 12, I took a cassette of it on a long religious retreat, listening to it repeatedly on my knock-off Walkman on the bus and on nature hikes. Just after college, I met some friends who liked Jackson even more than I did. These weren’t hipster kids trying to be ironic, but people with similar stories to mine. One friend even gave me a bagful of Michael Jackson buttons after she had purchased hundreds of them from eBay, and we spent time going through all of them and talking about the various time periods based on what his face looked like.

Jackson’s transformation was always something of a mystery. How could a man so brilliant, so attractive, put himself through that? His change in appearance mirrored the general public’s detachment from him. The more he changed, the less people seemed to like him. It’s possible even he liked himself less. After all, I don’t think anyone likes being pushed into show business. It’s something we can debate, but not something we might ever understand.

We live in a world a little less magical from the one we grew up in. But for me, Michael Jackson’s music will always evoke strong, fond memories of childhood. I’ll always remember dancing to “Rock With You” with my parents, and I’ll always remember my dad telling me when it was safe to look when “Thriller” came on the TV.

Memories like this play a large part in why we act the way we do, and why we like the things we like. It’s why we’re drawn to things that feed on our nostalgia. It’s why, even knowing that it’s going to be bad, I am still slightly excited about a movie called G.I. Joe. We keep special places in our hearts for things that evoke these memories, and this is why I will always think fondly of Michael Jackson despite not following his entire career. In the end, we too will become memories, and how we’re remembered is up to us.

Megashaun, Staff Editor

5 Responses to “On Memories And Michael Jackson”

  1. JL:
    July 31st, 2009 at 10:12 am

    This was a very sweet editorial. Compassionate.

  2. Dad in Bay St. Louis:
    August 7th, 2009 at 8:54 am

    This is really good, Megason. It pretty much mirrors how Cherri and I feel, and we remember him when he was just a little kid – not that he ever really grew up, I guess. We also wonder what tortured him so, what he was trying to find, and who he wanted to be. He seems to be a microcosm of humanity: aren’t we all tortured, searching for something, and reshaping ourselves every day?

  3. synthtube:
    September 19th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    It’s kind of interesting you just posted this (GREAT) article (incidentally – I also stopped following MJ at around “Black or White”).

    Over at Synthtube we were hemming and hawwing about posting a tribute to the man, but realised that on a site about synthesizer-based music, we couldn’t NOT and get away with it. His imact was simply too great on pop music, and the mainstream-izing of synths in pop. Who could imagine “Beat it” without the Synth bassline that is a signature of the track and has become so memorable to tens of millions? Can anyone even begin to imagine “Thriller” without that awesome Moog bassline? He was a legend, and he will be missed.

    Great work. 🙂

  4. Mama Peanut:
    September 25th, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    This is a really good article and tribute. I like the very personal comments and what MJ meant to you growing up. He definitely was a lost soul.

  5. dannela:
    October 6th, 2009 at 10:48 am

    you will never be replaced michael jackson

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