It's not about the house.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Michael Jackson was my first real boyfriend.

Well, David Cassidy was my first real boyfriend, but those shows were on reruns by the time we met. Michael was my first real real-time boyfriend, and he taught me to start thinking for myself.

I loved the Jackson 5 when I was really little, but somehow in my tweeny years I missed out on Off the Wall. I was twelve, maybe thirteen, when Thriller came out, and I remember passing a note to my friend Dawn in typing class (which, now that I've heard myself say that phrase out loud: how many of you out there remember typing class!?). The note said "Don't tell anybody, but I think Michael Jackson is the best singer ever!!!"

He may have been the best-selling artist in the world, but it wasn't cool to like Michael Jackson at my school. I loved him dearly. My sister and I were babysitting at different houses on the night "Thriller" made its Friday Night Videos debut, and we spent the rest of the night on the phone with each other jumping out of our skins with every little sound until our respective grown-up folks came home. She wasn't what you'd call a diehard fan, my sister wasn't. Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty were more her speed. But she taught me to dance while Thriller played ("Just close your eyes and let your body do what it wants to do," she told me; I had fun, but I didn't move in any way like Michael did). And (last, but far from least) I didn't have the actual album with liner notes and everything -- I just had a tape of it somebody made me -- so Thriller is also where I learned to listen close to lyrics and try to figure out what they might mean.

I. Loved. Michael. Jackson.

And yet I knew it would be social suicide to publicly declare my love.

The second that I passed that note, though, I also knew it made me a betrayer -- although of myself or him, I couldn't say. I just was positive I'd done somebody wrong, and so immediately I wrote another note. "You know what?" the next one said. "Never mind. I don't care who you tell. I think Michael Jackson is the best, and I don't care who knows!"

After Thriller I went back in time to Off the Wall, which prepared me for Prince, who readied me for Jimi Hendrix, who led me to Muddy Waters and Fela Kuti and so on. This is all a noble lesson, and I'm thankful for it, but Thriller also gave me permission to say that Like a Prayer is a good album, that Faith was its own kind of masterpiece, and that Justin Timberlake does not completely suck. Thriller set me off on my musical life-path secure in the knowledge that everything doesn't have to boil down to rock vs. disco like it did (to my twelve-year-old mind, at least) before he came along. It demonstrated that there was a rare genius involved in crafting perfect pop. The Beatles knew this. Smokey knew it. Buddy Holly had a clue. But somewhere along the line the music snobs forgot.

They remember now.


Chief said...

Enough said.

Thank you, I couldn't have said it better myself.

DonnaStaf said...

Wow. A nice tribute that speaks well about how MJ led lots of us to the love and power of music. It is too bad that the social stuff has to cloud all of that now with his untimely passing. MJ is the perfect example of how difficult it is to walk the unbeaten path. I think he died of a broken heart, not heart disease...

beardonaut said...

I remember typing class. Oh the horror. The correct finger setting horror.

I have no relationship with Michael Jackson. Like a lot of artists, I can see how you can like him and I acknowledge his importance to music.

It is my firm belief that there will never be new icons in music like MJ, like Madonna, like the Stones, etc. You don't necessarily need to like them, but you have to acknowledge how many they've inspired.