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Friday, June 26, 2009
Michael Jackson, RIP
Where were you when you heard the King of Pop had died? I was at my office walking someone through the system settings on a Mac. A coworker announced the news and I let out a loud "NO SHIT?" before I could think twice. Thankfully, no one in management was within earshot.
I headed over to Last Thursday after work. As I was driving, every radio station in Portland was either talking about or playing Michael Jackson's music. Alberta Street was lined with tributes. A street artist drew the picture above and had it sitting out on his card table alongside his other stuff for sale. Someone had already printed up t-shirts and was selling them on a corner. On nearly every block, you could hear a track from Thriller wafting out of a living room window or a sidewalk boom box. One guy was break-dancing in the street to "Beat It." A group of people were jiggling-around to "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" a few blocks down.
Yesterday morning, about eight hours before everyone heard the news, I was sitting in the Noah's Bagels in Hillsdale. "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)" was playing on the speakers overhead and I thought that it was a rather random song for a bagel shop music mix. I started thinking about when Michael Jackson began creeping back into popular culture, despite over a decade of allegations about sexual abuse and other sordid weirdness. It's as if, at some point, maybe around 2005, perhaps further back than that, everybody just decided to ignore all of it and begin listening to his music again.
Tracks from Thriller started creeping back into commercials. There was the YouTube video of that prison in the Philippines where all of the prisoners were dancing to the title track. It was no longer odd to walk into a bar and hear songs from Off the Wall playing in the background.
You've got to wonder what would have happened to Michael Jackson if he hadn't, let me be blunt here, gone completely insane right around 1987. How many more great albums did he have in him? Could he have better navigated the changing musical landscape in the '90s if he hadn't been too busy indulging his darkest desires in the back corners of his own twisted Xanadu? Would his music have still been relevant at the turn-of-the-century? He had the potential to be a pop cultural and philanthropic juggernaut/zeitgeist, the likes of which the world had never seen before.
For a few years there, in the mid-'80s, he came close to that. The dude had the potential to become president....of the entire universe.
I don't have any out-of-the-ordinary Michael Jackson anecdotes (that one is great) to share here. Like a lot of people my age, Thriller was one of the first records I purchased when I was a kid. I spent a good amount of time in grade school imitating the Moonwalk. I'll never forget the time when I stood in a line snaking around a downtown department store in Seattle with my parents. We waited three hours to buy tickets for a Michael Jackson concert at the Tacoma Dome. A few days prior to the show, he canceled due to illness. He never rescheduled.
Despite it all, I was pulling for him. I wanted to see a Michael Jackson comeback. One final burst of triumph before he completely succumbed to the weight of fame, madness, time, plastic surgeries and all the rest. Could he have actually pulled off those 50 concerts in the UK? We'll never know.