It’s been a sad week with the passing of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett and now Michael Jackson. I identify all three with different parts of my childhood. I feel the worst about Michael Jackson. His was a life that was derailed along the way, his childhood never quite fulfilled and an ongoing struggle for him to find his place in the world on his own terms. But, beyond his personal troubles, he was a singular entertainer and artist. There can be no doubt he’s one of the greats of pop music and entertainment.
Like pretty much everyone else in the world, I enjoyed his music. I’ll admit I never found the need to purchase any of his albums. He seemed so ubiquitous in the 80s it didn’t seem necessary to pester my parents for his music. Oddly, I did long for the over $100 “Beat It” jacket but settled for a much less expensive, nylon/polyester one that only evoked a feeling of being inspired by the original. By the time the 90s came and I had my own buying power, I had moved on. In our iTunes collection of over 5900 items (we have several hundred CDs as a starting point), there are just 3 songs with Michael Jackson singing: “Thriller,” “Billie Jean” and The Jacksons’ “Can You Feel It.”
Why those songs? I can’t speak of “Billie Jean” since that came as part of my wife’s music collection, but I can trace “Thriller” and “Can You Feel It” back to a birthday party in elementary school. I was fairly introverted as a kid, even more so than now. It was a trait that often got pegged as being aloof, though I’ll admit I did look down on fellow grade schoolers who fooled around during class rather than do their work. Out of the blue one of my classmates, DeForest, I think, invited me to his birthday party. This was unprecedented. Me, invited to an evening birthday party? Of course I’d go.
I can tell you this party was on Friday, December 3rd, 1983 because it was scheduled to coincide with the premiere of the Thriller video on MTV. The party itself was fun, filled with snacks and video game playing, much like parties today. The centerpiece was the premiere. We all gathered in the living room to watch first “Can You Feel It” and then “Thriller.” “Can You Feel It” surprised me as it had this crazy science fiction / fantasy vibe with the Jacksons as super powered beings coming to Earth to spread hope, love and rainbows to the people of the world. Check out the video:
The main feature, “Thriller”, was both more and less cool than “Can You Feel It”. It wasn’t all space/new-age inspired but it was a full story with a beginning (with a twist), a middle (with a different twist) and an ending (with a final twist). It had Vincent Price doing narration, who at that time I knew mostly from the Dr. Phibes films. Who doesn’t know Price’s ending laugh? The werecat and zombie make-up was bad ass, as good or better than anything I’d seen in movies (pretty much limited to VHS rentals at the time due to my age). To top it off, the main dance number was insane! A quarter century later, anyone can raise their arms, sway them back and forth just so and you know what they’re doing. It was just 30 minutes or less for the two videos, commercials, etc. but I remember it so clearly. In fact, most of the rest of the night is pretty foggy in my mind, but being there for that video is cut in stone in my memory. It was a great evening.
So, that’s my Michael Jackson story, on this sad day of his passing. Maybe it’s time to browse iTunes or Amazon for a few more of his songs to add to the collection.