It is one of my (if not, THE) first musically memory I have.
I was listening to the “Dangerous” album on the way to school. I remember singing along and trying to figure out why I enjoyed this music so much. I tried to sing along and copy a harmony here or there but eventually I just resigned myself to listen. There was something enchanting about the music. It spoke to me, even at six years old. I still to this day can’t figure it out what it was that was.
Then I started listening to the older stuff eventually. My mom realized that I loved “Dangerous” and began playing some of his older music for me on our rides to school. It was the first time I heard him as a child in the Jackson 5. I couldn’t understand how this kid, who was almost the same age on record as I was, could do what he did.
I was seven years old, hanging out at my cousin Jenny’s house. I remember it being a warm summer day. I was bored so I started digging through my uncle’s record collection and stumbled upon “Off the Wall”. Listened to it for thirty seconds and then asked him if I could keep it. I still have it to this day.
I started really getting to know the music at about seven years old. My aunt Irma video taped a bunch of his live performances for me. Motown’s 25th Anniversary, the Super Bowl, the Thriller music video, Moonwalker, etc. I saw them all. Even made a special effort to go watch Captain EO and The Wiz. I knew that I couldn’t dance but I knew the music backwards and forwards. I knew all the moves, all the changes and all the words. I still do.
I’m not really sure why I’m so attached to Michael Jackson and his music. Maybe it’s nostalgia but his music never left my life. Even through his tougher years, I listened to him. Though I never really enjoyed anything after “Dangerous”, I remained a true fan. It was one of the first areas in my life that I really had any kind of opinion about, anything that I could say with any kind of authority that I still loved his music, regardless of what was happening in his personal life.
Fast forward to the genesis of my musical life. Michael Jackson was still there. His music still spoke to me at a primal, instinctual level. But as I started to really research the music making process and the history behind the music, I became more enamored with the legend and the legacy that he had already left. I knew that I couldn’t copy him. So instead I tried to do what everyone else does- I tried to emulate him. I’m sure you’re confused, but what I mean is that I try to bring the same magic to my music as he did with his.
Yes, he reshaped pop music, changed the importance of music videos, was one of the greatest and most successful entertainers ever. Michael Jackson, much like the Beatles and Elvis altered the direction of pop music. His music has everything. It’s got masterful production. The lyrics are consistently fantastic. The vocals are perfect with just a touch of sadness. And the vision accompanying it was never far off.
But I think it was the fact that Michael could always make you stop and listen to what he was saying. And if you didn’t want to listen, at least you could dance to it. He was the kind of performer who was a superstar and knew it, but you still called him Michael.
When I found out today that he passed away, I didn’t want to believe it. I still don’t. Having such a huge childhood influence suddenly leave your life is never easy. He influenced the world and he influenced millions of people like me. His music is woven into the fabric of who I am as a music listener and music maker. The worst part about the mourning process is that in listening to his music, you can’t help but feel a little bit better.
It may be trite to say this but it seems true now more than ever. There are many imitators, but Michael Jackson is the one true King of Pop.
You will be missed, Michael. Thank you for your music.