So there I was last Thursday having a late lunch in the Santa Cruz hills, enjoying the beautiful view of Monterrey Bay, when my cell phone rings and my friend tells me that Michael Jackson is dead. I had just gotten into town and was beginning what was supposed to be a relaxing few days vacation on the beach, when it dawned on me that I was going to miss out on being on the radio on one of the biggest, albeit saddest, days in music history. I don't intend that selfishly at all, but having grown up enjoying much of Michael Jackson's music like most of you, I would have been honored to be able to discuss and remember his life and music on the radio with everybody that day. Instead, from now on Santa Cruz and Michael Jackson will be forever linked in my mind, because even while on vacation, that story would dominate my next few days there. I found it a little peculiar sharing Michael Jackson moments with the hippie crowd which frequents the Santa Cruz area, a group of people I wouldn't normally peg as being big MJ fans. For instance, on Friday night I was enjoying a milkshake at a late-night diner which was playing nothing but MJ over their speakers, and noticed that even the rastafarian types there were bobbing their heads and smiling and singing along to Thriller, The Way You Make Me Feel, and Wanna Be Startin' Something. But I think that's exactly why Michael Jackson was so immensely popular, because his music really appealed to so many different and diverse types of people. I imagine that just about everyone over the age of 14 can name at least one MJ song, which is very unusual for an artist that hasn't had a legitimate hit in as many years.
My first memory of Michael Jackson was during the Thriller album years. I was too young to be interested in pop music at that point, but I was vaguely aware of his name because an older friend of the family that I knew had the Thriller cassette tape, but had to hide it from his parents because they didn't want him listening to it. Some things never change! By the time the Bad album (CD's were available by then, but I didn't have a CD player yet, haha!) came out in 1987, I was just starting to listen to the radio and did like some of his songs, Smooth Criminal in particular. Man In The Mirror, one of my fave MJ tunes now, was also on that album, but I recall not particularly liking that one as a kid. It's funny how your attitude toward songs can change as you grow up a bit. I also remember what a big deal each new Michael Jackson video was back then. MTV would always make a huge deal about the premiere of one of his new videos, which were generally more like short films, often about 10 minutes long. And whenever MTV would count down their Top 100 videos all of time, Thriller would always be #1. I wonder when MTV stopped doing those countdowns? Most likely in the mid-90's I would imagine, when they stopped playing videos altogether!
The 90's weren't so friendly to MJ. The sexual molestation allegations hit, and his songs just weren't as good as they were in the 80's. Black Or White was definitely a classic from his Dangerous CD in 1991 (yes, I had a CD player by then!), and he had a few more hits off of that album, but those aren't the ones we love to hear these days like his previous material. By this time he was starting to have lots of plastic surgery, he got married, got divorced, got married again, had more plastic surgery, and began mixing up babies in petrie dishes. At the point he hit the Top 10 for the final time of his career, 1995's You Are Not Alone, his strange behavior was definitely outweighing his musical successes in the public eye. And that's sad. I guess that means if you're in your twenties or younger, and started following MJ's career in the 90's, you know him more for being a freak or a child molester than for being a legitimate pop star. But did he really molest those young boys? I have no idea of course, but keep in mind he was never convicted of the charges against him. And it seems to me if your kids were really violated in such a manner, you as parents would want the offender to be pronounced guilty and sent to jail as opposed to just paid off financially. But who really knows? Now that Michael Jackson has passed, I hope people can separate the music from the man and really appreciate what a musical revolutionary he really was, and the unparalleled success he had. Like the 17 Top 10 hits he had in the 80's alone, including an unheard of 8 Top 10's from his "Thriller" album alone! It's sad that it takes Jackson's death to get people focused on his music again, instead of the tabloid fodder which was always in his shadow for the last two decades of his life. I for one am glad that I can remember at least some of the 80's, and was able to enjoy his music before forming an opinion about his personal life.