Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson: I Want You Back

"I want you back...gimme back what I lost!"
I'm not sure what I'm mourning for - Michael Jackson or my own youth. He was a giant in the 80s – a glitterball of possibilities, ubiquitous and invincible. As Sean "Diddy" Combs said, “MJ showed me that you can actually see the beat.”

Me too. Watching his body snap, curl and slam through the rhythm of his music was enough to feel it. In the later part of the decade when his magic faded, he became a carny-like attraction, a sad freak in a circus show. As Margo Jefferson wrote, Jackson became "a new kind of mulatto, one created by science and medicine and cosmetology." After Thriller his musical prowess also suffered - the rise of rap and hip-hop put him the position of playing catch up with the zeitgeist and for the rest of his career he was never again ahead of the curve.

I stopped listening after Thriller waned and was never anything like a fan. But he owned the early to mid-80s and was a constant presence, even if a somewhat uncool one with his ridiculous companions like Bubbles the chimp or Emmanuel Lewis. Jeff Koons captured some of this baroque absurdity in his porcelain pastiche:

Whatever his failings, one thing is certain: he was genuinely a global phenom. From Mandalay to La Paz to a Filipino prison Michael is the lingua-franca responsible for wrapping young studs in red leather and zippers all over the world, for better or worse.

The places where our worlds collided:

* in early 1983 I won a contest dancing to “Beat It” at Bumpers Disco in Whalley (trust me, it was all about Eddie Van Halen's riffage);

* in December 1989, I actually met the man...on Christmas Day at Disneyland. I was there courtesy of my mum who had brought the family to SoCal for a vacation. It was early morning and the park was virtually empty. Then from across the way this man in a glittering red military coat, sunglasses and a hat emerged accompanied by a Macaulay Culkin-type waif. I walked over and said, “Merry Christmas Michael!” and he squeaked, “Thank you.”

Thank you, Michael.

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