Saturday, June 27, 2009

Michael Jackson (1958-2009) A Legend Remembered: Life, Death and The 80’s

On June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died.

In 1983, I was a 9 year-old watching Michael Jackson capture lightning in a bottle and share it with the world on the Motown 25 TV Special.

Back then, I, or no one else for that matter, could have predicted his untimely death over 25 years later…or the frenzy it has been since he left us from this, sometimes, cruel world.

The following are just tidbits of thoughts, points made, memories and recollections of the man many idolized and wanted to duplicate in dance moves and talent.

Michael Jackson: The Artist

As an artist, I have always appreciated Michael’s hard work and diligence. I appreciated his quest for perfection. I appreciated and admired, his dedication to his craft.

It takes becoming an artist to yourself before becoming an artist to the masses…to the public…to others.

Michael was able to see past those who didn’t believe he could pull off a solo career, let alone, a massive selling album.

People, who can remember, and some who do not, must realize that Michael Jackson was under enormous pressure and written off as another child star from the 70’s along the likes of Donny Osmond and Shaun Cassidy. Not only that, he also had to face a very prejudice industry, particularly the Rock & Pop music companies, producers, artists and fans. Some of them were still mad and angry at Disco Music and The Bee Gees, Chic, Donna Summer and anyone else that produced dance music that continued to top charts, make money and regulate them to the back of the music store racks for over 2 years. The heads of MTV anyone?

Michael Jackson faced a lot of opposition. At any point, he could have given up. At any point, he could have said “The hell with this…I’m done!” But he did not. He used the opposition, the ridicule. All of it, as fuel to his artistic fire. And the rest is…..

It would be only fair to say that Michael Jackson was a talented genius despite the pain and suffering he endured.

Death of Celebrities, The Three Stooges & The Wisdom of Gertrude Boykin

As the Death of Michael Jackson send the media and news agencies into a fury, I believe one of my first memories of a celebrity to die would be Elvis Presley and John Wayne. I don’t know why, I was really young but I do remember the news being on TV. I knew Elvis was a singer and John Wayne was a cowboy in movies. But, other than that, I really didn’t understand what death really meant.

I remember going to the funeral of my grandfather but I just wanted to go home. I didn’t know him that well, so no real connection was ever made between us.

It wasn’t until a few years later, I was about 7, while I was watching The Three Stooges and The Little Rascals reruns on TV, did I ask my cousin “Do you know where the Three Stooges and Little Rascals live? In a house like us?” He told me they were all dead. “Dead?” I said. He said, “They were dead and they weren’t around anymore.”….I started to cry….I didn’t understand.

 These shows, the people on them made me laugh. I couldn’t wait to see them on TV. And they’re dead? Then it dawned on me….Am I going to die? My mom, dad, everyone I know? Not around anymore? At which point, I really started to cry….

My grandmother, Gertrude Boykin, the family matriarch and mother of 14 children, pulled me to the side and told me to stop crying….that everybody has to die. I said “But Why?” She told me “That it’s just the way it is.” Then, she took my hand and told me something I will never repeat…something she saw in the palm of my right hand….A wisdom about life and death….

My “granny” Gertrude was born in Louisiana in 1908, a child of mixed race, Black mother and White father….she was so light skinned that she was hidden from the White people in the area, on the count that some might not take “too kindly” to a half-black, half-white girl living in their neighborhood….But the things she learned along her journey in life, the stories she told us and everything that was a part of her was a sum of the words she spoke that day….

Motown 25, Thriller & The American Music Awards….

It was 1983. I was 9 at the time the Motown 25th Anniversary Special was to air and my family was excited….then the Jackson 5 came on….then Michael Jackson went solo….and then….ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE!

The following school day, “Everybody and their momma was talkin’ ‘bout Michael Jackson!!” And so it was.

Even the bullies wanted to be like him….We all found a common interest…

The weeks that followed were crazy…the radio wouldn’t stop playing his music…videos on TV….

The guy next door was one of the first on our block to have a VCR. We kids around there thought that was the “Wave of The Future”…His son would come out to play with us and we all would sneak and look through his window and we watched him rewind the Michael Jackson dance from the Motown Special….over and over again….That Was The S***!!!

You can watch it over and over??? Damn…That’s cool!

That summer, when school was out…All I remember is waking up early to watch Tom & Jerry, Tex Avery, Woody Woodpecker, Flintstones, Bozo Show…eating cereal….and at 9am, Lost In Space…Then, at about the time of "Danger, Will Robinson, Danger", my neighbor would start his mornin’ routine….Time For The THRILLER album…The LP! ALL MORNING…OVER AND OVER…LOUD and BOOMIN’…BILLIE JEAN, BEAT IT, WHATEVER….

Because of him, and my brother, who had the cassette and combined with the radio stations and video shows playing it, I didn’t need to buy the Thriller album….it wasn’t until 2005 that I finally sat down and listened to it for myself. After listening to it, I called a friend and said…”Hey, I just listened to Thriller…Its pretty good…I hope Michael Jackson does good with it.” My friend just said, “You’re Stupid.” And we both laughed…..

The American Music Awards broadcast is 1984 was also exciting because it was Michael Jackson’s night.

And the following school day, that’s all we talked about…..

I remember a group of friends from school going to a classmates’ house back then…he was a Michael Jackson fan and he wanted us to come to his family’s house. His father was very well-known and owned a few stores in the area, with video game machines, like Pac-Man and Pole Position, and selling candy and snacks. So, of course, he was loaded with money.

We go to his house, his mom was watching her “stories”. It was “All My Children” I believe…back then, it seems that everybody watched “All My Children”, especially African-Americans because of the “love” between the Jesse and Angie characters….I know this because my mom, sisters watched it during the summer and I had to wait until all soap operas were over before I could watch The Monkees, The Jackson 5 cartoons, Speed Racer, Banana Splits or whatever was on in the afternoon…Only 1 TV in the living room…To live in the 80’s….

But I digress….

So we go into this guy’s room and it was wall-to-wall Michael Jackson posters….YOU COULDN’T SEE THE PAINT ON THE WALL….ALL MICHAEL JACKSON….The jacket….A glove….The Doll….Everything….He and his entire family all had Jheri Curls!! Ah, again, The 80’s…..

It must have been nice for him.

As for me, I had my comic books, G.I. Joe toys, He-Man action figures…and heard Michael Jackson on the radio, saw his videos, and that was good enough for me….

His Skin Condition, The Burns, The Pain Inside….

When Michael transformed into something different than what he use to be, it was scary.

He said he had a medical condition, Vitiligo, that caused his skin to becoming lighter. A cousin of mine had this disease and it was very spotty in the areas it showed up.

I’m not sure but I believe Jackson may have had burns more severe than what was reported.

When Michael Jackson suffered burns from an accident during a Pepsi commercial, the whole world was watching…

He was never the same after that.

I believe that he suffered some sort of shock or trauma because of it. Or, maybe, there were visible scars, burns or pain that he did not want the world to know about that lead to possible addictions to medications, plastic surgery and other issues.

The world must understand that this man was the chief bread-winner for an entire family and extended family.

Is there any wonder that Thriller never had an official tour, rather, the Jackson brothers teamed-up with Michael for a “Victory” Tour is support of the album?? It was business as usual…

Michael couldn’t afford to lose at that point….In 1984, he was still on top.

I could only imagine the pressure he went through in his life. If people only understood or knew, I believe they would not have been so judgmental of every F******* thing he did.

But thus is the nature of the beast. Like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and others. When a person gets to the point of no return…no normal life to live….Isolated, under pressure to be the best every time and CAN have whatever their heart’s desire, it’s a lonely place to be….

Understand this, when you’re on top, jealousy and envy shall be your enemy…and there will be those who hate you because…well, you’re the best at what you do and some people just don't know how to dance…..

The Generation Gap and The Appreciation from Generation X

Most older people cannot understand this out-pouring of grief and celebration, because, most of their icons, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, James Brown, John Lennon, George Harrison, are gone and Michael Jackson inspired a new generation of music listeners.

Most younger people cannot understand it because they only know of Michael Jackson as being accused of Child Molestation, looking “weird”, etc. and their icons are Beyonce, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, etc.

But, anybody, in their 30’s now and slightly younger, will always remember the hysteria surrounding the music of Thriller and the moonwalk and dance moves of Michael Jackson. It was OUR time.

We are the ones who were inspired and entertained not only by Michael Jackson but Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, Huey Lewis and The News, Prince, The Police...All of them, and more, have left their mark on our lives.

I have come to notice that most of the younger generation, especially those born in the 80s have this hate or disdain for 80’s music anyway…The 90’s, The 80’s, The 70’s, Now, its all good to me!

Since, I can only speak from experience and an artistic viewpoint, the 80’s was a great time for music and art…it was fun…it was like a party all the time! Speaking of which, even Eddie Murphy and Don Johnson had hit songs!! This time for my generation, Generation X, cannot be duplicated and we can only find hints of it in our daily lives....sometimes.

Lisa Marie Presley and the Fight To Save Michael Jackson From It All

In recent days, Lisa Marie Presley has come out to say many things concerning her relationship with Jackson. And I believe her words to be true.

If you can imagine two people who had “not-so-normal” a childhood being together, these two would be it.

And Presley, as she has said, thought she could save him from himself. She thought of him as a friend first.

But, in most cases, and from personal experience, most people get lost in the destruction they try so desperately to fight against. They actually must pull away from people on a deep slide because they will bring down the person trying to help also.

Whatever happened between these two, I can understand Presley’s perspective on it all.

I truly believe Presley was one of the few people in Jackson’s life to help him face realities in his own life, to come to terms with whatever happened in his past and break away from the vultures that hindered him.

My Favorite Michael Jackson Songs

Here is my list of my favorite Michael Jackson songs that are probably being downloaded this moment:

Rock With You – One of the first Michael Jackson songs I heard especially in a family that was mostly church-goers. My older sister, a rebel in her own right, is one of earliest influences on me to whom I owe much of my diversity of music from. I remember her buying records and cassettes like The Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Teena Marie, Stevie Nicks, Bruce Springsteen and others. Just sitting and listening to them. She would play “Rock Wit You” and hearing it now does bring back memories of that time.

I Want You Back, Got To Be There, The Love You Save, Dancing Machine and Never Can Say Goodbye – These songs from when Michael Jackson was in the Jackson 5 are truly for repeat listening. I came across most the Jackson 5 music from the cartoon since I wasn’t even born when they burst on the scene.

"Off The Wall", "Blame It on the Boogie" (The Jacksons), "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)" (The Jacksons), "Can You Feel It" (The Jacksons) – JUST DANCE ALREADY!….If you listen to these songs and not get up and move, please, check your pulse…..

Say, Say, Say – Michael duets with Paul McCartney. I was a Beatles fan and this was the ultimate team-up. Like Spider-Man and Superman….Take your pick.

From Thriller: Beat It, Billie Jean, Thriller, Human Nature, PYT (Pretty Young Thing), Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin – All hits and who can ever forget the great videos….A MASTERPIECE!!

From Bad – Smooth Criminal, Dirty Diana – Not sure what happened…Too much creative control?? Trying to be better than the massive Thriller?? It was a good album but Smooth Criminal stands out above them all.

From Dangerous – Jam, Remember The Time, Can’t Let Her Get Away, Who Is It, Gone Too Soon – I was going through my Michael Jackson CDs and totally forgot about “Can’t Let Her Get Away”…AWESOME SONG! That was one I listened to over and over…. And “Jam” with the video featuring Michael Jordan, Kriss-Kross and Heavy D….Classic! And the song “Who Is It”, I still have the cassette single for that….and “Gone Too Soon” is as fitting a farewell song as any.

From HIStory – You Are Not Alone – You can hear Michael singing with all honesty…as if he’s in a mirror, singing to himself….

From Invincible – You Rock My World – This, to me, has all the elements of everything that was the artistry of Michael Jackson with a little bit more soul thrown into the mix. I listen to this and can only imagine what more he could have done.

Well, this is it, my tribute to a legend….

Taking out some time to reflect on his life as well as memories of him throughout the years…Its going to be a long week ahead and his music is definitely going to be played, downloaded and heard throughout the world.

Thank you Michael for all your work of art and being an inspiration to us all…

Rest In Peace.



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