Yet my family took car trips to Curtis Mayfield. My mom vacuumed to Smokey Robinson. And I remember playing with my dolls singing “Baby Love” by the Supremes, likely having learned the lyrics by osmosis.
There was a gap between what I experienced and what was recognized by the media. And since what made me excited wasn’t in the media, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to get really excited about outside of my world.
Then one night in 1983, this show called Motown 25 came on network TV. I knew it was a big deal because my dad spent the week wiring the TV to the stereo so that we could hear it in through the speakers.
I didn’t know that much about the Temptations, nor the other acts that performed early on in the show. But I knew enough about one performer named Michael Jackson to get really giddy about seeing him perform.
He came out on stage with his brothers, and sang these cute songs that sounded vaguely familiar, but not recognizable to me with his no-longer high-pitched singing voice.
Oh. my. God. On that stage–on TV–was this smooth singer and dancer defying gravity. And then he did this move where he slid backward. Ooooh snap, did you see that?!?!
And the next day on the playground–Janel, Keith, Shannon…did you see that?!?! What was that called, the Moonwalk? Check it out, I can do it too! Do you have the new album? I’m Billie Jean, no I am!!
All of the sudden, Michael Jackson was everywhere. Not only was I excited about things like the Thriller behind the scenes video (and begged my parents spend $100 on the VHS tape), but so were other kids my age who didn’t look like me. My generation had something in common.
We all had the lapel button with him in the yellow sweater vest. We all had the folder filled with magazine clippings from Teen Beat. We all thought he was looking at us on the cover picture for the Thriller album.
The impact of this stayed with me through the confusion of seeing him in the Bad video acting tough but looking–well, feminine. And I held onto those early memories through the less savory events in the 90’s and 2000’s.
I was pulling for him to pull it together and once again be the thriller of a presence that changed my perspective on the world. But yesterday, that chance was taken away from him.
The commentary since has ranged from laudatory to treating his life like a cautionary tale, and people have a right to their opinions. Thinking of the events later in his life also makes my stomach churn. However, what sticks with me most of all are those early happy memories.
That’s how Michael Jackson entered my life, and that’s how he will be immortalized to me.