On Michael Jackson

26 Jun


What on earth can I possibly say today that hasn’t already been said, and much better at that, elsewhere? His life, his music, his troubles, the allegations, the courtcases, the many weirdnesses – you’ll find them all written about in extensive detail pretty much everywhere you turn for the next few days.

But it’s also one of those moments when I’m glad I have a blog because I’d like to think that at some point, if I can just hang on long enough, IndieQuill will be a record of sorts of my life over a certain period – and the passing of Michael Jackson is definitely a milestone that deserves its place here.

As weird as it sounds, Michael Jackson and Talat Mehmood were my introduction to music.

My parents had a deep fondness for Talat Mehmood (here is my mom’s favorite song from her favorite movie!) and would play his songs all the time. I quite liked them although I was almost five before I figured out that those sounds he made were actual words and they meant something. I’m not being mean – I truly didn’t make the connection until one day I was listening to O Panchhi Pyaare from Bandini and realized Asha Bhonsle was telling me a story. Well, not telling me specifically… you know what I mean.

Meanwhile my brother brought home a copy of Thriller one day and the moment I saw the video, I was hooked. Talat Mehmood was nice, sure, but Michael was something else.

It took me even longer to figure out that he too was singing words instead of just stringing together interesting sounds, but it was Michael himself who caught my attention above all else. I don’t know how old you were when you first saw Thriller, and I know you’ve seen it because even my grandmother knew that one (he was the only international – or domestic for that matter – pop star she could recognize, both by sight and by sound), but it’s quite something to see it through the eyes of a five year old who’d never even imagined that things or sounds like that existed.

My brother, being much older, had not only heard it much earlier but had already switched his allegiance to Prince, and as such I was allowed to play and replay the video to my heart’s content – something that was strictly verboten in the norm because he felt a five year old was not a proper person to press buttons on his beloved VCR (remember those things?) or handle his favorite tapes (oh, the battles we fought over The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, our favorite movie to unwind to when we were growing up!).

We’d go down south for the summer and in the evenings, the four of us would visit my aunt, and my brother, my cousin and I would go round back where Michael, my aunt’s houseboy, would put on a performance modeled on his namesake. South Indian Michael’s impression of Beat It was quite something. Not Chiranjeevi-something perhaps, but something! Sometimes, we’d get the dog to play audience while we joined him and the poor thing would sit by, puzzled but game, watching the crazy humans hop around to the music blaring from the ancient tape recorder (yup, it was that long ago!) hooked up to an outlet in the garage, volume on the highest setting we dared without bringing down the wrath of the parents on our heads.

And then, a couple of years later, my brother brought home a copy of Moonwalker. One glimpse of Smooth Criminal and my obsession went into overdrive. I have no idea if little kids were his target audience with that video, but for a time it even replaced Mary Poppins in my affections. It was like converting to a different religion.

Eventually, as I became a tween and Michaelmania around me began to reach crazy heights, the contrarian in me started backing off a bit. My best friend got me a copy of The Joshua Tree, an album that’d come out about the same time as Moonwalker and Bad but couldn’t have been more different, for my birthday and once I got over the fact that here was an album that I couldn’t dance to (Why, God, WHY?!), I liked it very much. MJ began to resemble a much loved childhood artifact, now laid aside.

And once the 90s took hold, as he began to get snowed under allegations, tabloid reports and legal troubles, the era of Michael seemed more and more remote. I don’t think I’ve thought of him as a musician in years.

But my childhood will always be set to his music. As an adult, I never know how to feel about him – my childhood icon, the pedophile? My childhood icon, the kid who had the hell whaled out of him so he could come up with the kind of performance that brought so much joy to my own carefree childhood? My childhood icon, the weirdo with the smushed-in nose who made his kids wear masks in public? My childhood icon, who was now a completely different color from the man who’d first captured my imagination? But my inner 5 year old knows better.

Michael Jackson was the 80s. Red coat, epaulettes, jheri curl, the shyest, sweetest smile, baddest beats and all.



Posted by on June 26, 2009 in Celebrity, Entertainment, Music, Personal, Video


14 responses to “On Michael Jackson

  1. Chevalier

    June 26, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    “It took me even longer to figure out that he too was singing words instead of just stringing together interesting sounds”


    🙂 for some musicians, I still havent figured this out for sure.

    I remember every male kid worth his salt knew how to ‘dance like MJ’ – parents around India would watch their sons moonwalk and fairly bust with pride.

  2. memsaab

    June 26, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Speaking as someone who was already out of college when Thriller came out (Yes!), he was an icon in the 70s too. I was a kid who liked the Jackson 5, and little Michael (not much older than me!) was the cutest of all of them.

    THAT little guy has been gone for a while, but I will always remember him.

  3. Kokonad

    June 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Nice post Amrita…
    There was an aspect to his music, the love of which no one could ever recreate. Everyone growing up in the 80s and 90s (well, 70s too, as memsaab points out) was introduced to western music with his name… as you have pointed out, people grew up listening to his music – and it had become a part of childhood memories.
    Despite all the controversies surrounding him, the shock of his departure will numb thousands and thousand of his fans.

  4. Summers, summed up

    June 26, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    “We’d go down south for the summer and in the evenings…visit my aunt” — Same aunt from the Chitty Chitty, Bang, Bang post, eh? (I read it just y’day, btw, after re-watching the movie.)

    You’ve wonderfully recounted a whole generation’s summer vacation, growing up. My own included trips to my uncle’s place, where the bunch of us cousins went nuts over MJ (and, when we needed a break, switched to Boney M, ABBA…). He’s such an unforgettable part of our growing up, then and now…

  5. Mamma Mia! Me a Mamma?!?

    June 27, 2009 at 12:27 am

    Lovely trip down memory lane. And you’re so right…MJ was the eighties, he was our growing-up years.

  6. Gradwolf

    June 27, 2009 at 5:34 am

    I remember the barricades, the queues, the woman who cut her wrist because she couldn’t manage tickets, the Johnny Lever standup based on that concert at the following year’s Filmfare Awards(sidhi vinayak ki line aaj andheri tak aa gayi kya?). I was in seventh std. and my school was right opposite Andheri Sports Complex where he performed. I even remember reading a busybee(Behram Contractor) article about how MJ had to pay the Thackerays $$ etc. And what I am not able to find is the picture of his pillow(from his room at Taj or Oberoi am not sure), on which he left a long beautiful message. The picture came on the front page of TOI(orBombay Times!). So much for memories!

  7. Gradwolf

    June 27, 2009 at 5:39 am

    Here is that funny piece.

  8. Big Fan

    June 27, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    I regret the loss of the King of Pop MJ! Jacko is a legend. I hope he gets where he is now, finally in peace.
    Leave also your last greeting at Michael Jackson on our site, thanks.
    a big and now sad fan

  9. pitu

    June 28, 2009 at 12:26 pm


  10. Nida

    June 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Great tribute, Amrita.

    MJ was my very first crush–and I was 5 years old, too! Never could warm up to Prince the same way…

    That last paragraph hit home, despite all the stuff going on through the years, to me Micheal Jackson was always the guy from “Thriller” and “Beat It”…

    I even caught a glimpse of his gloved hand (covering his face) when we lived in NYC back in the 80s.

  11. pri

    June 29, 2009 at 12:39 am

    love the pictures. they totally look like something i would have had on my notebook covers in the 6th grade.

  12. Ebrahim

    June 29, 2009 at 12:57 am

    RIP- MJ

  13. Prasanth

    June 29, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Someone said on CNN: “He was the coolest man in the world in 1983”. A year before I was born. So was always a bit slow on him.
    The tributes over the past couple of days changed my opinion though.

  14. sitaji

    July 2, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Nice post! Like your brother, I did have my full allegiance to Prince, since after all I live in Minneapolis, but when I found he died, I did go and find my vinyl “Off the Wall” album to take a look at and remember.
    All the best!

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