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.