I was no more than four years old the first time I saw Michael Jackson, which would make him around, oh, 12 or 13 at the time. It was my first concert, The Commodores and The Jacksons, and there were probably never more afros in one place than there were that night. Well, okay, in a bigger venue than I saw him in, there probably were. I sat on my late brother’s shoulders as soon as “that other band” was finished. Michael wasn’t my favorite Jackson (Jermaine, until Janet made her appearance) but I did feel an affinity for this kid – he didn’t seem that much older than me – spinning and twirling with that boy’s choir soprano.
I’m not sure how long those Jackson boys remained a favorite, until I was six, seven? Was I even old enough to have a legitimate favorite in those days? By the time I was the same age as Michael was when I saw him live, I’d moved on. The Police. Queen. Gap Band. Cameo.
Yeah, I watched “Charlie’s Angels.” I was partial to Kate Jackson myself. Or Jaclyn Smith. Not much into blondes. But eventually I succumbed to Farrah Fawcett’s charms. I think it was that iconic poster. Either that or the fact that she was married to the Six Million Dollar Man at one point. Like many other young men my age, Farrah took a place on my wall in between Donna Summer and Tony Dorsett.
But, I moved on. Farrah came down from the wall sometime during high school, likely replaced by Denise “Vanity” Mathews, which was kismet, since despite Michael’s massive success with Off the Wall and Thriller I considered Prince much more worthy of my time and money.
As much fun as it was in the midst of Michael mania in those days, being accused of looking like him (clearly in pre nose-job days), Michael’s music seemed to me trivial and fluff. It was fun to watch his videos, moonwalk for those people who believed it to be a skill innate in all Black kids, consider buying a “Thriller jacket.” I didn’t go any deeper with Mike. He was growing into the role prescribed him, a pop music superstar. I could not follow, for I too grew in a different direction.
I no longer put up posters of scantily clad celebutantes, and Michael Jordan replaced Michael Jackson. Oh, I still listened to his music, Jackson’s attempts to recreate Thriller’s success all – expectedly – missing the mark. Prince followed up his massive success from Purple Rain with a 180 degree turn, cementing that Prince was the man and Michael was a marionette on MTV. Even as Michael grew increasingly peculiar in the public eye and his fame grew, I defended him to his detractors but had long stopped spending money on his music.
It was more than mere taste change. What he did was no longer relevant other than watching MTV’s breathless anticipation over how much he would spend on his next video shoot. Michael seemed obsessed with record sales, something I had little interest in, and gravitated towards artists who seemed at least to be less interested at topping their last place on Billboard. That was always an argument in support of Jackson fandom, wasn’t it? “He makin’ money though!” I didn’t want my musical choices validated by others in that way.
And I haven’t even mentioned hip hop.
While Jackson’s career was always within my peripheral vision, Farrah Fawcett had dropped into the dustbin of history. I don’t think I thought about her at all in the years between that movie Saturn 3. I was glad for her work in The Apostle the same way you’re happy to see an old elementary school classmate had made it big.
I never saw Michael have that same kind of artistic renaissance. But as details about his childlike lifestyle surfaced I grew to empathize. I don’t have a giant Batman and Superman in my bed room and no time for games but I do covet my son’s super hero collection. I understand the yearning for those times when responsibilities were light and you had to be home before dark. And in that empathy lies a wish that Michael would have received what he hoped for.
I’m not mourning Jackson’s passing and I’m rarely motivated to write about celebrity deaths. Maybe there’s a little kid in me who is.