I don’t listen to radio news and I don’t own a television. So I first heard about the death of Michael Jackson via this post from The Guardian music blog, while checking my Google reader feed on the way to work. I was thrown by the Glastonbury festival angle, and I couldn’t decide whether it was some elaborate in-joke of which I’d missed a crucial part or reporting around genuine news. I discovered later: this wasn’t a joke.
It’s a pity, really, that in recent years the only time Michael Jackson caught my attention (which means, in effect, the mainstream media’s attention) was when a story emerged about some new craziness or weird behaviour, rather than for any musical achievement. In fact, the only songs of his that I could bring to mind are those on the Thriller album. And therein lies my Michael Jackson story.
It was 1984. I was a self-proclaimed Culture Club fan (and my consciously cultivated high school foray into pop culture and resulting choice of allegiances is a post in itself). Boy George and his band were huge, they were making their first Australian tour, and I wanted to go to the concert. Very badly.
But my mother said, No.
I was devastated.
One of my big sisters took pity on me. Consolation surprise gift: a copy of the Thriller LP.
I doubt it consoled me one bit, if anything I was perplexed. But I was still very pleased to receive it, and the biggest-selling album of all time played its own important role in the aforementioned foray into pop culture.
It’s been observed elsewhere: Thriller was the last album on which Michael Jackson appeared looking like who he was: a young African-American male. That was 27 years ago. And it’s sad that at only 50 years of age he’d come to look like a shadow of his former self. Never has a cliché been so apposite.
[Happy ending: my wonderful wonderful sister, who would have been in her 20s at this point, was able to persuade my mother that she would be a responsible chaperone for a pop concert and I saw Culture Club after all. This has always been the advantage of having significantly older sisters: it’s like having a couple of really cool aunts. I do recall the usher at the Entertainment Centre apologetically explaining that he’d have to check our bags for cameras. My sister, who’d just been to Europe, said “Oh, that’s ok. In London they check for bombs…”]