There’s a comic strip called Achewood being forwarded, going around in my circle of friends. A younger character was feeling sad about Michael Jackson’s death, and an older character says, “He was your Elvis, and when your Elvis dies, so does the lie that someday you will be young once again, and feel at capricious intervals the weightlessness of a joy that is unchecked by the injuries of inexperience and failure.”
With that said, raise your hands, those who watched the Michael Jackson memorial live, until three in the morning. I’m guessing most of you—of us—are pushing thirty and above.
I know Michael Jackson’s career spanned three generations. Older people remember him as the sweet-faced kid who sang songs like “Ben” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” Those songs were still childhood staples for me, but the Michael Jackson I really knew broke out with songs like “Thriller” and “Billie Jean,” both from his record-holding album Thriller. I had just turned five years old when it was released in the United States; it became the best-selling album of all time in over a year.
It being the eighties, music from the States was hard to come by, so I’m not really sure how old I was when we got our own Thriller cassette tape. What I know for sure is that somewhere in my mother’s cabinet, in a box that holds our childhood pictures, there is a picture of me, in a princess dress (I don’t remember why), complete with a crown, refusing to strike a pose. My brother is beside me, in short black pants, one hand covered in a white glove, standing a la Michael Jackson.
If I’m not mistaken, he danced to “Billie Jean” because it was Christmas, and “Thriller” wasn’t exactly appropriate. Or was it that some older kids did dance to “Thriller” and I, at six or thereabouts, already thought it inappropriate for the season? I know the video, which, at 14 minutes, is long, even by today’s standards, scared the hell out of me.
I can’t recall how long it took for the moonwalk to be popular in the Philippines, but I remember that Gary Valenciano could do it well, and my brother and his friends and a boy I liked could do a passable version—they practiced doing it, wearing the “kung-fu” shoes that kids wore to school back then.
Even as the thrill from Thriller continued to rise, Michael Jackson became my hero when he composed, with Lionel Richie, the song “We are the World.” My father had a USA for Africa t-shirt. We loved to watch the music video because it showed clips of the artists actually recording the song, sans concert get-up and thick make-up—supposedly. My favorite part was Cyndi Lauper’s, and I remember her saying in an interview that she had to remove some of her bracelets because they were jangling too much.
It blew me away, the idea that all these important people could get together, for free, to sing a song for starving people a continent away. Back then, I was too young to understand the history of African-Americans, but I wasn’t too young to understand the idea of generosity and lending a helping hand and coming together as one.
I was around 10 when “Bad” came out. I loved “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” and “The Way You Make Me Feel.” I was partial to the carrier single. My favorite, always the one about world peace, was “Man in the Mirror.” It was, for me, pure wisdom: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.” Of course, years later, I would be one of those who joked that he took those lines too literally, as he did change the man in the mirror, one surgery after another.
I was in high school when Dangerous was released. We had it in CD. I loved “Black or White” and its music video. In the age of The United Colors of Benetton, it opened my eyes to racial discrimination. But my favorites were “Heal the World,” again the song about world peace, “Gone Too Soon,” because it was dedicated to a young boy who died of AIDS, and “Will You Be There?” because of the movie Free Willy.
Michael Jackson became controversial for troubling reasons soon after that. His career and personal life also went downhill from then on. And now he’s gone.
And we’re left with things that will soon fade: memorials, tributes, and trips down memory lane. And jokes and sober conversations.
Like we have with things we’ve loved and forgotten, the things we treasured and threw away. And all the things we can never get back.