Erin Petersen
The Man in the Mirror

A Tribute

By - Jun 26th, 2009 02:36 pm
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michael-jackson-thrillerWithin hours after his death, Michael Jackson created such an overwhelming buzz across the wire that it caused technical difficulties at Google, Twitter crashed and Facebook exploded with post in memoriam of the deceased musician, along with a slew of farcical posts proclaiming the deaths of other celebrities like Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford, though I’m  still not sure where those came from.

Amid the online outpouring of sorrow and shock came the inevitable comments about MJ’s absurd lifestyle and of course, the pedophilia scandal that followed him throughout the latter half of his career.  Facebook was littered with angry posts about the glorification of a “child molester” and many were upset that the death of  Farrah Fawcett, who died early Thursday morning after a three year battle with cancer, had been overshadowed by “Wacko Jacko.”

I was driving home when I heard the news, so I plugged my iPod in and set it to Human Nature and contemplated how the media would cover MJ’s death while I was stuck in Summerfest traffic. Is there any way to remember the King of Pop without a discussion about his regressive child-like demeanor, the drastic and freakish change(s) in his appearance and his affinity for young boys?

The answer is a resounding “No.” In a half-hour special about MJ that I watched last night, his entire career was crammed into ten minutes and featured an interview with Usher (side note: who gives a shit what Usher has to say about anything?).  The rest focused on the scandals that surrounded MJ-some of which he disseminated to press himself – and then it was over.

Even the idea for a TCD tribute was met with some opposition.  Questions like “How can you honor the memory of an alleged pedophile? ” and “What has he done for you lately?” were raised. I quickly, and unintelligently, responded with a long and purposeful raspberry.

20080311bubblesSure, MJ heaped a lot of negative press upon himself with his often bizarre behavior- but in the meantime, he also boasted an impressive career that spanned almost 40 years. A singing sensation on the “chitlin’ circuit” by the age of 11, Jackson went solo at the age of 13. Under the direction of an abusive and fame-obsessed father, Michael put The Jackson 5 on the map.

In his solo career , he produced several of the highest selling albums in the world to date, including Thriller, which is the highest selling album of all time. He held over 13 number one singles, putting him up in the ranks of Elvis Presley and The Beatles. The HIStory World Tour sold over 4.4 million tickets outside of the U.S. and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. Though he had a penchant for excess and flamboyance, MJ also supported nearly 40 different charities.

But those are just the numbers. It’s been argued that Thriller reinvented and subsequently saved MTV, breathing new life into the music video and using the medium as an art form and a means of self-promotion. Beyond that, his music and dance moves inspired an entire generation of up-and-coming musicians. Hell, he even holds a patent on the anti-gravity lean move he used in Smooth Criminal.

michael-jackson-concert-2And despite the controversy, everyone was still completely enamored with him. No matter how many tabloids flashed photos of his frighteningly altered face, we couldn’t help but look and wonder how this eccentric (and obviously psychologically disturbed) character could produce some of our favorite songs of all time. How could a man with a chimp named Bubbles write the song Bad and kind of make us believe it, even with the hilarious “street” dance battle (featuring Wesley Snipes, no less)?

For most of us , the music overshadowed all of that.  You’d be  god-damned  if you could stay off the dance floor when Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough plays, or feel a bit wistful when you hear The Jackson 5 sing I Want You Back.

For me, the obsession with the Jacksons started when I was young. In our house, we weren’t allowed to listen to The Jackson 5 and we definitely were forbidden from listening to Michael Jackson’s solo stuff. I’ll make a little confession here, folks…I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness my entire life.

Well,  until the age of 18.

Because of that, or more likely because Joe Jackson and the rest of his brood had formally dis-associated themselves from the Jehovah’s Witness faith (with the exception of Katherine, Michael’s mother, who remained active with the JW’s) it was as though they had turned their back on God, and because of that, I didn’t see Thriller (and a lot of other things) until waaaaay late in the game.

But like any child, once something was off-limits, I had to find out why. Where there subliminal anti-JW messages in their songs? Bad language? Sex? After building it up in my head, you can imagine my disappointment the first time I saw the video Black or White in the basement of my (non-JW) grandmother’s house.

157j0zWith the way that JW’s vilified the King of Pop, I was surprised at how squeaky-clean it all seemed, even at the ripe-old age of eight. Gimme sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, not Macaulay Culkin power-sliding! Feed my insatiable need to hear , see and do all the things that a good Christian girl shouldn’t!

But that ridiculous video had sparked something.  It was one of the first times that I can remember going against my parent’s and my religion’s wishes, and nothing bad happened (surprise, surprise!). I realized I could get away with things, and that most of the things I was “getting away with” weren’t the despicable offenses I was lead to believe they were.  But more importantly, it was an example of someone that actually left the Jehovah’s Witnesses. My pre-pubescent brain could barely comprehend what that might be like. As a child, it gave me hope and also scared the bejeezus out of me, wondering if everyone that left the faith also went completely nuts.

In this vein, the staff here at TCD wants to know about your MJ memories. We wanna know if you had your first kiss while listening to Billie Jean, if  Thriller was the first album you ever bought with your own money or if your parents fell in love listening to The Jackson 5.

young-michael-jackson1Check back throughout the next few days, as TCD’s staff shares a few anecdotal tales about some their favorite MJ moments . In the meantime, read Senior Editor Amy Elliott’s tribute to the King of Pop.

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