Saturday, Michael Jackson will have been dead for two years. Already. The King of Pop succumbed to a drug addiction on June 25, 2009, helped along by a crooked Houston doctor, a team of enablers, and public that had grown largely indifferent to the man (but not his music) by two summers ago. Jackson was only 50 years old, and even thinking of someone of his caliber being "old" was daunting after he passed. He just was, existing outside the realm of age.
All legal problems aside, and there are too many to compartmentalize, sheesh, the man was a legend through and through. The day he died there was such a swell of love and sadness over his death, that in a perfect world it could have all turned some spiritual tide and brought him back. But we live in world where sadly, heroes die, and all we are left with are the memories, that we keep forever.
Everyone on Earth has some anecdote relating to Jackson, good or bad. For some, it's simply the moment you first saw "Thriller" on MTV, hearing a hit on the radio, or learning his dance moves in school. As for those born in just the past decade and a half, all they may have seen is courtrooms, surgical masks, television and film parodies, and maybe a YouTube clip.
In the run-up to this anniversary, I started compiling some of my own memories that I have attached to his songs from 28 years of being an MJ fan. Thriller is just a few months older than I am, debuting in November 1982 when I was just a butterball inside my mother's womb.
The day that Jackson died, I was sitting in the exact spot I am as I type this, and the weather was close to the way it is today, although a tad cooler I remember. That day at lunch, my friends and I were discussing the deaths of Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, wondering who the third celebrity death would be over Cajun food at BB's in Montrose.
Maybe an hour later, I'm on Twitter trolling around for news to use, and TMZ flashes that Jackson has been rushed to the hospital in serious condition. Per my job description, music is always playing in my ears, either from Rdio or YouTube. I load up "Ben" for some reason. I had never owned a copy of the song, but I clicked on a YouTube clips and went into action doing further research.
To this day, it reminds me of taking my headphones off, telling the newsroom "Michael Jackson is dead," and a few people snickering or jumping on their own computers.
So in my experience, a song about a rat soundtracked Jackson's death.
"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
About a week after Jackson died, I am pulling up to the office on the Milam side on a Saturday evening, after covering something that afternoon, something sweaty because I remember being barefoot. The Warped Tour?
As I get out, this huge black guy riding the most magnificent, blue-lit touring-style Harley pulls up to the light at Milam and Pease, blaring "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" as loud as his bike's system will allow. I sat there for the duration of the light, and long enough for him to drive off down the road and become silent with the distance.
That was my moment of silence for MJ, I think.
The beat for "Billie Jean," those opening snare stings and the synth lines, were the first bits of music I remember trying to replicate on a drum set or a keyboard. Somehow, that style of beat ended up following me everywhere. For a while, it was in my head at all times. Not the whole song, but that opening. Incidentally, I have zero rhythm and never mastered it with my own hands. So here I am writing about music. Ta-da!
When I moved into the house I am living in now, I had to strip one wall clean of this really creepy, kitchen-y wallpaper. Gourds and shit. This is very tedious, and dirty, what with using the stripping tool and enlisting the help of chemical to pull off the wallpaper. Nothing can be easy, and I am sure there were easier ways to accomplish this.
After MJ died I started pulling out all the vinyl I had collected from him over the years - three copies of Thriller, the random Bad LP, a few 45s, a Jackson Five hits album - and started playing them when I was working on this wall.
Something in my personal life was fucking me up, and I remember just really digging into that wall to "Dirty Diana" one night with that tool, and my roommate Jeremy asking if I was alright. Apparently I had started scoring the wall in time to the music and the whole house could hear.
"She's Out of My Life"
There is a scene in Albert Brooks' Modern Romance, where he has just broken up with his girlfriend, and he's in his car, just feeling like an utter failure, this emo blob. This comes on, and he loses it, in the way only that Brooks can. No tears, just this almost robotic, hilarious sadness.
When I first saw the movie, I remember getting how he felt, when a song blows you apart, but it's a Michael Jackson song, so you keep it together because one day you will be drunk, or writing a blog, and will accidentally blurt that you cried while listening to it.
I remember reading that the hint of tears at the end of the song, the emotion, was all real. It was Michael really hurting over a girl, or just empathizing with what the songwriter was doing.
Years later, Michael would say that it reminded him that he was "so rich in some experiences while being poor in moments of true joy." In a sense, he could buy anything at this point, from solo money and J5 money, but he couldn't buy pure happiness.
It's something that ended up following him the rest of his life until he passed in 2009. Watching those reels over and over and over again on news channels, Jackson in various stages of life, the same faces repeated, the songs, ingrained that detached feeling in me when I think of Michael.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Writing songs for people to party, cry, and vibe out to, while almost feeling alien to those bedrock emotions. Like cooking the best table of food known to man, and then just walking away from it, never enjoying it with others, or even tasting it.
Houston Style magazine's second annual tribute to Michael Jackson is 7 p.m. Saturday at Jones Hall. See mjtributehouston.com for more information.