The King of Pop is dead. Michael Jackson died last Thursday afternoon of a suspected heart attack at his mansion near Los Angeles. He was 50 years old, outliving Elvis by eight years.
Chatter grew up in an MTV-free household. Never owned a spangled white glove or a "Beat It" leather jacket, never saw the 1983 Motown TV special that sent Thriller into the stratosphere and had every kid who did see it doing a peculiar dance called the Moonwalk at recess the next day.
But when I was around eight years old, my family went to visit my cousin Jill in Alief. We didn't head out there very often; that may have been the only time we ever did. About the only thing I remember about that trip is seeing a Thriller poster in Jill's bedroom.
It was around the time I was becoming aware of the wider pop-culture world beyond Star Wars and Saturday morning cartoons, and that poster left an impression. Not terribly long after, I managed to catch "Beat It" and "Thriller" either on NBC's Friday Night Videos or MTV at a friend's house, and that did it. I was officially a fan.
About a year or so later, I was at Baybrook Mall and noticed Michael on the cover of an album in the window of the record store. It was the Jacksons' 1984 LP Victory, and after she read through the lyric sheet, my mom agreed to let me use my allowance to buy the cassette.
I went home, put it in, and almost immediately gravitated not to Jackson's high-pitched squeals but a lascivious, low-down guitar lick that, I would come to realize much later, was pure Rolling Stones. (And pretty sick Stones at that.) It was "State of Shock," the Jacksons/Mick Jagger duet that opens Side 2.
I also enjoyed the other Jacksons' distorted electro vocals in the chorus, and Mick hissing "look at me" toward the end, when it becomes more of a "Beat It" clone. But that opening riff stuck with me like shrapnel. I may have listened to the rest of Victory once or twice, but kept rewinding "State of Shock" for weeks.
Unfortunately, this was around the absolute nadir of the Stones' career. Mick and Keith were at each other's throats, and nobody — least of all the band — was sure how much longer there would even be a Rolling Stones. Their next album, Dirty Work, may be the worst they've ever released, and hearing its single "Harlem Shuffle" on the radio didn't send me rushing back to Baybrook. Therefore, my full-on initiation into Stones fandom didn't blossom until I saw them live in San Antonio in 1994, but "State of Shock" definitely planted the seeds.
Eventually, I came to appreciate Jackson's talents more fully and – although I'd usually rather listen to Off the Wall — realized what a slick pop/R&B masterpiece Thriller really is. But now that he's gone, it's how seeing that poster in my cousin's room led to "State of Shock" and a lifelong love of (and occasional obsession with) the Stones that I remember most.
So thanks, Mike. And Mick.
Real quick: This week is your first chance to vote in the 2009 Houston Press Music Awards. See our ballot on page 57 or online at www.houstonpress.com. If you'd like a brand-new HPMA '09 T-shirt, have a crack at our HPMA history quiz on page 46. Ballots must be received by July 26.
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1. Daniel Johnston, Story of an Artist
2. Rancid, Let the Dominoes Fall
3. Various Artists, Northern Soul box set
4. Bon Iver, Blood Bank
5. Steve Martin, The Crow
6. The Gourds, Haymaker!
7. Kim Lenz & Her Jaguars, It's All True
8. Little Joe Washington, Texas Fire Line
9. Various Artists, Nigeria Special
10. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, "What Have You Done?" (7-inch)
KBXX, 97.9 FM
Selections from the station's June 25 playlist, 5-6 p.m.
Data from www.yes.com
1. Michael Jackson, "Human Nature"
2. Michael Jackson, "You Rock My World"
3. The Jackson 5, "Dancing Machine"
4. Michael Jackson, "Rock With You"
5. Michael Jackson, "Billie Jean"
6. The Jacksons, "Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)"
7. Michael Jackson & Paul McCartney, "Say Say Say"
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8. Michael Jackson, "Off the Wall"
9. Michael Jackson, "Thriller"
10. Michael Jackson, "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"
(lists compiled by Chris Gray)