“Michael, We Hardly Knew Ye”

That was the text message I got informing me Michael Jackson passed away. How bizarre that on the very day I wrote a tribute to Prince’s Purple Rain that the extremely troubled former King of Pop should die. The similarities between the two stars are many, the most obvious being their ability to transcend musical (e.g. racial) boundaries and draw people of all stripes to their music.

If the summer of ’84 was to me Prince’s summer, then the summer of ’82 was obviously Michael’s. Thriller dominated the world in a way probably no album has since. That summer I was also a camp counselor (at Beth Elohim, in Park Slope, if you must know), and I can’t say I was plugged into Jackson’s music before Thriller. I mean, I dug it and all — especially "Billie Jean," which is still one of my favorite Jackson songs — but he didn’t do all that much for me until… that moonwalk on the Grammy’s in 1983! Holy crap! I never got the glove thing, or all that sparkly stuff, but that man could perform! The combination of his Tourettes-like yelps and rubber-band-man dancing made him the most kinetic entertainer I’d ever seen. (Even Prince, with all his stagecraft, had to take a back seat to Michael.)

Without absorbing Jackson’s music first, I don’t know if I would have been able to truly appreciate Prince’s. They were both extremely… odd… human beings (and the 80s was known for some pretty outrageous fashion choices) but Jackson’s G-rated persona paved the way for the more "sophisticated" role played by Prince. (Though of course as Wacko Jacko came more and more to the fore starting in the 1990s, who could’ve guessed how R-rated — or maybe I should say NC-17 — he would become?)

Another great memory was during some random free period in high school, back at the old Harlem building of Music & Art. I was sitting in the auditorium reading an X-Men when the "Thriller" music came on somebody’s boombox. I looked up on stage and there were about twenty of my fellow students doing an impromptu yet perfect step-by-step run-through of the "Thriller" video choreography. It was freakin’ awesome!

In the end, you have to agree that no matter your personal musical tastes, there was no way of escaping Jackson’s music or it impacting your life. The closest personal connection I have to this moment is when my mom woke me up on a cold December morning in 1980 to tell me John Lennon had been shot. As with Lennon, this is my generation’s Elvis moment. I’ll remember this day for the rest of my life.

My Michael Jackson Top 5 — probably not too many surprises here:
5) "The Way You Make Me Feel"
4) "State of Shock" (with Mick Jagger)
3) "Ease on Down the Road" (with Diana Ross)
2) "Beat It"
1) "Billie Jean"

About joshcomix
Brooklyn-based cartoonist specializing in nonfiction comics about topics like Hurricane Katrina, the media, travel, and finance.

4 Responses to “Michael, We Hardly Knew Ye”

  1. dlasky says:

    I’m surprised
    “State of Shock”? Really? Nothing from his Jackson Five years? Nothing from “Up Against the Wall”?

  2. dlasky says:

    It IS weird
    I saw that a doctor’s car is being searched by police for clues. Shades of Elvis and his doctor.
    “State of Shock” always struck me as a gimmicky thing. I group it with Mick Jagger’s duet with David Bowie (“Dancing in the Streets”) as a ‘celebrity event’ rather than a good song. But maybe that’s just me.
    I remember seeing young Michael Jackson on TV (and watching his animated show) about the time when I was in kindergarten and being impressed. I guess my nostalgia may be playing into my opinion of the Jackson 5’s songs.

  3. lalato says:

    That’s an interesting list. I’m more of a fan of Off The Wall with a little Thriller thrown in for good measure. I mean… that stuff hit me at the right age for it to last a lifetime.
    I was introduced to Prince’s back catalog pretty early. Crazy… I can still remember this. I’m going to guess it was 1982. I would have been about 12. I was over at my friend’s house. His brother was off in the Army, but his record collection was there. And boy what a collection. He had the first four Prince albums. I remember listening to a little bit, but I don’t think I was ready for it at the time. It wasn’t really until a couple of years later as I began to mature that I could appreciate Prince. Once Purple Rain hit, I was all up in it.
    But Michael Jackson was much more accessible, at least early on. I don’t think you could grow up in the 70’s and 80’s and not have been aware of who Michael was. Not only that, but I don’t think I ever met anybody that didn’t like the guy or his music (at least through Thriller). Of course, it was with Thriller that everything changed. Each successive album, Michael got weirder and weirder. Well, the music wasn’t any weirder, but he certainly was. I think “Bad” was the last album I gave a full listen to. And honestly, I think I would have listened more to his later stuff if it actually was as weird as he had become. Yeah… I’m kooky like that.
    –sam

    • lalato says:

      Ha! Check this out. I created a Michael Jackson channel on Pandora. I only added Michael Jackson as an artist.
      First Song… Wanna Be Startin’ Something, MJ
      Second Song… When Doves Cry, Prince
      Well, *I* thought it was funny. LOL
      –sam

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