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The Way You Make Me Feel…

June 25, 2009

The first time I heard Michael Jackson’s music I was a young girl living in San Francisco. I listened to “Beat It” as I danced around our shabby third-floor apartment, holding Ronald the Cabbage Patch doll high as we moved together to the rhythm.

Watching Michael’s music video for “Thriller” was forbidden, of course. It would scare me, my mother warned. Which – as you know – made watching “Thriller” the top priority of my life. It was terrifying and incredible all at once as Michael and his zombies danced down the dark street.

His music grew up with me. I bought every new Michael Jackson tape and played them loudly in my green Casio boom box. When “Man in the Mirror” came out, I listened to the song until I knew every word. Michael told me to “make that change” at the end of the song, his voice rich with conviction. Oh, Michael, I thought, yes! I, too, can change! I can stop my foolish ten-year-old behavior and become a better person.

The pinnacle of Michael’s music came with the release of the album “Dangerous”. It came out my freshman year of high school, and Michael was full of musical brilliance. I played the album over and over – taking it with me on my weekend trips to the mountains with my wealthy prep school friends. “Dayne—jer—us!” Meridith and I crooned loudly in our matching GAP pajamas.

As I made my way through high school, though, I drifted away from Michael’s music. I became cool and listened to Nirvana and Violent Femmes – after all, I lived in Seattle and I dripped with angst. No more melody for me, thank you. I said “good-bye” to the King of Pop and “hello” to young adulthood.

I vaguely followed Michael Jackson’s life the last fifteen years. He became a caricature of himself, and tragedy cloaked every news story mentioning him. Sad, I thought, if I thought of him at all.

So I wouldn’t have expected to be particularly moved by his death – but I am. I’ve spent all afternoon flooded with the memories I have of his music. “What’s your most profound memory involving Michael Jackson’s music?” I asked Hugh tonight as we shopped for an upcoming wedding.

My husband looked blankly at me and slowly shook his head. Um, no, he doesn’t have any memories, really.

Oh. Right. Maybe life hasn’t changed for Hugh because of this news. And, really, I guess my world will go on turning, too.

But I am mourning Michael Jackson’s death today because his music was the soundtrack of my childhood. When I hear it, I am seven years old again. I am untouched by the rough road that lies ahead of me. I am holding Ronald and we are dancing, dancing, dancing.

That’s the gift of music. And tonight I’m grateful.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Katrina permalink
    June 26, 2009 7:51 am

    Well said Jess..This is exactly how I feel. He was the “soundtrack of my childhood” too. I went to the Thriller concert in 1984 and it seems like yesterday…

  2. Jaime permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:12 am

    You have taken my feelings and written them eloquently. I was in the 4th grade when Thriller came out. I hope he is remembered for his talent and not the controversy.

  3. trendyand2kids permalink
    June 26, 2009 9:22 am

    Jess…. I was not allowed to listen to secular music as a child. But I was in second grade during the Pepsi commercial burning hair incedent. I still went to public school then, and I remember all of my classmates freaking out about what had happened to Michael. I didnt know who he was at the time, but I knew that all the cool people did, so I had to find out about this man, and his music. Over the next several years, I remember sneaking over to my Grandma’s neighbor’s house to watch his videos. . . . My mom thought he was wierd. . . My dad was a closet Motown fananatic so he secretly listened to him. (I had a friend named Bobbie Jean, and my Dad sang “Billie Jean” to her whenever she came around – how else would he have known the words?)… I was in high school when Dangerous came out, and that was the first album I ever paid attention to. I was not allowed to buy his music yet, but I would record songs onto cassette tapes off the radio. “Black or White” was one of them that I listened to over and over again. . . . When I eventually earned my freedom from legalism, “Thriller” was one of the first albums I bought. Wow. How much I had missed as a child. . . The funny thing is that now, it is my Dad who picks Michael’s music on my Ipod when we play cards and dominoes on holidays with my family – He wont let us listen to anything but Michael Jackson or Al Green. I guess I will always credit Michael for helping my Dad emerge from his religious shell that had deprived our family of so much for so many years.

    I think that my favorite memories of Michael Jackon’s music are:
    …..watching my brother Tony dance to it at weddings,
    …. being moved to tears while watching “The Jacksons: An American Dream” on VH1
    …. the “Black or White” video

  4. Farah permalink
    July 8, 2009 5:59 pm

    Brilliantly worded piece, Jess! It echoes my heartache right now… Even though I was born in the mid eighties, I remember Michael Jackson was the soundtrack to every kid’s childhood from my school… and also, every parent’s nightmare!

    Like you, I never imagined that the news of his death would move me so deeply. I liked his music, but was not a fan particularly. And it bothers me now to remember that I had always thought him wierd for deliberately looking like a white woman when he was not one. Its sad that he had to die for me to realize the true brilliance of this compassionate man. It took these many years to notice that he was not a freak, but rather he had a smile that could light up an entire galaxy!

    May God have mercy on you, Michael, and grant you in death what you worked so hard for… that elusive thing in your life… PEACE!

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