Michael Jackson died a weirdo.
That might have been enough an epitaph were it not for 1983, when Michael Jackson introduced us to a new manner of motion never before imagined for the human body. Today, a moonwalk seems as pedestrian as flipping the channels on a television. Twenty-five years ago, it was like watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear.
We rubbed the sole-pattern off our Kangaroo sneakers trying the moonwalk for ourselves. You’d catch awkward white kids moonwalking in the cereal aisle at Kroger, backing into cranky old ladies. If you wore a single sequenced glove to school, you weren’t beaten with a socket wrench. You were cool.
Such was the power of 1983 Michael Jackson.
Unlike the tracks on Purple Rain, most of the songs on Thriller haven’t aged particularly well. Billy Jean and Beat It hold up, but PYT and The Girl Is Mine is kind of embarrassing. And Thriller, with its corny cameo from Vincent Price, seems a little over-produced now, like a Disney Cruises musical.
And yet, in 1983, Thriller was the gold standard. With it, Michael Jackson re-invented the music video, taking them out of the hands of film school grad students and into the edit suites of big name directors. Trillions of people even watched the making of the Thriller video. That’s how good it was. We wanted to see how it was made.
Madonna never had that kind of impact.
But she was close. (Like a Prayer video? Starring in Body of Evidence?) With Michael Jackson, you had to settle for being close, for he was the Julius Caesar of the 1980’s Pop Triumvirate – Prince, Madonna and MJ. Eerily, they are all the same age, all three dominated the 1980s, and each one cursed with weirdness.
Of course, only MJ could out-weird The Symbol. It wasn’t easy. He needed the weird hyperbolic sleeping chamber, the monkey, the tricked out mansion that looked suspiciously like Pleasure Island out of Pinocchio. And when that wasn’t enough, alleged pedophilia would have to do.
In 1983, nobody would see it coming. For real, there was a time in human history when Michael Jackson seemed to have it all put together. Sure, the guy sounded strangely like Marilyn Monroe during interviews, but if you closed your eyes, you could envision MJ doing normal superstar things – collecting DUIs and banging hot groupies. We wanted to be Michael Jackson.
Then he released Bad. Here’s the thing: you could suspend your disbelief and imagine MJ a ladies man. But there was no way in hell we’d believe he was bad. The video did nothing to help – pretty boys tied to the wrist with silk neckties, dancing atop cars, pretending to have a knife fight. And in the center? Michael Jackson, grabbing his crotch in a bizarrely effete attempt to prevent a crowd of pretty boys from rumbling. The only thing missing was a cameo from Liza Minelli.
Speaking of which, MJ didn’t exactly hang out with a cool posse. Pretty much, it was Liza, an ancient and bloated Elizabeth Taylor, and McCauley Culkin. If Michael Jackson worked hard to make us want to be him, he seemed to work even harder to alienate us. At one point, he was a ride at the Epcot Center.
Yet, the power of 1983 Michael Jackson was too enormous to totally evaporate into the ether. Pepsi set the man’s hair on fire, and yet we continued to moonwalk and grab our own crotches, because there was something invitingly superhuman about Michael Jackson. When LaToya posed for Playboy, we bought every damn copy just to take a peak at those Jackson boobs. He even made his sister Janet seem normal. The only thing MJ couldn’t do was make people like Jermaine.
What he could do, however, was convince parents to let their kids sleep over at Neverland.
It’s easy to blast the intelligence of the parents. But when the King of Pop speaks, I imagine you just assume everything is kosher. After all, The Enquirer practically had Airwolf watching MJ’s every move. What’s MJ going to do? Fill a Pepsi can full of wine, call it Jesus Juice, and hand it to your 10 year old son?
Sadly, that answer was “Yep.”
It’s funny how Michael Jackson’s death has been greeted. Personally, I’ve noted that people without kids are far more devastated by MJ’s demise than people who have kids. I’m a parent. The thought of my sons in Michael Jackson’s bed, drinking wine, and spooning the Peter Pan of Pop makes we want to punch Tito Jackson in the face right now.
Michael Jackson died a weirdo. His face became distorted and undead, like something that danced in the background of his own Thriller video. He popped out of limos wearing surgical masks. He dangled infants from balconies, and he married Lisa Marie Presley, which even creeped her out. To make up for it, he divorced Lisa and married the ugliest woman in the whole world. Oh yeah, he also beat a pair of child molestation raps.
And the Angry Czeck is going to miss the guy. I was waiting for the comeback album. I wanted to see Michael Jackson – a man a mere five-years younger than my father – moonwalk across the stage as though he had somehow disengaged himself from Earth’s gravity. We’d never have 1983 Michael Jackson again, but I’d settle for just one more hit song.
Instead, I’m left waiting for a toxicology report and watching Nancy Grace pretend she gives a crotch-grab about Michael Jackson’s kids.