We've read a lot of what other people had to say about Michael Jackson today and most of it was just depressing or overly serious. That's not at all how we remember him or how we generally think about things, so after the jump, read a collection of FADER editors' fondest memories of The King and make sure to listen to his music all weekend long. We guarantee you'll feel better on Monday.
Prior to Michael Jackson, the only real music memory I have is of Mickey Mouse Disco. My older brother and I would pull one of our beds away from the wall and edge it with Christmas lights to make a bar, I'd get out my powder blue Easter suit, put the needle on the record and dance the night away while he served Coke out of my dad's tumblers. We made a scene because there was no star to emulate. It's not like I wanted to be Mickey Mouse, just goofing around, getting my mini-Travolta on (will admit to be crushed the fuck out on Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu so maybe that excuses the toddler disco?). And I don't really remember having any musical idols at the time because most of my favorite songs were by Muppets or cartoons. I do vaguely remember hearing "Rock With You" on the radio, but it didn't rate compared to "Macho Duck," for sure.
A couple years later, we moved to another state, another house and MTV premiered that summer. We didn't have it. We got it the next summer, right before Thriller came out. My dad bought his first Sony Walkman that summer, too, but I don't remember caring about it too much either because I didn't have any tapes. But then, towards the end of that year and into early 1983, the "Billie Jean" and "Beat It" videos came on TV and my dad bought Thriller on cassette. I don't remember if it was the first day he had it or the second but it definitely was not the third when I stole that cassette and his Walkman from him. He took them back within the hour because he could hear me hoppin' around and "hee-hee"-ing in my room. I took that shit the next day too. He took it right back. I was like WHAT THE FUCK DUDE (not really) WHY CAN'T I HAVE YOUR SHIT?? DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT'S GOING ON HERE?? I think I probably got yelled at, spanked and grounded about a hundred times over the next two hundred days for taking Thriller and the Walkman, but I will never forget those songs. So crazy, so perfect. And trying to Moonwalk and knife fight and make the sidewalk light up when I stepped. Every kid in my neighborhood was like this, it would've looked insane except our parents were just as into him as we were and I imagine most of the rest of the world was too. We all loved Michael Jackson. That's something I hope people will remember about him, and something I hope happens again in my lifetime.
I was six and "Thriller" was everything. I would play the record on repeat and dance for hours with a poster I'd ripped from a magazine of Michael, inexplicably wearing a live parrot on his shoulder, pretending it was actually him. My seventh birthday party was "Thriller"-themed: we rented the "Making of" on VHS, which was about nine hours long but miraculously managed to keep a room full of second graders rapt for its entirety. Shortly thereafter I met my first boyfriend, Quincy Jones(!), who attracted me with his impeccable Moonwalk. We were together until I moved away in third.
Bad came out when I was real young, like three years old, so it didn’t really hit me until somewhere around 1990. A year later, Dangerous would come out. I grew up with that album, but I never liked it as much as Bad. One summer, my older neighbor and I listened to Bad nonstop in his bedroom, splitting a pair of white gloves and dressing in our best MJ approximations (white pants and the shiniest shirts we could find). His walls were wood-paneled like a sauna and not much light came in through the lone small window, so we brought my little sister over to shine flashlights on us while we lip-synched to “The Way You Make Me Feel.” I remember doing this on multiple days. It became a standard activity, like swimming lessons or something. “Hey you wanna go play baseball?” “Nah, lets lip-synch Michael Jackson songs in your dark bedroom.” It was weird, there wasn’t really a point to it, but we did it anyway. Eventually we got the bright idea to expand the operation. Setting up folding chairs in his front yard, we canvassed the block, inviting every single person—including the really old dude who lived with his 105 year old mom and mowed his lawn daily—to come watch us. We set up Hula Hoops on the ground like they were spotlights, got some of those huge batteries for his boombox and put in the Bad tape. It seemed like the entire block came, there were maybe 10-12 people there, but in my mind it was closer to 50. I don’t remember much of the actual performance, just my neighbor and I mouthing the words from inside the neon pink and green hoops, my sister jumping up and down behind us. Everyone clapped and then went home, I was bummed we had to fold up all the chairs and bring them inside after I had just performed, but it wasn’t too bad. I wore the glove the whole time.
Off the Wall, "Billie Jean," "Human Nature" and the rest from Thriller... I could listen to those tunes on repeat for days. and "I Want You Back" for some reason had always been the Michael Jackson (Jackson 5) song for me. But no matter how great his songs they never held personal memories for me. The songs didn't hold the memories you associate with special people who come into your life or remind me of special moments I had shared.
My experience with Michael Jackson all changed while driving on a random road in New England, listening to cassettes, some minute or so into the Jacksons "Can You Feel It?" Jermaine Jackson's introduction, taken to another world by Michael as he cuts in. My future wife had just introduced me to a seminal moment in pop history. While through our shared listening experience on the highways and back roads of that week, and later as it played at our wedding and we danced like crazy the song became part of the soundtrack of our lives together and a song that will always remind me of her and blissful happiness.
One of my first childhood memories ever was watching the world premiere of the "Thriller" at my Uncle Sadrew's house in Action, West London. I think it was some kid's birthday but by the time the video came on most of the children were sleeping and all the adults were getting boozed up in the living room. In the romantic preamble to the actual song, there's a scene where Michael shows up at his date's house wearing the craziest red and black padded leather jacket I think I've ever seen. Margiela actually made a similar jacket a few seasons ago that Pharrell used to rock, but his outerwear homage just pales in comparison to the original. I was too young to understand boy crushes at the time but I think I remember wishing that my future boyfriend would one day serenade me on the playground in an outfit like that. Then shit got scary, Michael started growing crazy hair and crazy fangs. I jumped out my Dad's lap but my brother wouldn't let me leave the room—just to torment me. The whole thing spooked me out so much that I slept under a mountain of soft toys that night, and kept having recurring dreams about it. I didn't have another on-screen crush on a boy like that again until Flight of the Navigator a few years later.
It was a while since I bought Dangerous on cassette at Coconuts for 10 dollars (which, I think, was all the money I had), like 10 years a while, shit maybe more how old am I? Wait is there ever a time when I didn't know who Michael Jackson was? That's weird. So anyway I was at Amoeba Records in San Francisco the first time I ever went there and we went for 10 days which is an extremely long time to stay at someone's house, and I was with my friend Dan and it was a lot of hanging out for us so we would just stretch the days. We went to Amoeba a few times because it is a huge warehouse-sized record store and we could linger. So we did, and I was looking in the world section and all of a sudden this super bootleg cover of "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" came on. I had been listening to a lot of homemade disco at that point, real chintzy guitar plink and drumstick on beer bottle type percussion. But then the covers kept coming, more Off the Wall janky business. I didn't understand, and either I asked someone or they told me that these were MJ's home demos with Quincy Jones that someone had unearthed. That shit is wild! Never got over that baby dangling shit though, that was loony.
I caught the Reverend Al Sharpton speaking on Michael Jackson’s legacy last night, on MTV of all places, and was glad to hear him making it a point to call out the people who were mourning, but weren’t very kind to Michael when he was alive. I am absolutely one of those people. My image of Michael Jackson was irrevocably marred by the molestation accusations, plastic surgeries, skin lightening and the rest of his all around bizarre behavior. I'm only able to rectify my love and respect for his musical legacy by hosting two separate Michael Jacksons: There is the brown-skinned kid whose blockbuster music videos I marveled at during my adolescence, and alternately, the dyed-skinned man-child who hung his newly acquired baby over a hotel balcony to tease paparazzi. I had to separate the two to enjoy the genius of a person whose real life actions I couldn’t really process.
I can’t remember the very first time I ever saw Michael because he was already doing so many amazing things by the time I was old enough to be able to trust my memory, but obviously, one of the first things that come to mind is his dancing. Now everyone thought they were freaking the Moonwalk at some point or another, but I’ve seen some people really hold that shit down. Back when I was in high school, some time before my mother’s side of the family mysteriously stopped having family reunions, we had one in Virginia Beach. I have a distant cousin like five or six years older than I am named Cleon. A black sheep of sorts (one of many within the tribe), he’d somehow gotten engaged to a woman no one had ever met, in the time between the previous year’s reunion and now. She had a son around the same age as me, but he wasn’t into any of the shit my cousins and I were into like basketball and Air Jordans. The latter wasn’t really his fault because this kid was easily one of the brokest people I ever met. He’d long outgrown all the clothes I saw him wear and his Payless sneakers were all leaned over on themselves. He was kind of happy just to kick it with us and seemed like he didn’t have many friends wherever it was he was from. His mom seemed nice enough, but no one was trying to get too close considering that Cleon was the one who brought her into the fold. The reunion went along well enough and there ended up being karaoke at the commencement party. They didn’t have any rap songs so most of the kids ended up doing Mike Jack on general principle. I picked “Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough,” which to this day might be my favorite Michael Jackson song. Dude chose “Billie Jean.” He asked to trade songs at the last minute and, trying to be hospitable, I did. I went first and I bombed. Hard. Even for karaoke. Even for a kid. I never bothered to learn the words to “Billie Jean” and let’s just say my improvisational skills weren’t then what they are today. He, on the other hand, murdered. Sang and freaked the steps on some young Chris Breezy shit. Turns out this kid had studied Michael Jackson tapes since he knew how to work a VCR and as a latchkey kid had plenty of time to practice. It was only a family reunion, but he was a fucking celebrity that night. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone replicate the Moonwalk like he did. That was the final night of the reunion and I’d never see him again. I never saw Cleon again either, though.
Love, The FADER