It is also, however, one year since I actually listened to his music – ALL of his music – and realised what a legendary performer and person he was. I’m sad I came to realise this all too late, but I don’t regret discovering the true depths of his talent, even if it took his death for me to make that discovery.
That said, I’ve always liked Michael Jackson. My sister, Sarah, is two years older than me. When I was about 7, she had two Michael Jackson albums that we listened to all the time. When you’re seven, your big sister is your idol, (n’aw, she still sort of is) and so I began to like Michael Jackson as much as she did.
I remember running out of the room in fright when she watched the Thriller video, (in fact the feeling of terror I felt at that moment was so deep I never actually watched the video properly until last year!), but I also remember singing Black or White and Heal the World in the back of the car on many a summer’s evening as we drove home. That memory is so strong that whenever I hear Heal the World I get the same feeling of nostalgia and unease that summer evenings used to give me as a child.
I can also remember seeing the Smooth Criminal video. By that point, I was already convinced Michael Jackson was the best dancer in the whole wide world, and my sweet seven year old mind was also convinced that the ‘lean’ was executed without any technical wizardry: I believed Michael Jackson could defy gravity. I have vivid memories of standing out on the patio in my back garden trying to see how far forward I could lean without falling over. Needless to say, it didn’t end well.
I don’t know what happened (well, actually I do: The Spice Girls happened, that’s what) but I gradually stopped listening to Michael Jackson’s music as much. I knew quite a few of his songs well, but I hadn’t listened to them properly and I’d never seen him performing live. I suppose the next time he features in my memories is during his trial: I don’t know why, but even though I wasn’t a massive fan any more and even though I didn’t actually know any of the facts of the case, I just felt strongly that he was innocent. I remember sitting with my Mama listening to the radio as the jury read out all the ‘Not Guilty’ verdicts, and feeling elated, but also very sad for him.
During my rediscovery of why I loved Michael Jackson after his death last year, I heard about the trial again in the various obituaries and articles, and I re-experienced that strong conviction he was innocent. While researching an article I was writing about him, I ended up reading through most of the court transcripts and case details. I was glad I did, as I now feel 100% comfortable that my instinct was right.
The thing I really missed out on when I loved Michael as a child was his live performances: I only ever saw his videos and listened to his albums, so I missed out entirely on all the iconic and magic on-stage moments, such as:
First ever moonwalk: Motown 25: Yesterday, Today and Forever – March, 1983.
Yeah alright, he’s lip-syncing, but listen to the reaction at 3:51 and watch a bit of history unfold.
Jam Live in Bucharest
As well as a knockout performance in which you can really see how he danced from the depths of his soul, this is worth watching just for his entrance. The crowd go beserk for 2 whole minutes while he just stands there, and their screams lift in volume every time he moves. Unbelievable.
1988 Grammy’s Performance
This is magic from start to finish, but the last minute or so of Man in the Mirror leaves me tingling, every time.
All this aside, Michael Jackson was not only one of the most successful artists of all time: he was also an amazing humanitarian. He believed he could make a difference, and he was brave enough to try: he holds the World Record for the celebrity who has given most to charity, as well as having visited orphanages and hospitals throughout his career and opening up his home to sick and underprivileged people. Scoff all you like, but how many of us would do so much?
He not only believed in his own ability to create music and dance that was unique, revolutionary and iconic, but he also believed in his ability to make positive change in the world: that is something from which I think we all could learn.
I don’t think there will ever be a musician who makes men, women and children alike adore them, desire to emulate them or be inspired by them in the way Michael Jackson did. That is in a way a dreadful shame, but it’s also a testament to what a legendary person he was.
Image from Kevin Spence‘s photostream on flickr.