If I may indulge...
If you are even close to my age (and if you’re not a baby or 125 years old, you are), then you probably owned Thriller. If you were born between 1965 and 1983, you probably had the first release of the record while you still lived with parents—in the days when records were the only choice and not the hipster alternative to practical listening.
Thriller wasn’t even music for me when my parents bought it: I was four and liked album covers (which explains Taco’s Puttin on the Ritz, Abba’s Super Trooper and Laura Brannigan)…Thriller’s cover was perfect: a good looking black man in a white suit with a tiger. When you’re four and don’t know what sex is, this IS sex.
Though I wasn’t born in the peak Farrah Fawcett age, I get that she was the icon for many of those in pre-sex mode. I wish I had more to say, but Lynn Crosbie’s Globe and Mail piece on Farrah Fawcett from a few weeks ago says it much better (actually, Lynn’s eulogizing is much more polished than this attempt).
Back to Michael Jackson. His death today is not heartbreaking. That doesn’t mean it’s not too bad (no pun intended), but it’s not something that shocks and saddens as much as Larry King claims it does. Michael Jackson’s death is reflective and symbolic. No one will miss the Michael Jackson of Jay Leno jokes, Oprah interviews, court cases, or cosmetic surgery. We’ll miss Thriller Michael.
The Michael we miss, we missed long before today.
In 2004, my cat Kamala died. Our family had had her since 1987, and while we were all upset, I don’t know if we were sad at her actual death, but rather, the thought of 1987 and the simple thought of how much time had passed. The death of a pet always seems to elicit a montage: when Kamala died, I was 25 and all I could think of was getting her when I was eight years old and a few other scenes, none of which involved me as an adult. Michael Jackson’s death has the same effect for the 8 billion people on the earth who don’t know him personally: nostalgia. But we already had that.
I don’t compare the death of a man I didn’t know to a pet I did, but last week, if asked why the world liked Michael Jackson, no one would have called him the King of Pop for anything after the Bad album. It was Thriller. It was Off The Wall. It was the Jackson Five. Watch the news: any music we hear will be 25 years old* and amazing and not pop music as a synonym for empty sounds (looking at you Will.I.Am).
Today when I heard that Michael Jackson died, I thought of 1983: I was four and he was awesome and my mom made all my meals and all we had were records. Fuck the Thriller album was good. So was that cover.
The Michael we miss, we missed long before today. Yeah, okay...today is sort of heartbreaking.
(* Not including his 1995 duet with Janet Jackson Scream which is still a pretty amazing song)