Posted on 6/26/2009at 1:08 AM
Michael Jackson? Gone at 50? My heart is in pain.

I cannot fathom what it means to be the face of pop culture for 39 years. He was not just famous, but he was culturally significant for his entire career. Every generation learned something from him. It went beyond hit records. He was an icon. And for good reason. Not since Sammy Davis, Jr. had an artist thoroughly mastered so many different facets of entertainment. From an overbearing father who figuratively kept his foot on Michael’s neck for all of his childhood, to 39 years of unprecedented super-stardom with everyone on this PLANET following him, worshiping him, giving him no privacy, taking shots at him, humiliating him, loving him, being obsessed with him. With this, Michael acquired a colossal amount of pressure to always be “on”. It’s almost no wonder Michael always wanted to be a kid. He was never allowed to be one.

Do we really recognize that Michael was probably in severe mental pain for most of his life? He gave us thrills, and in turn, we made him our tabloid poster child. Well, at least, some of us did.

I have a few vivid memories of Michael that I’d like to share.

In the fall of 1979, I saw the Jacksons during their “Destiny” tour at the Spectrum in Philly. It was also not too long after Michael’s “Off The Wall” was released. To know that I was going to get to see Michael and his brothers sing all the J5 hits, I knew Michael would really tear the house down when he got to “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. In fact, by the time he got to his solo tunes, the crowd was in such a frenzy, we almost had no stamina to scream anymore.

To that point, it was easily the most exciting, most dramatic concert I’d ever seen.

Anyone from my generation can agree that Michael was our hero – and this was BEFORE “Thriller”. Michael was already a hero to my two favorite cousins who were 9 and 10 years older than me, respectively. How could a child superstar remain relevant for all that time? He must really be a great musician. Great enough to know that he should ask a jazz cat - Quincy Jones - to produce him! What could possibly follow “Off The Wall”?

When “Thriller” was released in 1982, I was 10 years old. That’s a dangerous age. That’s when fandom can start to happen among you and your peers. When the legendary “Thriller”, “Beat It” and “Bille Jean” videos were released in 1983, I fully admit, I was one of those kids crying to my mother for a “Beat It" jacket. Then, later that year, one of our great moments in TV history occurred with the airing of “Motown 25” – a 25th anniversary celebration of Motown records.

Where were you when Michael moonwalked?

Now let’s understand something. I’ve gone back to that “Motown 25” performance many times in my brain, and I’m stunned at a few things. Think about all of the other great moments on that program that almost never get talked about: The brilliant hosting of Richard Pryor, a very deep and intimate performance by Marvin Gaye (who was murdered less than a year later), The Temptations/Four Tops showdown, Diana Ross breezing through the audience, the killer house band, and frankly, had Michael not gotten a solo spot, the Jacksons’ performance was already incredibly stunning enough.

Since “Bille Jean” was the number one song in the world at that moment, I’m sure the producers decided that Michael had to have a solo spot. Fair enough. But to this day it trips me out that the producers had Michael lip-synching to the track! The fact that this lip-synched performance – in the middle of all of these high-level musical moments – became one of the most memorable moments in TV history makes me shake my head in amazement. We all knew Michael was great, so I think all the music heads on my block and in my family gave hm a pass for lip-synching to the track. Once he got to Moonwalking, really, who cared? A new phenomenon unfolded right before our very eyes. A child star, an adolescent star, was reborn yet again.

After that performance, I then cried to my mother for a “glitter glove”. Yes, I was caught-up BIG TIME in “Michael Mania”.

Then, the news hit – the Jacksons were going on one last tour.

The “Victory” tour kicked off in 1984, and I couldn’t WAIT for it to come through Philly. I was so excited. “Guitar Player” magazine even did a cover story on the guitars and basses that Tito and Jermaine were going to use on the tour. I still remember Jermaine’s tarantula bass and his rifle bass. (I wonder where Jermaine put those axes?) When the tour schedule was released, we saw that they were going to do three nights at the old JFK Stadium. I couldn’t wait. I went with my parents to the concert on the third and final night. The unthinkable happened – a rain out! I did everything I could not to cry. How unlucky was I? We got our hands on the hottest ticket in town, and it’s a rain out. Not only that, my dad’s car had been broken into a few blocks away from the stadium. What a horrible night. I was afriad they wouldn’t reschedule since they’d already done two nights, but thank God, they rescheduled for one month later.

As obsessed with James Brown as I’d already become at this point, I knew Michael represented the new standard. He took James Brown and turned it up a notch. Had Michael been able to do splits, my obsessions may have turned out different! It’s all about the splits, you know?

There we were standing on our seats waiting for Michael and his brothers. As is customary with Stadium shows, the lights went down, a plane-like rumble rocked through the stadium, the smoke machines went full-tilt, and after a highly intense five minutes of this, the Jacksons appeared at the top of a staircase in the middle of the stage. They just stood there and vibed for about three minutes in dead silence. It was AWESOME! They then came down the stairs slowly with a heart-pounding thud ripping through the stadium with each step. When they got to the bottom of the stairs and onto the stage, they stood there frozen and vibed for about three MORE minutes! Man, I’m getting goose bumps remembering all of this. Finally, Michael gave the cue, and off they were into “Wanna Be Starting Something”. What an AMAZING night. Sigh…..

Throughout the rest of his career, Michael had to have been disheartened at the lack of talent and vision that passed for pop culture celebrity created by record company people and publicists. When you talk about bona fide American pop culture icons who actually had big talent, honed their skill, practiced, surrounded themselves with great musicians, decided that they had to earn their status, and who weren’t some sort of concocted fantasy for teenagers, you gotta say that MJ and Ol’ Blue Eyes were the cats.

Michael Jackson was a genius. May you finally rest in peace, brother.

And let’s also say a prayer for Farrah Fawcett. She was a true fighter. I would’ve had a crush on her, but I knew she was out of my league. ☺

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