I still remember where I was, two years ago today, when I learned that Michael Jackson had died. Brandi and I had just gotten the keys to our first house a few days earlier but hadn't moved in yet; I was painting the walls of the room that would become my office. Brandi was at work that evening, and she called me--for a wonder, I actually heard and answered my phone--and gave me the news.
I'm generally a quiet guy, but I can remember only a couple of occasions when I've been struck speechless. This was one of those times.
Before I get too far into this, let's get this part out of the way: yes, Michael Jackson was a flawed, possibly disturbed individual. I acknowledge that my feelings for him as an individual are a little conflicted; but my love for his music is untouched and unapologetic. Whatever else he may have been, he was a musical genius.
I've mentioned before that I grew up in a mostly music-free household. My mom's not into music at all, and I've never known my dad to listen to it anywhere outside of the car. I'm a huge music lover myself--I can't imagine my life without it--but I had to come to it almost completely on my own. Fortunately for me, a little album called Thriller came out in 1982.
What drew me to it initially was the title track, "Thriller," when it was released as a single--and, just as importantly, a music video. That was in 1984, so I close to seven when I heard it for the first time. Even at that young age, I loved anything spooky, so the song and the video were right up my alley. My parents bought me a sound-capable Viewmaster that played the song as you viewed slides showing scenes from the video (in 3D!). I loved that thing. Eventually I got the album on cassette, and I played it so much that I had worn it out within a week. And, then as now, when I find a new interest, I want to consume it in as many ways as possible. I had Michael Jackson posters and books, collected other tapes, watched reruns of the old Jackson 5ive cartoon. When my parents took me to EPCOT Center a few years later, I made sure we got to see Captain EO. Yes, I even had a sparkly silver glove (which, come to think of it, is possibly still floating around my parents' house somewhere).
Even now, all these years later, with my 34th birthday just over a week away, I still count the Thriller album as one of my absolute favorites. I love every single song on there--not just for nostalgia, but because they're great songs. But when I hear them, I can still remember being a little kid, lying in bed and listening with my headphones on and just grooving on those songs.
So, for music, Michael Jackson was very much my gateway drug. That's where it all began. Over the years, as my taste in music grew, I was still a fan of just about everything Michael put out. My music collection evolved from cassettes to CDs and eventually to MP3s, iTunes, and an iPod, but MJ was always well represented. When I heard he was dead, I was just stunned, and incredibly sad that his voice was stilled. This is a wound that hasn't really healed with time. I still listen to his music with a bittersweet feeling, knowing that what we have is, for the most part, all we're likely to get. Yes, I have Michael, the posthumous album, and it's not terrible; and I know there's probably more of those on the way. While I look forward to hearing anything that comes out, it just isn't the same. And that makes me sad.