This is the seventh entry in a “soundtrack of my life” project — one song that is representative of each year of my life since about 1977, when I was five years old and was approximately the time when I have specific memories of music.
1983: “Beat It,” Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album is likely among the seminal music releases of many people of my generation. Having been raised on country music, as you’ve likely noticed if you’ve been following this series of posts since the beginning, I didn’t have much knowledge of The Jackson 5, and don’t remember knowing about “Off the Wall” until after “Thriller,” either. This was my introduction to Michael Jackson.
I was a big fan of Jackson for a long, long time, especially through the era when he dominated MTV after “Bad” came out. I had a red sweatshirt with nylon panels on the shoulders when I was in maybe sixth or seventh grade, and I wanted it in no small part because it was reminiscent of Jackson’s Thriller jacket. There was an identical blue one, but I wanted no part of it. I seem to recall there being a great deal of difficulty getting my parents to part with whatever sum of money that sweatshirt cost. I seem to remember it was $22, which at that time was pretty absurd. I think we got lucky and scored one on clearance.
From the Thriller gateway drug, I got into all the other Jacksons as well. I still love it when Jermaine’s “Dynamite” comes through my iTunes playlist at work, and I listened to the Jacksons “Victory” tape so many times I’m lucky I didn’t break it. And everybody had Janet Jackson’s stuff later in the decade. But that same everybody just though LaToya was weird. I even had a tour t-shirt from the Victory tour that I found at a yard sale in the late 1980s that became a staple in my late-high school wardrobe rotation.
I drew pictures of Michael Jackson. I did a video for his cover of “Come Together” for a project when I was a senior in high school. I had grand ideas of doing publicity for him after I flamed out as a mechanical engineer in college and switched my major to public relations.
I don’t really remember at what point I quit caring about his music. The Neverland Ranch weirdness was definitely the start of his slide with me, as it was with most people. Then after Megan was born it just seemed not quite right to have kids and still do things that would put money into his pocket, even if it was only a dollar. He just became a sad caricature of his former self, and what he was doing in the present became somehow wholly detached from what he had been. It was almost as if there were two Michael Jacksons — the bizarre creature demolished by the pressure of global fame, and the guy from “Thriller” who ruled the world with a single white glove.
After a point, the current incarnation just ceased to matter. I never gave the slightest thought to buying “Blood on the Dance Floor.” The last time I spent money on Michael Jackson was to buy the HIStory two-CD set. That’ll likely remain the last time I spend money on Michael Jackson. But I will still never turn off a song from “Thriller.”