Current mood: nostalgic
I first heard of Michael Jackson as part of the Jackson Five (or, sometimes, the Jackson 5ive), probably around 1970. He had a loud, distinctive, pre-teen voice, very high. Because of their TV show, I had an idea he was roughly my age, but I didn't realize how close, only two months and a week older.
The kid could sing. Even as a twerpy 12-year-old, little Michael could belt the tune. "Got To Be There", even though I never cared much for the tune, then or now, certainly showed that he had something that my twerpy 12-year-old self and the rest of my 12-year-old friends did not: He really *could* sing! (I won't put links to the songs in the blog; they're easily enough found on playlist.com or youtube.com.)
When I heard that he died, "Ben" was the song that came to mind. For Elvis, I thought of "Suspicious Minds" right off. For John Lennon, I thought of "Imagine". But for MJ, it wasn't "Thriller" or any of the '80s stuff. I think "Ben" is his best vocal work. No theatrics, just a simple, beautiful song, sung straight from the heart. Nobody else I can think of has re-done the song, so if you know it, you know his version. The subject of the song is a pet rat, but that's beside the point.
He got weird by his late teens, nothing like later, but the inklings of what would warp his life later on became evident by the time I was in college. He had a monster album in 1979-80, spawning huge hits like "Off the Wall", "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" and "Rock With You". Yet despite all the fame and publicity, stories were coming out that he wanted to be reclusive, to get away from it all.
I thought about inviting him to spend the weekend with me, just a simple 19-, 20-year-old like him, not caring for fame or publicity. I figured he might find it cool to hang out with me, and we could put on our shorts and go wading in the creek that ran behind my house, without a house or person in sight. Chase minnows. Stand in the creek and let the minnows nibble your toes. I thought he might kinda like that. I think I even went so far as to try to figure out how to contact him, but I never followed through.
A couple years later, 1983, it was fun to see everyone play Simon Says, trying to moonwalk. I tried, too, and kinda know how, but never really mastered it. I'll stick to the unicycle.
Around 2002, I worked with a guy who thought MJ was the Devil incarnate. Same guy also took his religion waaay too seriously. Wouldn't shut up about it, either, both the religion AND Michael Jackson. How people get to thinking like that, I don't know. Probably got it spoon-fed to them by some crackpot on the radio. At that point, MJ hadn't made a record or done a show in 10 years. Why pick on the guy?
Me, I just liked how someone who'd been on this earth about as long as I was got so rich and famous. He wasn't my favorite performer, but I did buy a couple of his records ("Thriller" and "Bad" LPs). Yeah, I'll miss the guy.