At first, I hated Micheal Jackson. Even though I LOVED his music, I was drinkin’ some serious haterade (Michael Jackson flavor) during the 1980’s. The reason? It was simple: Mike had EVERY girl in my school goin’ ga-ga over him. (This, of course, made me have to work that much harder to get the ladies’ attention.) Once “Thriller” hit the streets, the average boy didn’t stand a chance with the ladies unless he was sportin’ a Jehri curl, one white glove and parachute pants with a red jacket that had, like, 74 zippers on it.
In 6th grade, the object of my affection was a cute little bitty named Janice Warren. I remember talking to her on the phone some nights (on rare occasions when my mother would let me.) I specifically remember one night, she was telling me how much she liked MJ. Me, full of my haterade, tried to persuade her that she should redirect her attention to me instead of the King of Pop.
“So WHAT if he’s a superstar and can sing?” I said, defiantly. “That’s nothing. I can sing better than him,” I boasted.
“Prove it,” she replied. “Sing ‘Billie Jean’ for me.”
I sang, over the phone, and thought I did pretty darn good, too. But Janice wasn’t swayed.
“Michael sings it better,” she said.
Stupid me. Did I REALLY think that I could compete with Michael Jackson?!?! And, if so, did I REALLY think that the way to convince a girl that I was better than MJ was to SING an MJ song?!?! I wasn’t too bright back then … I didn’t hear much from Janice after that; and the remainder of our school days together was awwwkwaaaard.
On to middle school … Cherise Wilson was her name. I knew not to try to sing to impress her, so I had to find another way to one-up Mike to win her over. Thriller was still going strong, and more of the songs had videos to go with them. Mike had established himself by doing the moonwalk, so I figured at a school dance I would dance my way into Cherise’s heart.
I was a great breakdancer (at least, in my mind I was.) So doin’ the moonwalk was no problem. The problem was that even though Michael Jackson didn’t invent the moonwalk, EVERYBODY THOUGHT HE DID, so anytime you did it, your version was compared to Michael’s. So, no matter how much moonwalkin’ I did, if I didn’t do it JUST LIKE HE DID when he sang Billie Jean, I couldn’t win.
Around that time, Mike and Prince were battling it out for Pop supremacy … After realizing I couldn’t beat Mike, I joined the Purple side.
In high school, my hormones were “in full effect.” (That was the saying back then.) The name of the girl who was stimulating those hormones was Tammy Clark. I had given up trying to imitate Mike (more accurately, failed at it.) In fact, I was in full hater mode, opting to wear Purple ruffles as I played the drums with purple “Shelia E”-style drumsticks in favor of Mike’s rival, the Purple One.
I was having moderate success with Tammy, and managed to keep Mike out of the picture (she was a Prince fan, too.) However there was one night, in her basement, where, well … let’s just say that some “romantic” music was in order. Having left my cassette tape of “Purple Rain” in my Walkman at home, all we had available was that damned Thriller album.
It was all that was needed. “Human Nature” played, followed by “Lady in my Life.” By the time that evening ended, I was a fan again. (I kind of felt obligated. After that night, I felt I OWED Mike one.)
I didn’t abandon Prince, I just welcomed Mike back. And I was glad I did, because it was hard to drink haterade whenever an MJ song was playing. When “Bad” came out, you KNEW you were diggin’ it. And don’t try to tell me you weren’t singing “Smooth Criminal” in the shower every now and then. (“Annie, are you okay? Are you okay, Annie?”) The “Black or White” video, with McCauley Culkin? The BOMB!
As I travel around the world during my military career, I’m always reminded how people from other countries know more about America and Americans than most Americans themselves do. It always amazed me, that even in the most remote villages in countries torn by poverty, instability and lack of government, it’s citizens were always quick to let me know what they know about America.
“Hey! You American,” they always would ask. I’d tell them I was. Then, they would proceed to let me know all the things they know about America (or ask questions about America.)
“America is great! I love America. I want to go there someday!” They would then start rambling off “American” things they’ve heard of just to strike up a conversation.
“Coca-Cola! Yes, Coca-Cola nice. I like McDonalds and …”
I always knew what they were going to say next …
“ … Michael Jackson. I LOOOVE Michael Jackson.”
No matter whether it was a country in Africa, or the country in the middle east in a village with no electricity and no running water, they KNEW Michael Jackson. (And could probably do a better moonwalk than me.)
I don’t know, but if I had to bet, I’d say that even the members of the insurgency in Afghanistan (who are attacking coalition forces including provincial reconstruction teams,) know about Michael Jackson. And, even if they decry the pop culture he helped spread, I BETCHA at least one of the insurgents has tried to moonwalk, at least once.
Rest in Peace, Michael.