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A Seven Year-Old’s Thoughts on Michael Jackson Before and After Thriller

March 3, 2015

Michael Jackson joyMy youngest daughter was perched at my husband’s computer the other day, while I sat opposite her in an armchair sorting through bills.

She was watching an early video of Michael Jackson’s – “Blame It on the Boogie” – and I couldn’t help but notice her face. Her eyes were wide and focused, her lips in an open-mouthed smile.

She was beaming.

Her delight was contagious, so I decided to live a little. I dumped my mail into a pile at my feet and went to sit beside her. We watched “Blame It on the Boogie” three times, then “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You.” Over and over. I showed her “Beat It” and “Thriller,” then “Billie Jean,” but it was when we moved past the “Thriller” album – onto “HIStory,” “Bad” and “Dangerous” – that her interest waned. Not entirely, but it was clear her attention had gone from rapturous to merely entertained. She’d lost that look of unbridled joy that had drawn me to her side in the first place.

And I’d lost it, too, even if I was still a little hungry for the shot of bliss Jackson’s early videos had given me. It was the pop culture equivalent of a hangover – the kind of bluesy, reflective state that washes over you after watching Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz” and thinking, What the hell happened?

In “Boogie” there was a sense of wonder. Jackson moved with an easy grace and basked in his performance. There was a give and take with the audience that flowed like a perfect kiss. All sweet and tender but on fire at the same time.

His dancing was raw, almost childlike. And although he was on stage with his talented brothers, he was the only one you wanted to watch. As I sat writing this post, I had to call it back up on my screen, then get up and dance. I couldn’t help myself.

Fast forward to “Bad,” which was good, but forced, over-choreographed and detached. Jackson had wind machines blowing at him and sported a quasi-military outfit that jingled like a charm bracelet. His face, so handsome, had already begun its transformation – looking chiseled and waxy.

Everything about him seemed to say “go away.”

My daughter’s interest was piqued again when I showed her pictures of Jackson’s metamorphosis. Yet I found myself at a loss when it came to explaining to her why it happened. To talk about childhood trauma, or the trappings of fame, or the loneliness that some very talented people feel seemed trite. I didn’t know Michael Jackson, after all, and it felt silly to try and psychoanalyze him.

But as usual, she bested me.

“Frankenstein,” she said.Β She was looking at a picture of Jackson at his worst – towards the end of his life.

Michael Jackson sad

Frankenstein is a big theme for her. She loves the original 1933 black and white film as much as the 1974 Mel Brooks parody.

I’ve always thought it’s because she, herself, has so many scars – from the many surgeries she had to endure at birth, to the fact that no one could hold her until she was several weeks old and could actually tolerate the pain of being moved and cuddled. Whatever the case, she feels a kinship with Mary Shelley’s dark protagonist, and was able to make the connection between the fictional character and the very real Michael Jackson.

And as I looked at the pictures of Jackson that spanned from his youth in the Jackson 5 to his beyond the stratosphere fame, I felt the urge to hunt down a quote from Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel – one that I could only remember in vague terms, but I knew it would fit.

“I was dependent on none and related to none. The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.” – the Monster.

Michael Jackson real

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25 Comments
  1. Buda permalink

    You do know that Michael had a disease (more than one), right? Because from your writing I could swear, you think Michael looked like that because of plastic surgeries.
    Why do you think he had long hair towards the end? You know who wears long hair? People who try to hide their face. There was nothing Michael could do about his condition. I don’t know why is his appearence even an issue.

    And while I do agree that his music was more light-hearted before Bad, there are just some themes that your daughter can’t comprehend at her age. Michael’s music after Bad became full of hidden meanings and also his way of cleaning himself from the world’s filth. He grew up (in a way) and so did his music (in a way).

    While I do like your moment with your daughter, i don’t think kids at her age represent an objective music critic πŸ˜€

    • Hi, Buda – thanks for reading. I understand your concerns, but I meant this post to be about a moment between a mother and daughter, not a critique of MJ’s music. I’m not a music critic, and she’s definitely not one πŸ™‚ I was just trying to answer some of my daughter’s questions the best way I could. Have a good one and come by again next week.

  2. Out of the mouth of babes…. it was Frankenstein like transformation. As usual great post. My son had very severe eczema as a baby and it was hard at times to touch him without causing tremendous discomfort , but because of the very ailment it was imperative to touch him to keep him as clean as can be, he had a combination of wet and dry eczema. On of the best ways to help curtail his suffering was to wrap him almost like a mummy with a special oatmeal poultice, he was obsessed with mummies for the longest time, and I wonder if somewhere in the back of his mind were memories from his infant crib.

    • I absolutely think that kids have something akin to memory when it comes to things that happened in their infancy. The Frankenstein and Mummy fixation is just too much of a coincidence. Poor kid. Eczema is – at least from what sufferers have told me – horribly uncomfortable.

  3. Your daughter is wise beyond her years. πŸ™‚

    • You have no idea. thanks for reading πŸ™‚

      • Jan permalink

        Jo is a special child with a unique perspective on most everything. I am so glad I had the opportunity to know her.

  4. Heard the very beginnings of the Jackson Five, back when they were still with Steeltown Records, before they went with Motown. They were popular in Gary, where I grew up, but I left and joined the Army before they got big.

    Their style was so pure and free, could definitely make you smile. πŸ™‚

  5. You grew up in Gary? We were so close in proximity – me being a Chicago rat (Chicago suburbs at any rate)

    • Yep, I’m a Gary boy. Had relatives in Chicago and Streamwood (?). Made many trips to Chicago and vicinity, on the Skyway my iron-worker uncle helped build.

  6. We were ships passing in the night πŸ™‚

  7. Warm and embracing!

  8. Jan, you are missed! I hope you’re lovin’ the beach.

  9. What an awesome moment, Victoria! I love that you just threw down the bills to go watch Michael Jackson videos together.

    Personally, I love the the Bad, Thriller, Billie Jean era. Being the little aspiring dancer at the time, I grew up studying these music videos and I was in awe with the music and choreography. He was an unmatched performer and will always be a part of entertainment history. Very important artist, in my humble opinion.

  10. He was unmatched, Britt. And you’re right, the choreography was amazing in his later videos.

  11. This was intriguing. I discovered Michael Jackson quite late in my life and seeing it with fresh eyes was quite an experience. Your daughter’s sympathy with and understand of Frankenstein is heartbreaking and illuminating. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  12. Thanks for reading, Lee.

  13. There are wonderful things I know about this man from his aunt. He was than his music. And more than what we saw at face value. He was one to never shy away from deformities or disfigured peopele. After hiis accident on the 80’s he became very involved in the children’s burn units around the country and the world. He did things for others that no one even knows about. But to his aunt. He was always just little Michael. A gifted and happy child.

  14. What I know of this man comes directly from his aunt. Joes older sister. She said he was more than what we saw at face value. He was a kind and generous person. Most of the things he did for others was never seen by the publics critical eye. He was disfigured back in the 80’s by his Pepsi accident. That experience made him more aware of the plight of others. He became very involved with burn units throughout the country and the world. But no one wants to
    Focus on the good he did for others. They all want what the press said about him. Michael was quiet and shy. But could come out of his shell the second music came on. I never saw him as a monster. But as someone beat down by the one thing that made him great. Fame. Now that is the true monster. Michael put others before his own needs and that lead to him being taken advantage of. He was an easy target. Sadly that life he lived took him away form his family. When they all were leaving to California for the funeral his aunt and cousins were broken hearted. They lost someone they loved and simply called Mike.
    No one should take him at face value. He was so much more.

  15. cool post on M.J. πŸ™‚

  16. Thanks, Wholeproduction πŸ™‚

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