If someone were to ask me to pick my musical icon, I would proudly answer Michael Jackson. When I was a boy I grew up listening to classic rock and country tunes in the backseat of my parents car. At that time, this was the only music I knew. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Michael Jackson video on MTV. It was his Bad video and it seemed so out of this world, so larger than life. From that moment on I was hooked! It was so different from everything else that I had heard up until that point. My mother told me that this was pop music. I asked her what exactly pop music meant, she told me, “Well, it’s popular!” I had no idea what she meant, but I thought I had found the holy grail of music. He was my first true source of musical inspiration.
The obsession only grew! The first album I got was a hand-me-down of Thriller from my uncle. PYT, Beat It, and The Girl Is Mine were my favorites, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t play that album forwards and backwards, over and over again. The next album I got was Dangerous for my eighth Birthday. To this day it is still my personal favorite Michael Jackson album. It was like magic, something I just couldn’t get enough of. I would dance (when no one was watching) to the whole album in my room. The album was stuck on repeat for well over a year. During this time I also stalked MTV for any and all MJ videos. I think Michael defined the medium. He gave each single life with a clever, generally over-the-top music video. Those videos showcased Michael’s creativity, story telling and perfectionism.
For most, the bottom fell out soon after. I was around nine years old when the allegations of child abuse came out. I refused to believe any of it and stood by my hero! It wasn’t easy, a lot of other people thought I was weird. I guess what pulled me through was his music. Personally I never believed Michael was ever sexually motivated. What I saw was a person who had a strong passion for music and big heart. A person who could be easily misunderstood.
I continued to collect Michael Jackson albums and singles. History came out in 1995, his first release post allegations. That album showed a different Michael. It wasn’t a bad thing, but it was clear that something changed. I guess the best way I can put it is anger. I never saw that side to him before, but he expressed his anger clearly through that album. The first single was Scream, it was supported with a multi-million dollar video and ad campaign. At the time, it was a record-breaking budget for a video. Scream went to number one on the Billboard top 100. I was happy that even with all the allegations, he could still reach the top (at least then I knew I wasn’t the only one listening to him). History produced a few more singles, but it was never quite the same.
Another long break before we got his next album in 2001, Invincible. Another album filled with mix emotions. Although the album made it to number one, none of the singles had the same sort of impact as once before. The album did much better internationally. Perhaps something that pulled away attention from the album were further accusations of child abuse. This time Michael didn’t settle. In 2004 Michael went to court, fought back and, in one of the most conservative districts in California, Michael was unanimously declared innocent on all accounts. I was so happy for him! At times I wish this is what he would have done back in 1992 instead of settling out of court. After this I truly hoped for a refocus on music. Sadly that never came to be.
After years of rumors regarding his financial stability and parenting skills, fans finally got some music related news in 2008. Michael was going to put on a final tour called This is It. I was incredibly disappointed that the shows were only taking place in London, but there were strong hints that he would bring the show to North America if it were a success. I remember reading sites online and looking for YouTube videos of concert rehearsals. The show was an instant sell out! Fast forward to June 25, 2009, I’ll never forget that day. I was working at an at&t kiosk in the Mall of America when someone came up and stated quite simply, “Did you hear? Michael Jackson has been rushed to the hospital! They think he’s dead!” I couldn’t believe it, my heart sank. It was so unreal. I remember driving home that night and I swear, each and every radio station seemed to be paying homage.
Sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. That was certainly the case in regards to Michael. The whole industry felt a sense of loss, a gaping hole that will never be filled. I’m disappointed that I never got to see him live. I also find it sad how 2001’s Invincible would be the last album that he would see completed. Such a loss! Looking back, its easy for me to say that he had a huge impact on me not only musically, but also in my character. Michael was a fantastic role model for me and I only wish I got the chance to share that with him. To let him know that at least I didn’t care about the rumors and gossip, I cared about the character and talent. He made me fall in love with dance music, a passion that lives deep in me to this very day. Many of today’s musicians label him as their inspiration, much like myself. I only hope that I can do something in my lifetime that can give back to his legacy!