Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Manboy in the Mirror

I was at Sound Lab recording studio on W. 5th this afternoon for the production of a work-related radio spot. As I pulled into the parking lot around 2pm, Jammin’ 105.9 was playing “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I had to cut the engine right as Michael Jackson got to that “tee-hahaha!” breakdown. Little did I know it would be the last time I heard a Michael Jackson song while he was still alive (to the best of our knowledge, anyway).

As the recording session inched toward closure, our assistant account executive said Michael Jackson had just died. Conflicting news reports made this difficult to confirm, but by the time I got home, everyone but CNN was reporting Jackson’s death as fact.

In November of 1984, I saw the Jacksons perform at the Astrodome in Houston on the Victory tour. The tour set a new bar for fevered hype and there was widespread outrage at the lofty $28 ticket price. I had no plans on going myself, but on the day of the show, a high school pal offered me his extra ticket as a birthday present.

The opening act was a guy who juggled to Beatles songs. Then they showed the S&M/jungle-themed video for “Torture,” which allegedly featured a wax dummy stand-in for Michael and was the only hint that the Victory tour was ostensibly undertaken to promote a new Jacksons album called Victory.

Finally, the Jacksons took the stage, opening with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Although they ran a perfunctory medley of Motown hits, the brothers focused on the scintillating Quincy Jones productions from the 1979 template,“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” all the way through to “Billie Jean.” Despite the Astrodome’s lousy acoustics, it was a pretty amazing show.

Although his death was shocking in its suddenness, I can’t say I’m surprised Michael Jackson didn’t live to a ripe old age. Succumbing to a massive heart attack at age 50 is tragic, but taken alongside Jackson’s post-Thriller unraveling, the suspected cause of death seems almost conventional.

As Jackson stood trial for child molestation, hearing the 10-year-old Jackson deliver his timeless performance of “I Want You Back” became a sad exercise in dissonance. Putting aside the question of did he or didn’t he, I couldn’t hear him sing without wishing that 10-year-old kid something better.

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