(Picture snapped tonight at Vintage Vinyl. I asked Matt Harnish if they had any Michael Jackson left. "Nope!" he exclaimed. I'm unsurprised. Other record stores in town -- have any MJ left?)
That's what comes to mind when I think of Michael Jackson. It wasn't until later that I learned that MTV airing his videos paved the way for other funk, soul, R&B and hip-hop artists to appear on the channel. I didn't really even consider his race then, I don't think - and his music was just music, free of genres and classifications and pigeonholing. He was just Michael Jackson. The guy my best friend and I lip-synched to in front of my bedroom mirror, blasting a dubbed tape of Bad. Thriller was this blockbuster album that saturated radio and the charts, something to take for granted. He was ingrained in music, ingrained in pop culture.
I remember the Jackson family's 1984 tour - probably because some cereal or fast food chain gave away stickers that I stuck all over a toy box - but didn't realize then that the Jackson 5 made little Michael a star and invented bubblegum-R&B. I didn't know about the scandals or the squabbling or the accusations - just the music. (The scandals I remember came later - the controversy over Jackson destroying cars in "Black Or White," a video aired on Fox after the Simpsons, for instance.) Videos featuring scads of movie stars and rock stars were totally normal in Jackson's sphere.
Amazingly enough, all of the controversy that found him didn't discourage his fan base - one million people were scheduled to see Jackson do a staggering fifty concerts in England later this year. Although health problems and bizarre behavior overshadowed his musical career in recent years, he still reaped the goodwill he earned as an '80s pop icon. He was forever frozen in time as a lithe young dancer -- the one seen on TV gracefully moving across the stage, spinning like a top and moving his body in effortless ways, the ways most of us only move in our imaginations.
Debauched rock stars who damage their bodies with smoking, drinking and drugs - well, their early demise makes sense. We expect it. But pop stars - the larger-than-life purveyors of glossy radio music - are immortal totems. Perhaps that's why we're so shocked and saddened by Jackson's death - as one of the biggest pop stars ever, he never seemed real or human. His celebrity, money, prestige and fame was on some entirely different planet that was so preposterous, it boomeranged back to plausible. So his absence seems impossible, something impossible to reconcile with what we know. He's forever the King of Pop -- whether he's shadowy, fragile fodder for gossip sites, or the man zombie-walking through "Thriller."