Michael Jackson influenced my life at 10, 25 and now at 50.
I’ve never owned a Jackson record. I didn’t have to. My “Summer of 69” and several after were spent at Revere Beach with my family and 680 WRKO AM. Back then there was no “FM” and ‘RKO DJ’s Dale Dorman, J. J. Wright, J. J. Jeffrey, Shadoe Stevens and Frank Kingston Smith played the hits all day long. Of course those boys were flipping vinyl platters back then and the songs of the Jackson Five were the soundtrack to the 1970 season. While we broiled, swam the not so crystal waters and dined on Kelly’s Fish n’ Chips, Michael and his brothers poured out of transistor radios in multi-stereo up and down the beach in varying quality. Of course the highlight of that summer was seeing a 34C escape its bikini island prison to bask glowingly in the mid day sun, even for just a second… but I digress.
The Jacksons and other Motown acts seasoned my musical tastes, but no self-respecting member of the KISS Army would buy into the disco lie, so I was spared the embarrassment of that era… until 1983. Out of college and waiting tables at the old “John Martin’s Manor” on Route 1 in Saugus, I donned dark pastel shirts, thin black leather tie and red (very red) “Members Only” jacket to hit the floor, but with conditions. I wouldn’t dance to the old disco hits I rejected years earlier, but in 1983, one could dance to Prince, Talking Heads, David Bowie, and of course Michael Jackson. Everybody got up for “Billie Jean.” I’m not sure if I would have allowed myself to be into Mike without it, but dammit, he had Eddie Van Halen playing guitar on “Beat it” and he looked tough in the video, so I rationalized and jumped in.
As a parent raising young children in 1993, the abuse allegations were pretty sickening, but I remember thinking he was just a kid in an adult’s body. I recall his 1988 Grammy performance of “Man in the Mirror.” At the time I was amazed at the emotion he projected and with his constant physical transformations over the years, I have no doubt he hated what he saw there. Some speculate he saw his father and wanted that reflection removed. Anyway, I guess we’ll never know the many mysteries of Michael, but those child charges will always stain the trademark white glove.
Now, only a few months older than me, Michael Jackson is no more. Game Over at 50. The sad end of his life seems normal, another “Candle in the Wind” moment. It’s as if the steep trajectory of his existence had to end in self immolation, like a soaring rocket lighting the sky and spirit, only to lose power, tip awkwardly downward and explode. The dead at 50 thing is just another reminder of mortality and an additional nudge to live a healthier lifestyle.
Thanks for everything, Michael.