Not too long ago while taking the bus to Food-4-Less, I popped in an old tape of Michael Jackson remixes. Somewhere around “You Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” I developed the biggest lump in my throat. I was just overcome with such a sadness and shame, common to what I imagine a mother must feel like when finding her child is on death row.
“My God, you were never as smart and as brave as you were as an infant, untouched and unable to succumb to this pinprick of a world.”
Though I was a Prince fan, Mike and I hung pretty heavy back in the day. It’s easy to observe the pale skin, the doe eyes, the kitten nose, the licorice lips and the frail, virgin boy voice and declare him to be not only a mockery to black men but to humanity as a whole. But there was a time, before the court cases, before the accusations, before the baby dangling, before the bewildering vitiligo when Mike… was the shit.
I remember how in awe my brother and I were of him. How innovative the moonwalk was back then. How magical the video for “Billie Jean” seemed.
“Oh my God Breeze, he’s walking down the sidewalk, and with every step, the sidewalk lights up, how in the name of GOD is he doing that!!”
Then there was “Beat It” whose gritty portrayal of urban life was nothing less than an act of revolution in a time when MTV was fighting against playing African American artists nonetheless artists with videos that employed actual real live gang members as stars. This was a different era and as pop music was concerned, Michael Jackson was our 50 Cent, bringing urban culture to the masses selling an unprecedented 50 million copies of “Thriller” worldwide. Again, my brother and I were simply astounded.
“Breeze, Michael Jackson got real live Crips and Bloods in his video. Man, Mike is a real brother. Wouldn’t nobody else be doing that. Michael is ghetto as hell. Word!”
Hollywood consistently shits out movie after movie in which middle-aged Caucasians reminisce about their youth and lay claim to African American songs as the soundtrack to their lives (re: The Big Chill). Well, Michael Jackson was definitely on the soundtrack of mine. Growing up in the Ida B. Wells projects in Chicago I fondly remember those hot ass summer days when we would play softball for eight hours, go to the candy lady, try to figure out what the hell Mike was saying at the end of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”…
“Momma say, momma saw, momma saw Crusoe?”
“No, momma say, momma saw, ma saw cruiser.”
“No, momma say, momma’s all moo cow sue cow.”
I had a knot on my head for a week trying to spin like he did in some award show and countless ankle sprains trying to moonwalk.
The video for “Thriller” was like visual lemon; it was so tart that you had to taste it again. Complete with decrypt zombies who slithered out of crypts and graves, you couldn’t help but want to but be fascinated as they terrorized Ola Ray and boogied down the street so distinctively that those dance moves are parodied decades later.
I also remember when I first picked up “Bad” in 1987 and was just… fascinated by the picture on the cover. I remember getting my “Thriller” LP and looking at the two side by side.
“Is he… whiter? Is that the flash or is he white? Did he get another nose job? Are those… cheekbones?”
But nevermind, Mike was still the man.
But here we sit, approximately twenty years after the “Thriller” years, white as a ghost, lips so thin they could slice cheese, and… “The Nose”. All of which people draw a direct line from directly to the accusations of his appropriate actions with children with the overall thought being, “freak… inside and out.”
I don’t agree with that sentiment at all. I look at Michael Jackson on the cover of “Off The Wall” and the main thing that goes through my mind is, “He was really cute back in the day.” And I guess that’s what breaks my heart. That nobody was around a 23, 24-year-old Michael Jackson and was like, “You are one beautiful man. I absolutely love your big ass nose, I love your soup cooler, Jimmy “J.J.” Walker lips, I absolutely adore your nappy ass hair Michael. I think you are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen, you sexy motherfucker you.” Because the truth of the matter is, he was… he really was.
I often dream about my 24-year-old self, meeting his 24-year-old self through some weird chain of events. I would just hug him, kiss him, tell him how much of a beautiful black man he is. This is was in the back of my mind on the way to Food-4-Less. Come back to the five and dime Michael Jackson, Michael Jackson.
(Originally Published in the "Monthly Breeze")