When I was 11 years old, I saw Michael Jackson dance for the first time. I don’t mean the Jackson 5 dancing; I mean the Michael Jackson- Moonwalking-Billie Jean-singing kind of dance. I couldn’t stop looking. I thought he was the best dancer I’d ever seen.
All I wanted for Christmas that year was the Thriller album. I received a new jambox and the Thriller cassette, and I listened to it over and over and over again. I don’t know how it didn’t break. At some point, the Thriller video came out and the Making of Thriller came out and, OMG, we went nuts over it! It was the coolest thing we’d ever seen. We all learned the Thriller dance, of course. We used our best Vincent Price voices for the scary talking part. As far as music entertainment goes, MJ was everything.
Fast forward to many years and two kids later and…MJ was creepy. And sad. Plastic beyond recognition. Weird. An accused child molester. Then he died. I was left to sift through my mixed emotions that began in childhood and morphed through adulthood. What the hell happened to MJ? What was his life that left him so broken and Humpty Dumpty-couldn’t-put-him-back-together?
Steve Knopper has written an MJ biography; it’s not the first and certainly won’t be the last. It seems like we should know it all by now, but we don’t. I heard about this book on NPR and thought I would like it; in reading it, I was obsessed with MJ all over again. He writes the story like a magazine feature but has many human angles to MJ’s life, including new interviews that were all unpaid. That was part of the deal.
Knopper shows how a monster is created. The hangers-on, the Yes Men and Women, the larger than life father, the meek and mild mother, and the nonexistent childhood all contribute to this complex creation. It’s sad until the whole molestation storyline begins, and then MJ is less the victim than the victimizer. Knopper does not try to make the readers believe one side or the other; he emphasizes the legal bottom line. The whole situation left me feeling gross and still like I would never let my children hang out with him.
Yet…I loved the stories behind the recording of each big hit. I drank in the part of his partnership with Quincy Jones and how they truly made magic. MJ wasn’t yet The King of Pop and I found this section especially compelling. Now, when I listen to Michael Jackson Pandora, I think of the stories that surround each song.
Amazingly, his music lives on, as does his family’s dysfunction and squabbles over money. Let’s be honest — he will never rest in peace. Nor will my opinion of him. I will always have conflicted emotions regarding MJ, but when his songs come on, I sing and dance and think of better times.