FEATURE: The Great Entertainer: Michael Jackson at Sixty: How He Changed My Life




The Great Entertainer


IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson during his HIStory World Tour/PHOTO CREDIT: Phil Walter  

Michael Jackson at Sixty: How He Changed My Life


PERHAPS I will put out another piece about…


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

Michael Jackson but I wanted to provide something more personal to mark his sixtieth birthday. I will end by collating my twenty favourite songs of his (to go with a larger playlist I put together for an earlier piece) but there is so much about the man to admire! I have been looking out at the media world and seeing what is already published – slim pickings considering all he gave to music and how thankful we should be! I will talk about Jackson as a performer and star but, before then, I will reveal when his music came into my life. I cannot remember the exact date but I know Bad was the first album of his that I got my hands on – it was around the late-1980s. At that time in my life (when I was just starting secondary school); music was very much part of my social life and a bonding ritual. I had a group of friends who lived nearby and we would, in addition to general play, talk about the latest releases and play them on the stereo. It sounds rather idyllic and romantic but often we could be heard singing along to the latest chart hit and various tapes/albums we had procured – the neighbours must have been infuriated a lot! Jackson stood out because of his personality and sense of electricity.

I got more into his music through the 1990s but the man’s mannerisms and vocals tics lodged in my mind. In an affectionate way, I and my friends would copy his dancing and repeat his best-known tracks. I was aware of his Thriller and Off the Wall work (at that point) and would fall for Dangerous later down the line. My first tastes of Jackson came in the form of his Disco cuts with his brothers. The difference between The Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson’s work blew my mind and the sensation of seeing a man evolve and come out of himself reflected on me. I was a shy kid – and am a shy adult... – but the sense of expression and liberated Jackson provided rubbed off. Through something as simple as dancing to his music and listening to his music, I gained a level of confidence and sense of belonging that was missing up until then. It can be hard fitting into groups and making friends at school but, for me, I struggled a lot to belong and feel involved. Music is the way I find a sense of community and purpose now and, from a very young age, it was a way to connect with the world and find my way. I was a fan of artists like Prince but Michael Jackson opened my eyes like nobody else. Seeing him on MTV and videos like Billie Jean and Beat It (from Thriller) was a sensational revelation. I would happily spend hours listening to Bad and would dive into the songs and let them carry me away.

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Watching the man own music videos and strut like nobody could touch him was an emotional thing. I could sense, under everything, there was a struggle and need to belong – the same thing I felt! Jackson was a lot older than me but, even as a star and big name, I was detecting a vulnerability and loneliness that was being quenched by music. Jackson was an enigmatic musician and I wonder how he differed away from the stage and studio. Much has been said about his private life and the press spent most his career hounding and poking at him. The less said about their reprehensible behaviour and obsessions the better! For me, Michael Jackson’s personal life is irrelevant and does not need to be discussed. I idolised him because of what he brought to music. He was a gifted and incredible songwriter who could easily stun when writing ballads and stagger when spitting anger and providing something exhilarating. His movement and dance gave children like me a channel and way of feeling less quiet and alone. He wouldn’t have been aware but his live performances and stunning videos were giving so many people a voice! By the time Dangerous came along in 1991, with a harder and more anxious sound, I was seeing Jackson cast off a sweeter side – apart from a few songs - and react to the press and accusations.

The mire and controversy would reach a peak in the mid-1990s but, even by Dangerous, he was being hounded in his private and public life. I could sense that anger and disgust and, under all of it, detect a need for protection and help. That sort of understanding and heartache was very daunting for someone so young. I was about eight when Dangerous came out but, like Bad and Thriller, that album would, again, change my life. I was still struggling to find company and companions – apart from a small group of friends – and Jackson’s rising fame and huge gigs made me want to know more about the star. I was seeing much more than a songwriter come to life. In the way Madonna introduced me to the idea of an idol and performer; Michael Jackson was this rare and special human who was taking music to new levels. Few songwriters could touch him and, in terms of performance, nobody offered that blend of the physical, majestic and unique. Maybe Prince had his own vibe but I always preferred Michael Jackson! There are entertainers and great performers today but I feel we have lost the very best. Too much of Pop and R&B today seems the same and comparatively restrained. I do not feel the same way about today’s artists and, when I need that smile and boost of energy then it is Jackson’s music and videos I run to.

As I go through my adult life, he is still inspiring me and helping. Although he died in 2009; I can see how he has influenced artists today and how his legacy is bleeding into music. The fact nobody can touch him and Jackson stands on a plain of his own shows how mesmeric and meteoric his spirit was. I always get affronted by people who look at his past and accuse him; how they question his innocence and bring up all the bad things. They forget what he gave to music and how much he achieved. From breaking racial boundaries and raising awareness of racism on music T.V. to the staggering rise his career took – few others changed music and made more of an impact. I am still learning from Michael Jackson and do not think I will ever be able to get to the bottom of what made him tick. That mystery and complexity is in my blood and I am discovering new things about Jackson with every song and new spin – a man who keeps revealing fresh layers and eliciting new emotions. Not only did he help me find a place and remained focused as a child but I am compelled by him now. Among all the general pieces about Jackson – the ‘best of’ and his ‘ultimate albums’ – I wanted to provide something personal and state how he impacted (and still does) my life. Even though he is no longer around; his sixtieth birthday makes me happy and sad. I am glad I get to pay my respect and thanks but it is gutting to know we will never see the man release new material or tour. Many might come and go in music but the chances of discovering anyone who reaches Michael Jackson’s genius…


IN THIS PHOTO: Michael Jackson is presented with a GRAMMY Legend Award by younger sister Janet Jackson at The 35th Annual GRAMMY Awards/PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Mazur

IS extremely rare!