Did you see that?

Twenty-five years ago, I wanted to be as cool as Michael Jackson. We all did.

Everything he did was worthy of our attention. I missed his appearance on the Motown special, the night that he debuted the moonwalk, but I sure did hear about it the next day at school. “Did you see that?” The question was almost always followed by a very poor attempt to duplicate the feat. “It was kind of like this … well … not like what I’m doin’, but … aw, crap … man, you should’ve seen it!

I remember where I was when I saw the “Billie Jean” video for the first time. It was on a Friday night, on some short-lived locally-produced video show, slotted just after a Lionel Richie video (“All Night Long (All Night)”). I was in my grandmother’s room, the only place I could watch television by myself in the house.

I saw the “Beat It” video a few weeks later on MTV. And yes, I wanted the red leather jacket with the chains and the metal mesh patches and all the zippers. Because everyone wanted that jacket. Now, understand that the “Beat It” jacket was much different from the later “Thriller” jacket, but I’m getting ahead of myself. “Beat It” was spectacular because it was something that could be played on practically any radio station, country excepted. Why? Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo, of course.

It think it was around this time that I convinced my mom that I needed the Thriller album. Wait. Let me be more accurate. I needed the record, and that’s what I got. Thriller on vinyl, complete with the liner notes and little drawings that Jackson drew himself. Looking back, I have to give my parents a lot of credit for their patience with me. I had a record player of my own, but no headphones. Why would I need them? So they had to endure the countless plays and replays of Sides A and B. I seem to recall that “The Girl Is Mine” was a particular favorite for overplaying, though I’m not sure why. I know that I liked it well enough to pick up Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace on cassette a few months later, because it featured “Say Say Say,” the other McCartney / Jackson collaboration.

But the big event was “Thriller.” This was back when videos were still fresh and a new video was worth celebrating. MTV used to make such a gloriously big deal out of the world premieres of even the most mediocre musician’s latest, but when the video was coming from Michael Jackson, time itself stood still. “Thriller” was good as a video, but the “Making Of” documentary was just about the best thing ever. Not only did you get to see how the zombie effects were done and so on, but we got to see Michael just basically hanging out with director John Landis. And he seemed like a heck of a nice guy. A little shy, even. And he didn’t hide behind sunglasses. Or over-process his hair. Heck, he might’ve even still had the majority of his actual, original nose.

(The “Thriller” jacket, however? Nowhere near as awesome as the other one.)

I’ve said it once. I’ll say it many times again. I miss Michael Jackson. I miss the over-talented kid who could do no wrong, who seemed so kind and who effortlessly rocked the hell out of a groove when the need arose.

That man who spends his days hiding in Dubai? Don’t know him. He might have the same name, but that’s not Michael Jackson.

Originally, this was going to be a rather disparaging assessment of the bonus tracks tacked so needlessly on the 25th Anniversary re-issue of Thriller, for truly, they are abyssmal and not deserving to share even the same physical media as the original nine tracks. But given the way the re-issue has inspired me to remember just how awesome Michael Jackson used to be … I think I’ll stop my post right about here and just give those nine tracks another listen instead. Besides, Rob Sheffield’s RS review burns the bonus tracks to a bacon-y crisp that I would be hard-pressed to match.

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One response to “1983”

  1. Starting March 1st, XM Channel 63 is turning into Michael Jackson ALL. THE. TIME. in honor of Thriller’s 25th anniversary.

    Human Nature is one my favorite songs.

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