By Kit Pancoast Nagamura
It's near midnight, dark, and moonless, with gusts of wind violently shaking the trees. I'm alone, huddled entirely beneath the bedcovers as tree branches tap the windowpanes. Something snaps a twig just outside, and I hold my breath. While this might sound like a scene right out of Michael Jackson's 1982 "Thriller," the best-selling album of all time, it's actually the scenario of how I used to listen to his music.
While still in third grade, I made my first major purchase in life with money I had saved arduously in a tube sock. Dramatically emptying the sock at a local sundries store, I bought a Panasonic transistor radio. It was about the size of a sandwich, with black plastic casing and a metallic silver front that carried the mysterious message: "Solid State." But the most important detail of the radio was its little white earphone attachment. On stormy nights when I couldn't sleep, I would tuck the radio under my pillow, put in the earphone, and drift off to Motown tunes, or Michael singing "Got to be there in the morning, when she says hello to the world." I thought this was what "Solid State" meant, the feeling of comfort brought on by music.
Michael Jackson's passing has brought up all kinds of memories for many of us, touchstones in time. I learned to dance to "Rockin' Robin," marveled at the music moving like lightning bolts through Jackson's ankles in "Billie Jean," and applauded the unambiguous, anti-discriminatory message of "Black or White."
Over the last two decades, Jackson's plastic surgery garnered ridicule and dissection in the press. As Jackson's skin paled and his nose disappeared in snippets, magazines and TV comedians had a field day. Was he black or was he white, victim of vitiligo or vanity? During this time, celebrity media went through an equally unattractive transformation, letting loose clouds of mosquito-like paparazzi — cynical, intrusive, and at times flat out cruel. While their coverage may have highlighted the pitfalls of cosmetic surgery, it simultaneously raised the stakes on fame, suggesting that if you want a piece of it, you have to be willing to be taken to pieces.
Then there were molestation charges against Jackson, murky and weird, which occurred in the same decade when first-grader Jonathan Prevette was suspended from school for kissing a classmate on the cheek, and two 13-year-old boys were charged with felony-level sexual abuse for slapping girls' behinds. Jackson, with his ostentatious wealth, bizarre appearance, eerie falsetto, and unusually demonstrative affections toward children shouldn't have been surprised to find himself targeted. Though acquitted legally, Jackson and his reputation never fully recovered in the eyes of the general public.
Kings of all kinds live under swords, and no one's perfect. The King of Pop, as Jackson was dubbed by Elizabeth Taylor, was clearly no exception to either of these conditions. However, when I think of Jackson, I think of his reign of music, the compelling choreography of his dance, and the 110 percent he put into every performance. I miss those stormy nights, half asleep, when Michael Jackson was in Solid State.
Shukan ST: July 10, 2009
(C) All rights reserved