Thursday, 23 July 2009

Memories of Michael Jackson

It's difficult for me to remember a time when Michael Jackson was not a part of my life.

I remember watching the Thriller video for the first time, and the excited conversations I had with my school friends about this young black man who had just taken music video to a whole new level.

I remember sitting in school assembly, bored out of my brain, imagining I was up on stage, dressed in a white suit, tipping my fedora, strutting my stuff, as the kids went wild and screamed my name.

I remember when Michael Jackson performed in front of a sell-out crowd in Liverpool in 1988. I remember watching Michael Jackson at Wembley stadium four years later. A friend and I managed to get within two rows of the stage. At one point, as Michael performed Beat It, he swung from a crane above me. I was looking up at him; he was looking down at me. I remember thinking: My God. Michael Jackson is looking at me!

I remember being 18 years old and listening to Michael Jackson's first new single in two years, Black or White, on a crappy hi-fi system in a crappy bedsit near Liverpool. I remember standing below Michael Jackson's hotel room in Prague in 1996 as he threw signed pillow cases down to the adoring crowd.

Later, I remember where I was when Michael Jackson was accused of abusing a child. I also remember where I was when he was acquitted of child abuse in 2005. And, of course, I will always remember where I was on Thursday 25 June 2009 when I heard the news that the world's brightest star was shining no more.

I was in a caravan in Blackpool playing Scrabble with my family. This is strange enough in itself: I am not close to my family (we live on different planets). When we were younger, we were all huge Michael Jackson fans. This was our first family holiday for 15 years and the first time we had been together in years. Strange that Michael Jackson should die on the last night of our holiday when we were all together like that.

It's difficult to put into words the effect Michael Jackson had upon my life. I have never been a fan of celebrities; I am not like many of the people in this country, who mindlessly read gossip mags and follow the lives of the rich and famous because they have no lives themselves. But when I was a kid it was impossible to ignore Michael Jackson.

It is a testament to his fame that, in the house of a poor family who had no carpets, no phone and no TV, a family who were in many ways detached from what was going on in the world outside their front door, the most popular topic of conversation was Michael Jackson. Like millions of people the world over, we were fascinated by this all-dancing, all-dancing, crotch-grabbing, moonwalking phenomenon.

It was Michael Jackson's remarkable talent that initially drew me to him. Later, when the songs and albums started to dry up and Michael began to lose his creative spark, it was his trials and tribulations that kept me fascinated. I've always found myself drawn to people who have suffered (often to my cost) and Michael Jackson suffered more than anyone.

Yes, Michael Jackson squandered a huge fortune and was prone to a spot of baby dangling. Yes, he was an American, and I've made clear my feelings for those people and that country. But Michael Jackson was also victimised by America: loved, and then hated, in equal measure.

I knew more about Michael Jackson and understood Michael Jackson better than the majority of people who have been writing about him since his death. The truth is, I loved Michael Jackson. He was a constant source of strength, and an inspiration. I probably would never have gone to work in an orphanage in Belarus if it were not for him.

The fact that Michael Jackson was able to get out of bed and face the day, despite all he was going through, gave me the strength to carry on during my terrible teenage years and turbulent twenties.

Between the ages of 18 and 22, when I was a total recluse, going for weeks without leaving my flat or speaking to another human being, Michael Jackson was there. When I was 21 and suffered a minor nervous breakdown, due mostly to my isolation, Michael was there.

Our childhoods were both abusive. I never had a father, and was never called "big nose" or whipped with an iron cord, and, unlike Michael, I never woke up to find my father standing at the end of my bed wearing a ski mask and carrying a kitchen knife. But I was told by my mother that I was stupid, that she hated me, that she wanted to kill me in my sleep. And there were the beatings. All of this does lasting damage to a child, and defines the adult.

Michael Jackson went through it all during his short life. Though some of that pain was self-inflicted, it was pain nonetheless. Lesser men would have blown their brains out. He plodded on and, with the exception of a handful of interviews, he suffered in silence, rarely complaining.

Imagine helping a 15-year-old boy through cancer, only to have that boy and his deranged mother turn against you and try to get you sent to prison for child abuse. Imagine sitting in court and watching as a parade of former employees tell lies about you in an attempt to destroy you. Imagine if you had fired those employees after they stole from you; they sued; you counter-sued, won and they ended up penniless. Then they took their revenge...

Imagine if almost everyone you met took advantage of your wealth and passive nature and stole from you or stabbed you in the back.

Imagine if you ended your life deeply in debt, homeless, moving from one rented home to the next, lost, unable to put your life back together and unable to find your place in life.

When I was going through my own trials and tribulations, I had Michael Jackson; his strength was an inspiration. But who did Michael Jackson have? There was no-one, because no other star has been through what Michael Jackson went through during the last 15 years of his life.

Michael Jackson's death was as tragic and bizarre as his life. He was on the verge on a comeback, days away from a run of 50 sell-out shows in London, his first proper live shows since the HIStory tour in 1997.

The world's press were all asking if this frail 50-year-old was up to doing 50 shows. Rumours were rife that he would cancel the concerts, pretend he was ill or come up with some lame excuse not to go on stage. Most pundits reckoned he just couldn't do it, he'd gotten in over his head. Then 12 hours after one of the last rehearsals, the guy drops down dead.

One month ago, the man who gave the world the moonwalk disappeared off the face of the planet. A massive part of popular culture went with him. There will simply never be another Michael Jackson.

For that to happen, an 11-year-old boy would have to become famous as part of a popular dancing group, have a string of hits, go on to become a popular young star in his own right, release the biggest selling album of all time at 25, revolutionise music video, break down racial barriers, embark on some of biggest tours in history, create some of the most memorable pop songs ever written, release more multi-million selling albums and still be a source of fascination decades later.

Even if someone were to do all of that, he would just be copying Michael Jackson. It ain't gonna happen. The King of Pop was truly a unique individual, a one-off; and we will never see his like again. If fame is immortality, then Michael Jackson will truly live on forever.

On 25 June 2009, the planet lost its most famous star. I lost a man I admired, a man who was a role model for me when I was a troubled and lonely child, who gave me strength and brought me happiness.

I have long dreaded Michael's death. I always felt that he would never be allowed to grow old and fade away. I imagined that his death would be sudden, with rolling news programmes and blanket TV coverage. That happened one month ago, in exactly the way I imagined it would.

I will never again write a blog entry like this about the death of a celebrity. I will never again grieve for a man I never met.

Being a Michael Jackson fan, I was often subjected to a roller coaster of emotions, as his life lurched from one crisis to the next. Strangely, I never felt gratitude. Perhaps I didn't realise I was grateful. Today I understand that I am eternally grateful to him, for the years of happiness that he gave me.

I couldn't have allowed Michael Jackson death to pass without doing something, however small, to remember and celebrate him. This blog entry will help serve that purpose.

It will take some time for it to sink in that this weird, wonderful, troubled and immensely talented individual has moonwalked for the last time. It seems unreal, this chain of events that I played out in my head time and time again, which finally came to pass a month ago. I am trying to find inspiration from his death, as I did from his life. My book, when it is published, will contain a short dedication to Michael Jackson.

For now though, this simple blog entry is for the lonely and troubled man trapped inside the body of a child, the man who was a constant source of strength and inspiration, the man who taught me how to dance, the man who helped me through the worst times of my life.

Goodbye, Michael.

God Bless.

And Thank You.

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London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.