Like Mike

Like Mike

Like Mike

“Mama-se, mama-sa, ma-ma-coo-sa …” I know most folks are likely already tired of Michael Jackson coverage, and to the extent that I’ve succumbed to it, I am too. The problem for me though isn’t the amount of coverage, it’s the content. Personally, I never invested myself in anything outside of his music, so Neverland, Lisa Marie and Pepsi commercials came and went as painlessly as Anna Nicole or John and Kate (actually, I have no idea who those last two are). I have no desire to reconcile the multiple facets of most people’s lives, especially those in which the facets are distorted by the self-serving lens of mainstream media.

All I care about is the fact that for one chubby-faced, 13-year-old white guy in Redding who wanted more than anything to stand out in some way, Michael Jackson was like magic. For about eight months in 1983, Michael—which is his title, one shared only by his basketball-playing namesake (see the video for “Jam” for their mesmerizing duet)—was the most compelling thing in the world to me.

I didn’t know what to do about it, though. I lip-synced every song from Thriller in front of the mirror in my bedroom and tried to dance along with the seminal videos (I can probably still fake a Moonwalk). I wanted to look like him … or rather, I wanted to look as cool (“graceful” was a term I didn’t know at the time) as he looked, but I was still in my Joan Jett hair phase and couldn’t quite get the styles to mesh. For the Buckeye Jr. High graduation ceremony, though, I did convince my mom to make me a suit that looked like the one he wore in the “Billie Jean” video (though as graduation got closer, Prince started taking hold, and I did entertain the idea of a glittery purple trench coat after seeing the “Little Red Corvette” video). We sat together with the VHS paused and worked it out. This was Redding, in 1983, and I actually wore a full black satin suit in public and I wasn’t called “a fag” once (a distinction my haircut by itself did not share). Michael had my back!

I don’t miss vinyl records. I don’t miss cassettes. I don’t even mind the diminishing presence of compact discs. What I really miss are music videos. I was one week from turning 12 when MTV debuted, and by the time Michael began to build a career via the channel, MTV was piping a steady and very eclectic stream of possibilities into my culture-starved part of the world via constant music videos, 24/7. In one hour it would go Heart, Prince, Split Enz, The Go-Go’s, Michael, Adam and the Ants, Quiet Riot, John Cougar, J. Giles Band, The Cars, Hall and Oates and Rod Stewart (lots and lots of creepy videos by Rod)—and in one year my style would (attempt to) go Joan Jett, Michael, Billy Idol and Ratt.

Even though my allegiance for Michael faded fast, my love of his music continued. I don’t think I bought anything of his after Thriller, but I enjoyed later songs—“The Way You Make Me Feel,” “Bad” and especially “Black or White”—as much as earlier stuff.

Since then, I have always had a weakness for the pop music that’s too good for the hype to handle. Artists like Eminem, Outkast and even Britney, in their own small ways, take me back to that feeling of being a part of something big and special.

I was way too young to care much about Elvis Presley or John Lennon, and though Kurt Cobain had his impact on my life, it was primarily a musical one—he initially came to me as part of the bigger indie-rock package, and by the time Nirvana actually broke into the mainstream, the spell had mostly worn off.

Michael’s passing, amazing as it seems to even me after all these years, actually has me made pause and reflect a bit. I wish the talking heads would do the same.

One big DEVOtion

E.T., call me: Join in me expressing one big DEVOtion to my boss, Evan Tuchinsky, as he steps out of the CN&R doors and into new adventures (see In My Eyes). Thanks, E, for letting us inmates rule the arts/music asylum, for the kindness when I really needed it and for taking a puppy named Duke … er, Luke … and giving him a loving home. Good luck to you and Amy and your three-pooch posse.