R.I.P. Michael Jackson

by Thomas Hauner

5 July 2009

What I distinctly remember was the incredible sense of awe I felt when Michael took the stage. I was totally captivated. He struck such a defiant opening pose, I was intimidated by the man.

The early ‘90s were a difficult time to develop as a Michael Jackson fan.  Bubbles, copious plastic surgery, and Neverland Ranch magnified his spectacle while diverting from his talents.  Grunge and flannel were becoming the popular standard—that is, if Kriss Kross weren’t at the top of one’s list—and amongst my peers Super Bowl XXVII the game became more important than Michael the half-time show.

However, I was undeterred.  I’d heard so much of this man, glimpsed the outrageous headlines in the checkout aisle, and jumped around joyously to his music even.  It’s predictable that I remember nothing of the actual football game—it turns out most of the country didn’t either. What I distinctly remember was the incredible sense of awe I felt when Michael took the stage. I was totally captivated. He struck such a defiant opening pose, I was intimidated by the man. 

But I was quickly enthralled by his assertive leg kicks and supernatural twists and turns; his aggressive bandolier styling; the white collared shirt transformed into an immortal cape; the thrusting pelvis, convincing me of man’s rhythmic center. I was being confronted by this unshakable beat and ethereal image of masculinity and sensitivity that was still cool. Dancing became cool. Before then dancing was for my sisters, but now his music was making me want to dance.

Of course, I had heard “Billie Jean” and “Black or White” and loved their alluring bass line and dynamic guitar, but I hadn’t seen them, experienced them. The moonwalk, debuted a decade ago, was still something of a myth in my young head. But finally I witnessed it. His transcendent and transformative dance steps totally redefined my view of the art.  And the crotch grab? It was there too.

Photo: Damian Strohmeyer/SI

Photo: Damian Strohmeyer/SI

I ate up the iconic moves, his larger-than-life persona and the preternatural ease with which it was all delivered and felt an immediate need to share my catharsis. How could anyone I knew not fall in love with it? Even my immigrant parents—who were once wooed by Elvis’ baritone and pelvis—showed intrigue.

Managing to capture half of the 13-minute performance on my VCR, I was convinced my class would be equally amazed. So the next day, unsolicited, I brought the videotape to school to share the abridged experience. But strangely only a small fraction of my peers chose to stay inside during the snowy lunch recess to watch my recording.  Why wasn’t everyone totally mesmerized by his performance? Didn’t everyone want to relive it over and over?  I most definitely did.

Days after Michael’s passing, I feel similar. While I nurture my unbridled enthusiasm for Off the Wall, Destiny, and anything imprinted with his talent, others gape at the manic devotion to a manufactured idol and simply don’t get it.  Only because my older, and wiser, sisters sat with me in choreographic awe during that half-time show did I really get how incredible Michael was.  It’s the reason why my fondest Super Bowl experience has nothing to do with sports. 

Walking around New York City last Thursday, hearing his songs reverberate from every street corner and bar, I relished the tacit community his music created amongst us.  It’s only after his quintessentially American tragedy that we’ll begin to understand the invaluable cultural contributions he made to our society—even while his descent takes on mythic proportions.

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