I never saw Michael Jackson in concert, so I have no idea what it’s like seeing his precision and spectacle in person. For many of us who came of age during the 80s, Michael was king of our imagination, and cassette tapes, music videos, and Captain EO were our most accessible means of witness.
Still, in lieu of Michael’s mostly shocking death this week, I’m disappointed that I’ll never have the chance to experience his live phenomenon. I came close once, thanks to a methodical reenactment of “Billie Jean” by a friend in eighth grade. The sequence was just a small part of Lance’s biographical synopsis, an excursion in to Michael’s life and career that lasted two class periods. As the bell rang, not one student left, a first for the Pardeeville Area School District. Michael was the first to introduce me to performance art, but Lance made it real. I have yet to see a class assignment, college or otherwise, come close to the sheer audacity of Lance’s.
Much has been memorialized about Michael this week, and in the weeks to come, a turn to his dark side will undoubtedly occur. When that happens, remember his unusual power to inspire others. Be it as performer or activist, the list of artists and world figures who can match him is a short one.
For me, Thriller is tops, without question, followed by Off the Wall and bits of Bad and Invincible. Michael’s music is as near to hypnosis as pop songs get and his legacy, at least musically, is a template for anyone who dares to walk backward when everyone else is moving forward.