State Of Shock. Like the title of Michael Jackson’s last hit with his brothers, that sums up exactly how the world is dealing with the loss of a cultural force of nature. As a child of the 80’s, to me he hit the zeitgeist of our generation like a musical tsunami. I was in my freshman year in high school when Thriller came out. I knew who he was, but this new Michael was different. His songs sounded different. Everyone was abuzz with talk of how good the new album was. Sad part was, for some reason, CBS didn’t release any records in the Philippines, so the only ones who had it were the kids who bought theirs abroad. So the biggest record in the whole planet, was unavailable to us Filipinos. It took a while before the record (we called it LP, or long-playing record) hit our shores, and when it did, we lined up to get our own copy. At the time, local records sounded a billion times crappier than the foreign ones. The local records were scratchier and the fidelity was way off. But it sufficed, better that the wobbly cassette tape. I’d watch his videos on Video Hit Parade or channel 4’s Rhythm of the City, where I watched my favorite DJ’s like Vince St. Price and Jeremiah Junior introduce my favorite Michael Jackson videos. Actually, the first time I ever heard Billie Jean was not from Michael Jackson, but from some amboy boldstar who was singing it on a noontime variety show. His name was Tom Babauta. And I thought, “Damn, his song is pretty good!” Until my classmate pointed out that it was the new Michael Jackson hit. By the time I got addicted to the Billboard Charts via my idol Casey Kasem, Thriller was on its 5th hit, “Human Nature”. From then on, there was no looking back. I was hooked on 80’s music and in the forefront was Michael Jackson.
As the years pass, I grew less and less of a fan. In fact “Bad” was the last Michael Jackson CD I ever bought. But his greatness was never questioned. Maybe other artists will surpass his records but no one can ever match the influence that he had on his generation and many after that. I can’t shake it off, I guess. When the pop stars of your generation start dying, it reminds you of your own place in the chronology of life. Let me just share with you lyrics from the title track of the brothers’ final album as the Jackson 5, “Destiny”. In it Michael sings lyrics that seem to foreshadow the preeminent solo career that lay before him, for after this album he would skyrocket as one of the greatest solo performers of all time. A transcendent career wrought by a gnawing loneliness and alienation. As if his greatest achievement was also his most egregious curse.
“In this world there’s much confusion
And I’ve tasted city life and it’s not for me
Now I do dream of distant places
Where, I don’t know now but its destiny
If it’s the rich life I don’t want it
Happiness ain’t always material things
I want Destiny
It’s the place for me
Give me the simple life
I’m getting away from here
Let me be me, come on, let me feel free”
Here’s a video of the song that started it all, the very first hit of the Jackson 5, the song that shot straight to the top of the charts and introduced the optimistic doe-eyed youngster with the colossal voice to an astonished public. The title of their first single echoes the sentiments of his fans everywhere, now that he’s gone: “I Want You Back”. You almost pity watching the pulsating life force from this little kid, knowing the troubles that lay in his future. Michael, to say we’ll sorely miss you, would be like saying you sing well.