Friday, June 26, 2009

Mixed Feelings About Michael

When I think about the death of Michael Jackson, I do so with mixed feelings.

There's the 13-year-old girl in me who fondly recalls dancing (or what I loosely called "dancing") at junior high dances to Michael Jackson's "Off the Wall" and "Thriller" albums. Listening to tunes from those albums now, as an adult, brings me back to a time in my life when I was an innocent, gawky girl who whiled away many hours listening to pop albums and 45s on her very own record player in her room while wearing Bonnie Bell lip gloss and reading Tiger Beat.

Then, that 13-year-old girl faces off with the 40-year-old cynical adult me who can't shake from Jackson's story the chapters on child molestation, the stories about him sleeping in a bed with little boys and the scene of him dangling his baby over a hotel balcony in Germany. When he was on trial in 2005 after being charged with molestation, I clearly remember having to vaguely explain to my then-6-year-old twins what the folks on the radio were talking about, and that the singer Michael Jackson had been accused but found not guilty of doing "bad things."

The two versions of Michael Jackson clashed in my head yesterday when I learned that he had died. I showed my kids videos on YouTube of the songs that provided the soundtrack for my formative years ("Thriller," "Billie Jean," "Beat It" and "Jam" . . . because my kids like hoops, not because it was a classic Jackson song) and said, "THIS is why people are talking about him." Then, later, I had a frank conversation with them saying that in his later years, Jackson was accused of doing bad things to kids. He's both of those guys in many people's minds, particularly if they belong to the so-called Generation X: The brilliant musician and dancer to whom they grew up listening and who had an enormous impact on American music and popular culture, AND a man who was repeatedly accused of sexually preying on children.

In this moment, I'm remembering the Jackson of my youth and posting one of my favorite Jackson songs, "Billie Jean," below.

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