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Michael Jackson

When I think back to my childhood, the pop-culture icon that saturates my every youthful thought is Michael Jackson. To call him a music maker is an understatement; he is an all around show-man. His entertaining music is only surpassed by his flamboyant clothing, his outrageous dance moves, and his ingenious videos. From my youth until today, no other rock star has come close to conveying to me the sights and sounds of his magic like the king of pop, Michael Jackson.

I first learned of the new singer from my older brother when I was in the second grade. My brother, who is three years older, was at the age where his larger allowance allowed him to make larger and cooler purchases. He begged my mom to take him to Lechmere's so he could get the new tape that every kid in his fifth grade class was listening to on their Sony Walkman. He thought he was the coolest, and he took advantage of his superiority by keeping his tape and walkman out of my reach on his top shelf. What was this taboo music, and why was it beginning to obsess my life?

I was on a mission to listen to this music. I begged my mother to tell my brother to stop being mean, and to finally let me listen to it. With the eyes of a hawk, my brother scornfully watched me for the full hour as I slipped on his headphones and escaped into music euphoria. I was hooked. I needed to find a way to get my hands on my own entertainment source. My birthday and Christmas were too far away to wait, I need to prove to my parents that somehow I deserved this record. I worked so hard at school, and when I finally brought home my report card with all O's (except for the "I" in penmanship) I knew what would be coming my way.

My sister, mom, dad and I went to the Liberty Tree Mall, and I hauled ass past all the stores to the Lechmere Record Department. I knew exactly where that circular slice-of-heaven would be waiting for me. I opened up the album cover in the car, and almost lost myself in the engulfing cardboard panels that covered my tiny lap. Now my brother would be the jealous one, he only had a two-inch by two-inch tape cover, here I had a two-foot by two-foot kid-size billboard!

I studied every inch of that album cover the whole ride home, looking at every song title and knowing in a matter of minutes they would no longer be just tunes in my head, but the actual spoken word of Michael himself. The image still fills my mind clearly; a glossy black background, contrasted with Michael's metallic-white suit. He looked so casual and cool with his open-buttoned shirt. Best of all, was the little tiger that rested on his lap; I was convinced that if I worked even harder on my next report card I too could have a tiger like Michael's. The album cover stayed open on my dresser for months as a source of inspiration. It was at that point that I realized I was not only obsessed with Michael, but that I wanted to be him.

Knowing all the words to his songs, and seeing him in his white suit soon grew tiresome to my active seven-year old mind; I needed more. I would have to turn to TV to see exactly how he moved, how he spoke, and how he lived. We didn't have MTV yet, but luckily there was a Boston-based video channel trying hard to compete called "V66." Religiously, my younger sister and I would come home from school, turn the big dial to "U" and then the little dial to "66." We would turn the couch upside down, and eat our after-school snacks in our "cave" by the glow of the TV set. After every video we would cross out fingers that Billie Jean would be the next on the agenda. If it didn't come

on, we would quickly turn the little dial to "56" and watch "Tom and Jerry" or "Woody Woodpecker" to calm our nerves, being careful not to dwell too long and miss any part of Michael's video when it came on. As dinner begin to approach around eight, our patience grew thin, and we would have to resort to calling the video station to request it. We would call about 10 times each, disguising our voices each time, in the hope that the station would believe there were twenty people who wanted to see this visual spectacular as much as these two little kids did.

My eyes soon grew numb from watching Billie Jean and all the other videos that I sat through in anticipation of it. Eventually V66 got the rights to the Say, Say, Say video, which added some spice to my life, but it was disappointing in that it wasn't one of Michael's own, and the spotlight had to be shared by some putz called Paul McCartney. I would have to go to the source - MTV - to see the video that was being anticipated that Friday afternoon.

My best friend Ron and I had the plan. We would go to his house straight after school, play "Bowl" on ATARI, have grilled cheeses, and then watch the video. We finished dinner in record time, and raced for the living room. We turned all the lights off, and shut the blinds so that the only glow for this dramatic event came from the television. The "world premiere video" segue faded to black, the screen filled with blood, and a chill went down my spine. I was a ball of stress and excitement, filled with fear, yet happiness. I sat open mouthed as he strolled the graveyard. I studied his every move as he danced with mummies raised from the dead. Eventually I came to own most of the Thriller merchandise from View Master to the Michael doll that turned into a wolf, but what most amazed me was the zipper jacket he was wearing.

The instant I saw it I knew I had to have it. I knew that having all the Michael Jackson stickers, profile buttons, and posters in the world would no longer prove how much of a fan I was. My mission was clear. I begin by searching the Sunday newspapers. The exclusive stores like Jordan Marsh and Filene´s had advertisements for them, but the prices were in the triple digits. As the weeks went on, the advertisements doubled, and now every cheap store from K-Mart to Caldor was advertising their "Thriller Jackets" at the lower double digit price. (The lower price of course meant less zippers, and definitely not the "real" Michael Jackson jacket.) I would rip out the pictures of the expensive one to show my parents, because after all if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right. Every Sunday the butterfly magnet on the fridge would hold a picture of a glowing boy, sometimes he'd be sporting the black one, sometimes the red. Didn't my parents understand that I would have a permanent smile just like the models in the ad if I had one too? Didn't they want to help me on my mission to prove I was his biggest fan? Obviously they didn't, because I never did get that jacket. I was even more upset when Ron showed up at Back to School night wearing his. The red one too! The only comfort I could find was in that it wasn't a "real" one, and believe me I made it very clear that his jacket didn't have enough zippers to be like Michael's.

If I couldn't afford his jacket, I could always take comfort in wearing his other trade mark - his glove. His glove was a big mystery, and I'll never forget my anticipation of Grammy night when he was supposed to take it off! I stayed up all night in anticipation of the glorious event - finally I would get a chance to see Michael's right hand! My parents were just as excited as I was, and we sat glued to the television. Finally, my half-closed eyes, tired with sleep, burst open as the first notes of Billie Jean filled the air. The moment was so surreal, I was half asleep, half awake. I'm still not sure if the moment really happened.

The rumor was, after the show, Michael and some other groups would be flying by helicopter to a radio station to record a benefit for people in Africa (wherever that was). In a few weeks, USA for Africa was released. My sister, mom and I went to Woolworth's, but before purchasing it, we searched the picture on the front to see if Michael really sang on it. There he was, and still wearing the blue and gold sequin jacket he wore to the Grammy's! I didn't care what songs or who else was on the album, I bought it only because of him.

Eventually, as with all things, the magic faded with time. About the 6th grade, I no longer cared about Michael Jackson, and my music taste changed to the emerging rap scene, and groups like Bel Biv Devoe. It was the end of the glorious Michael Jackson era as I knew it.

The release of the Bad album didn't phase me, and although my sister bought it, I only listened to the first two songs. Even more recently, I've taken the advice of his Dangerous album and kept my distance. He still haunts the news, he still outdoes himself with his creative videos, he's done a Super bowl half-time show, and he's even been interviewed with his new wife Lisa Marie by Diane Sawyer; but these television events have become mundane, and just reflect an average day in his world of fantasy.

It still surprises me to see people at his concerts around the world - although they don't speak a word of English, I watch them sing along to every word of his songs. The true fans though are those that pass out simply at his sight. For now, I'm content with Michael being an out-of-reach media image, but I know if I ever saw him in real life, I too would be a fainter.

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