Halloween is coming soon. It seems like as soon as September gets here, everyone pulls out their Halloween decorations. Up until last year, I didn’t celebrate. It just wasn’t my thing. I never liked doing what everyone else was doing anyway. Of course I watched a few of the movies. Hocus Pocus is always a given. However, there was one thing that I did every year on Halloween: watched the video of Thriller by Michael Jackson on YouTube. Was there ever a better time, a better day to watch it?
Growing up, the impact of Michael Jackson was so real for me. I remember watching “The Jacksons: An American Dream” and relating to him in a few ways. Being poor and black. Having a father who was abusive. Competing with my siblings for my parents’ attention. Even if I only lived with four of my six siblings, and Michael lived with eight, I still understood what that was like. I watched him try to prove himself to his father, Joseph, so that he could be a part of the group with his brothers. I was the middle child of five girls in one household. My two brothers didn’t live with us, but I was still the middle child of all seven. I, too, felt like I needed to prove myself to my parents, mainly my father. More was expected from me. I was the smart one and I had to always have good grades. My father was nicer when he was sober, but alcohol turned him into a mean man. And I could never be enough for him. No matter how hard I tried.
In high school, I wrote some of Michael Jackson’s songs in different colors on a piece of printer paper, and stuck it in the front of my binder. There may be debates from time to time about which one of his songs is the best. My answer: there isn’t just one. Michael’s body of work expanded over forty years, and it’s impossible to reduce him to just one song. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know several of his songs have touched me in some way. Like “Billie Jean.” I can never get over how good the beat is, despite this song being over 35 years old. “Human Nature” just makes me so emotional. Just hearing him croon, I can really hear the passion in his voice. “Off The Wall” lets me know that I am in control of my own life, and that it’s okay to have fun. “I’ll Be There,” “Stop The Love You Save,” and “I Want You Back” are all some of my favorite Jackson 5 songs. The list goes on.
The day he died, I was watching music videos on a television show. Several of his videos were being shown and I didn’t even know why at first. The hosts on the show may have said something like, “We’re sorry to announce that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, has passed away.” I was shocked. Upset. Devastated.
In college, I wrote a few poems about him. I was in a class called Research for Creative Writers and I was researching vitiligo, which was the disease that Michael had. I remember hearing about him bleaching his skin when I was younger. I hadn’t known that he had a disease back then. He probably had the bleaching done so he wouldn’t have to deal with losing his skin pigmentation anymore. Yes, he also got nose jobs. I think Michael Jackson was trying to live up to beauty standards, and that he struggled with his self-image. After all, he was a human being, just like the rest of us. To help with my research, my instructor let me borrow her DVD for “This is It.” Here, I was able to see him behind the scenes—not just as an icon, but as a regular person. To know that this was his last tour made me emotional.
For my 24th birthday, I asked my mother if we could listen to his Off The Wall CD in the car. “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “Rock With You,” and “Off The Wall” were my favorite songs from that CD. They made me feel good inside, and what better way to celebrate my birthday then to listen to something that made me happy.
At some point, I developed an alter ego, and I named her Billie after Billie Jean. I imagine she had to be a pretty bad woman—in Michael’s definition of bad—so I wanted to be Billie, too. My other self was a woman who took care of business.
Last year, my sister and I decided we wanted to participate in the Halloween shenanigans. I wanted to be Michael Jackson, but I wasn’t sure how I could pull it off. Not only was he a great entertainer, but he was also a fashion icon. I always wanted his red jackets from “Thriller” and “Beat It.” I knew that any version of him would never come close to being as stylish as the King of Pop himself. But I did my best with what I had: a floppy, black hat on top of my curly hair; a white, button-down shirt; a silver bowtie; silver, sparkly suspenders; white, fingerless, fishnet gloves; a pair of silver, metallic leggings; and a black jacket with gold zippers. I was about five different Michael Jacksons combined into one, but I was satisfied with how it all turned out. Of course I can’t dance or sing like him. But that night, I felt like he was a part of me.
I don’t have all of his CDs or any posters of him on my bedroom walls. I may never have a red jacket with zippers. I’m probably just a typical fan who never got to meet Michael Jackson. But I do know that when I listen to his music, I feel something. It hurts to listen to his songs sometimes, even the ones that are more upbeat. But I can’t be upset for too long. Even if Michael Jackson has been gone a whole decade, his impact is undeniable and his legacy will live on.