Friday, June 26, 2009
Michael Jackson - R.I.P. The King Of Pop
You know I had to do a "What Michael Jackson Meant To Me" piece too. Eff being redundant though, the GREATEST pop icon of our time just passed, and being that dude's existence probably had more influence on me, you and how the world looks and sounds to us than we could possibly comprehend, it's only right that I give dude his proper respect.
Early 1970's, Brooklyn. School yard of my elementary school. A coupla fellow first grade girls are mad fawning over Michael's pics in the latest Teen Beat magazine. Not that the Jackson 5 clan wasn't important, but Mike Jack had top billing from day one. Being that I always liked the girls, even at that age, I was intrigued by dude's swag, the whole afro thing was correct, plus other than Lincoln Hayes, the black character played by Clarence Williams III on my then favorite show "The Mod Squad", Michael was holding it down for us dark skinned dudes, so effin tired of how light skinted kneegrows were tightly holding the reins. Michael Jackson and Lincoln Hayes introduced to me at such a young age, how effin dope it was to be young gifted and Black. Prolly why I never envied my white counter-parts. Then there was the whole radio, television thing. "ABC" was like our little kid's national anthem then. WABC, (am radio ruled) kept that song pumping like the station's existence depended on the Jackson 5, on Michael Jackson. TV killed it too. From appearances to Flip Wilson, Sonny and Cher, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, The Mike Douglas Show, cot-damned every blasted talk show on air then, MJ dominated all that was young, hot and fly. Have to give props to white for showing how much doper Michael Jackson was too. They figured they would throw their bid in for flyest pop by adding The Osmonds led by Donny Osmond as the Jackson 5 and MJ's main competitor. They even had a hot single, "One Bad Apple" that sounded very similar to the Jackson sound, but the Osmonds and Donny could never ever come close. Like a flashlight to the sun.
Saturday morning television cashed in too. On Michael mania. The advertising men on Madison Avenue tried every angle. I remember how they rocked the commercial for that sugar box cereal Alpha-bits, where if you brought a box, they had a 45 floppy record single of "ABC" as a cut out on the very box. Moms had no choice but to cop it for her baby boy. Two boxes. And even though I didn't even like that brand (shout out to Captain Crunch), I cut them singles out the back of the box, and kept "ABC" in heavy rotation. Oh shit, just realizing as I write this that that was my very first record I ever owned. My first hit of the music drug that I continue to be addicted to to this very day. God damn do I owe Mike Jack for that. Then came the Jackson's short lived live variety show and cartoon. The cartoon was meh, even then in my young mind, but I stayed tuned. By the time they dropped "Dancing Machine", later during that wonderful decade, seeing them dudes, seeing Mike kill it every time with the robot dance, there was no question who ruled the game. Not ever getting played out, them Jackson kniccas, that MJ knicca let you know that whole decade was theirs, they shit was as necessary as the 1970's air we breathed. And all we wanted was more.
1979, at one of my girl's cousin's house. Right before I switched up my drug of choice to Hip Hop, my cousin's were still fawning over some Michael pics on the latest teen pop rag. My interest in them, the Jacksons, in Michael kinda died down. The ten year reign had come slowly to an end. Girl cousins talking about about how he still looked kinda cute, how he still had it. Older boy cousins dismissing him as being a "fruit cake", a gay dude. I didn't even know what gay was, but seeing how Michael started looking, talking, acting very different than the rest of us boys, I kinda got the gist. Still mad talented, but just a lil' bit out of touch for me to connect to. Still respected his gangster though. Especially how he started really going for dolo with the 1980 "I Wanna Rock With You" hit. Single and video. Probably the first music video I ever saw too. Damn man, you really stayed ahead of the game. Song was, still is tight. Video was mad on point, but yeah, so evident what my older boy cousins were referencing, dude had become slightly too pop to remain one of my idols. Shit was getting kinda hectic in the Brooklyn streets, and though I still rocked the music, I had to get my teen gully steez up. So I had to move on.
Jackson stayed persistent for my attention though. Was a freshman at Cornell, too young to get in clubs, but stayed sneaking in to the hottest Black club in New York City at the time, Bentley's, on East 43rd street and Madison Avenue. I didn't even like Bentley's, with every one trying their best to be on that r&b swag, or that new and upcoming drug dealer New Jack City hu$tle. Never had money for dranks at the bar, and my word play was still a bit feeble to scoop up the honeys in the place. But it was at Bentley's, on the smoke filled dance floor, when I first heard "Billy Jean". That joint banged hard in the club. Gave me the courage to ask for a dance even. DJ Sugabear kept shouting how Michael was back, and he was right. That video, simple as it looks now, kept us urban kids locked in, warned Hip Hop even, that it was too small to eff with Jackson's talent. Little did I, did we know that "Billy Jean" was the harbinger for the tsunami that would be the Michael Jackson mania 2.0. As tough as I wanted to be, when me and some fellow students watched that famed "Motown 25" special live in our dorm's tv room, when Michael performed "Billy Jean" live for the first time, when nigga flipped how street dudes in New York were doing the moon walk, cat had me screaming out the "OHHH SHIT!" with the rest of them. This was the Reagen era in full swing, and damn if that performance didn't feel like the Russians finally let fly a nuke. That performance was big like that. The young King who grew into an effeminate teen put down his boot and decided that the 1980's was his too. And we all knew it. Didn't matter how much wierder he became, or whether he was banging out Brooke Shields, Elizabeth Taylor, Emmanuel Lewis or Bubbles, Mike Jack was here to stay.
Funny story, back in 1987, when my shit was knee deep in Public Enemy and BDP and I stayed having the requisite ice grill on. And Fab 5 Freddy kept me tuned in to "Yo" on MTV, I was dating a diplomat's daughter in Washington DC. "BAD" was Michael's latest record, and I thought that I had outgrown dude. My girl came up on some tickets to see Michael perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York. When she asked me to drive her car from DC to NY to catch the show, I was like "FUCK that dude, corny ass weirdo". Still, I ended up driving her and her sister to NY, griping about it the entire drive. Griping even, as we stood on line at the Garden, EPMD blasting out the headphones on my Sony walkman. Fans dressed up looking like Mike, dudes too, shit was disgusting B. But my girl had the killer seats though. And even though I thought I was too hard to appreciate this silly little r&b/ pop event, each and every song dude performed rocked my world. By the time dude performed "Dirty Diana", with guitarist Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame ripping the strings, and Mike, hoisted up on some crane, fog machine pumping out the fake billowing smoke, when dude ripped off his white button down, bird chested and screamed for what must have been a minute, so dope was his performance that I found myself standing in the audience, screaming at the top of my lungs with the rest of the 50,000 in attendance. Like a bitch too [||]. Lost my god damned voice at that. For that performance, that night, I became one of those weird ass fans. Show was the BEST I'd ever seen, and I seen a lot. On our way back to DC, my girl and her sister joked me out for my scream moment. But I wasn't ashamed then, still not ashamed now.
Early 1990's. Working in a law office in the music industry. My boss repped singer/ songwriter Bernard Belle, brother of famed songstress Regina Belle. Dude was a monster with hits "I Like The Way (Kissing Game)" and "Let's Chill" by Guy. Bernard teamed up with Teddy Riley and they wrote/produced Michael's next smash hit. "Remember The Time" the first single of Michael's 1992 album "Dangerous". No question that I really "knew" that I out grew him, but that song was big, equipped with the Eddie Murphy and Iman video. Looking back, how I was involved in that, I'm realizing how much Michael helped my career, made me that more valid. Bernard stayed getting bigger and better deals because of his work with MJ which meant more exposure and money for my boss, and as a result, me, and I learned a lot of my legal craft behind that, negotiating thoose deals. I could now say I negotiated a contract with Michael Jackson. We was beyond the fan and consumer relationship now, Jackson was now, indirectly, but in a big way, influencing the entire direction at this stage of my professional career, before Jay-Z, Damon Dash, Roc-a-fella, Diddy and Bad Boy. And I'm really just realizing this now. Wow.
Early 2001. Kanye West is sitting in my office, shopping for a new attorney. I knew Kanye from when my client Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie had signed him as a producer to his production company a few years earlier. Kanye was going on about how he was gonna start rapping and I was finding it very hard to believe dude. Plus, he's geeked about a new Jay-Z song with a wierd "H To The Izzo" name. Kanye's telling me how he flipped Michael Jackson, how he and Jay's gonna rule with "Izzo", and as much respect as I had for dude, all this talk about him rapping and "Izzo" was a bit much. WTF was an "Izzo"? A coupla months later, me and wifey driving to the Hamptons for a Puff "White" party, and I'm hearing Flex dropping bombs on Hov's new single, and me hearing "izzo", I'm like "that nigga Kanye". Later then, I snuck brought a copy of Jay's "Blueprint" album on September 10th, played it in the Expedition all night. Woke up the next day, learning about a new crew on the block by the name of Taliban (not that new). Driving in the afternoon, taking in how reality had become surreal, how the surreal had become reality, taking a break from the news, and bumping Izzo on the deserted ghost town like streets of Brooklyn, Michael Jackson's sample being the first soundtrack to our new world order. Mike and Jay. Then the whole Hot 97 thing, with Jay, and "Takeover", and Prodigy on screen, and Mike Jackson coming out on stage. King of Pop joining forces with the King of Hip Hop. Jackson fucking managing to stay relevant for four decades now. FOUR DECADES. Who the eff does that? And how, even though I never sat down and forced them to take heed, how my sons 12, 11 and 7 know damn near each and every Michael Jackson song. How they love the songs, even though Jackson has now devolved into their strange old white aunt with a catalog of hits.
It's still way too early to decipher what Jackson's surprising death on June 25th, 2009 means. I'm realizing that now, as I write this, CNN in my background, on steady Jackson overdrive. Laughing at how his death cements how he's about to rule for several more decades. Shit is sad, really sad. But it's also the beginning of a celebration. As me and my sons were driving through Brooklyn yesterday, me blasting MJ out the speakers on Fulton street, I have so much appreciation for dude, for how in almost every way imaginable, he has subtly enhanced this thing that we call life. As much as we will mourn his untimely passing (when is it ever a good time for our heroes to die?), and we will, I am so effin geeked about how the party is about to begin. Life is good my peoples. I'm so ready to start living more. And I really and deeply want to thank Michael Jackson for making me realize how special he was, and how special it is that we all are able to experience each and every waking moment of this thing we call life. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. Thank you. Thank you for it all.