I saw Michael Jackson in concert in September, 1984 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. This was post-Thriller, but he was on tour with his brothers, who posed and preened like they were stars of equal magnitude. Pffft. No one cared and we couldn't wait until they were (probably forcibly dragged) backstage so that Michael could perform his Thriller hits solo. He did not disappoint. It was the first time I had any sense of the profound power he had as a celebrity... how iconic he already was... and how uncontrived his every hiccup and twitch seemed at the time. (Yes, there was a brief moment when it didn't seem unnatural and absurd.)
The setting and staging was all artifice, camp, and kitsch. A blitzkrieg of lights, thunder, dayglow costumes, and smoke. But beyond all that noise, or because of it, I don't know, I knew that no one else would ever do the things he did that well.
When I returned to JFK the next summer for the day-long Live Aid concert (weird and wonderful), the buzz was that Michael Jackson would be the secret, unannounced performer for the finale. My hopes were high. But, in the end, we had to settle for Lionel Ritchie. Even after everyone gathered for "We Are the World," I still hoped that Michael might explode onstage at any moment. What a long ride home.
Michael never showed, and I've been settling ever since. That was only the first of many bad decisions for him. Every moment of inspiration in his long career since then has been matched or surpassed by periods of indulgence, delusion, sickness, and corruption. Incredible achievements matched by massive missteps and outright self destruction. I see him as a victim of many exterior forces, but he also suffered from too much self-love and self-loathing, both. I would have liked to have seen one last redemptive live performance (and heard him sing live, too, but who are we kidding?). If these upcoming concerts were really to be his last best chance at that, then I am sorry he never got the opportunity.
I can't be the only fan with a complicated take on Michael Jackson and his passing. To be sentimental and nostalgic, but also deeply disappointed, dispirited, and, in some sad way, relieved that at least his downward spiral is done.
Or, am I alone in this?
P.S. Favorite Fan Madness Moment: Fans gathered for a candlelight vigil at Michael's Hollywood sidewalk star. Only it was the wrong star, dedicated to a radio DJ of the same name. The correct star was a few blocks away, amidst the red carpet hubbub of the Bruno premiere. Informed of their mistake, the mourners decided it was too much trouble to move or wait, and kept the tribute going in the name of the wrong MJ. link
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