I think given my age and the time I grew up in, I came in just on the tail end of the golden age of Michael Jackson. Just after "Black or White" and right before the molestation charges and descent into being viewed as a once talented but possibly deviant loon. I don't think I became fully aware of all the accusations and public decries of his allegedly child molesting ways until probably well late into the 90s, mostly because I feel like he feel off the relevancy map for me after the first go around in court. As far as I was concerned, as I got older and into my tens and then tweens, he wasn't coming out with anything really new that made the same kind of impact as Thriller, Billie Jean, Black or White, Beat It and so on. There was stuff like the Free Willy song (which I hold dear, but that movie's kind of an entry unto itself), You Are Not Alone, or some random appearances, and then suddenly it's all baby-dangling, dancing outside the court house whackiness that overcame any good memories in most people's minds.
And while I acknowledge the massive stain all that press coverage and public obsession rendered on his legacy, I still get stuck on the good times. Maybe I'm just an optimist, but the Michael Jackson I prefer to remember is not the whack-job everyone is still figuring out, but the King of Pop that revolutionized music video, gave us the moonwalk, and made a cultural impact for the better. (I also still like Roman Polanski movies. Argue about him all you want, the man makes good movies! So maybe I'm too forgiving?)
All this brings me to Thriller, probably the first instance I distinctly remember Michael Jackson. And he scared the hell out of me in Thriller. I'm a horror movie fan, but I am easily scared. Like, even the simplest jump at me can make me flinch. This skittishness was the perfect behavior for an older brother to exploit for his own amusement. Which is why, one afternoon, presumably when I was between, we'll say, four and eight, my brother called me into the living room to watch Thriller. "It's really cool, you'll like it!" he promised.
I don't know what kind of impact it had on him as a kid, as he was much more in the generation that really had Michael Jackson in his prime (he was born in 1980), but no one can really deny how memorable that video is.
So it starts off with the 50s B-movie look, and things are going ok until...
I lost it and freaked out. Mind you, we're less than three minutes into a ten minute video. When I mention Thriller to my brother and how he made me watch it, he just kind of laughs and says "Oh yeah....ha ha ha... You really lost it at the first scare there. Ha ha ha..."
I got through the rest of the video in one piece (barely). I was scared out of my wits by it though. First he's all nice and then turns into a damn were-cat thing. Then he's all normal and dancing down the street with the girl and it's good times. Then, SHIT! HE'S A ZOMBIE! And he's...dancing? Ok, maybe I won't be too scared. Uh oh, Vincent Price rap. Uh oh, now there's no music and the girl's being chased to the house. That's not good. The ending got a little intense for me too, with the zombies descending on the house, and the last shot of him turning to the camera with a freeze frame and the yellow eyes and the Vincent Price laugh...Whoo, that's scary. I'm pretty sure I complained to my brother about it after he made me watch it. "Oh come on," is what I'm pretty sure the response is.
My friends of course had seen it, but it wasn't really new by the time we got around to it. But it holds up so well anyway. I still get a kick out of watching it, and I get a major thrill out of hearing the song on the radio in October.
And that's why I'd rather remember Michael Jackson for the good times. You can focus on all the bad or weird stuff, but it's not as fun as listening to the music or watching him dance.
I mean, come on, who else could dance with zombies and still look so cool doing it?