Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Songs of my Youth: Billie Jean

Sometimes I still moonwalk.  It's a tell-tale sign of the era I grew up. I was born in 1974, but people often mistake me for being younger than I am.  I need to remember to bust out a moonwalk in these times for the sake of timeline reference.  There's no better way to prove, "Ohhh... okay. 80's child."

I wanted nothing more in the early-to-mid 80's than to marry Michael Jackson.  I'm sure, at that age, I had no idea what marriage to the King of Pop would entail.  All I knew was that Brooke Shields was one lucky young lady.  My fantasy mostly consisted of hanging out at Neverland, playing with Bubbles the chimp, dancing around, nursing his scalp wounds and following my hubby anywhere he went (sidewalk and steps lighting the way.) 

I wasn't at the age yet where I was allowed to wallpaper my room with posters (thank you NKOTB for later opening up that door for me), so I used to take any MJ newspaper clippings I could find and tape them to the backside of my bedroom door.  In those days there was something Jackson-related in the paper almost every day, so anything even remotely MJ-esque went right up on the door. (Yes, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Tito... that means you.)

The Thriller-era was my awakening to real music.  Up until then, it was nothing but Disney, Wheels on the Bus and Jimmy Crack Corn spinning on my red and white striped record player.  (Sometimes I'd also raid my mom's collection borrowing her Mamas and the Papas, Ricky Nelson and Beatles 33s. Barely connecting the dots that the wide-eyed mop top on the cover was also Michael's frequent duet partner.)  During the winter-time in Michigan we would have alot of indoor recess at school. Which meant, instead of playground privileges, we'd just have to run around the classroom for a half-an-hour or so and try not to injure the teacher in the process.  Kind Ms. Walkley would give us access to the class room record player and it would be the Thriller album and any MJ 45s over and over until the bell rang.  We could never get enough! 

I learned every lyric (by holding the tape recorder up to the radio, of course) and would memorize every scene from every video shown on the after school music video countdown.  I even liked Say, Say, Say (which I'm now assured wasn't the coolest.)  The goofy vaudevillian video having MJ and PMcC scamming their way around the country side (on behalf of the orphans, which makes it okay.)  I now realize the Linda McCartney cameo in it (wasn't letting her in Wings enough?) and was that Michael's own sister LaToya he was romancing toward the end?  (Ah, Jackson mysteries begin to unfold.) Lennon-McCartney may be one of the most celebrated writing duos in the annals of music history but, until I was of a proper age of understanding, Jackson-McCartney was the only collaboration for me.

Picking a favorite Michael Jackson song is like having a favorite Beatles one.  Impossible.  But, growing up, I know my heart definitely tugged toward Billie Jean.  Its video didn't represent the coolest of his leather jacket collection (that winner being Beat It.)  In fact, I wish his pants would have been better tailored, as not to replicate a garbage bag at the waist. (The fact that they ran out of leather toward the ankles, however, is a non-issue. I would have dug me some glittery socks!)  Wardrobe aside, it has a great beat and epic dance moves.  As memorable as Billie Jean was, it's certainly another to add to the list of confusing 80's videos. 

As a kid I was too mesmerized by light up sidewalks, baby tigers and upright toe-standing ("Ow!") to try to follow any inkling of plot.  Good thing too, because there are several holes in this one. 

Early on we see a white cat (whom, upon close inspection, may very well have been a small anteater) who turns into a tiger, who turns into a fabric swatch, who then turns back into a tiger once more.  Significance?  None.  I think MJ just liked to have exotic animals present at all times. 

Michael also spies a homeless man early on and decides to help him out.  But, with a silver dollar and a gaudy tuxedo?  Really?  Surely a Jackson and can do better than that!

Then we have the detective.  The worst P.I. in the history of private dicks.  Why is he stalking poor Michael like a fool?  I'm assuming he's involved with the paternity case being lamented about in the lyrics.  But, any sleuth worth his salt should be capable of finding his target at the end of a tell tale light-up trail.  (Or even by simply following the loud singing and dancing going on down the street.)  However much Billie Jean is paying him, it's entirely too much!

There's alot of magic involved as well.  Michael is unphotographical, begging the question "Is he really a ghost?"  (Case closed on the paternity suit if so.)  A womanly shape under the bed sheet. (I always wondered if a real woman played this part or if they just stuffed a mannequin under there.  Not hearing any squealing from Michael as he climbed in has me convinced its the latter.)  And, of course, the magical lighted walkway.

Moving on to the older woman in the window.  I'm not sure if this nosy neighbor in the fire escape scene is calling the cops on MJ, the detective, or just all the ruckus being made out there. Was it just too much stair-climbing for one night?  As scuzzy as a town in which Billie Jean resides, I have to say, I am impressed with its rapid police response.

I continued to follow Michael Jackson through the rest of the eighties and much of the nineties as well.  (Although, I was fine with not marrying him at this point. Thank you Lisa Marie for playing guinea pig for us on that one!) Up until his face started to warp and the creepy charges started being alleged.

In his death, though, the warm fuzzies found their way back into my heart.  Especially when I started hearing my niece and nephews singing Billie Jean, Beat It and Thriller around the house.  His catalogue was introduced to a new generation again On Demand and it was fun to go back and relive it all with them. 

His death was one of those that the world saw coming eventually. I don't know if anyone expected to see Michael as an eighty-year-old man.  But, it was one that still somehow shocked me when it came.  There were so many questions still out there, never to be answered.  But, in the weeks following it seemed to no longer matter.  His music breathed its second life and it was finally politically correct to love Michael again.

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