Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson and The Yearning for Normal

When I was in middle school and high school back in India, Sundays were welcomed with great anticipation for a couple of different reasons. It was the one day of the week there was no school (Saturdays were half-days); Sundays meant family get-togethers; Sundays meant free-wheeling, no-destination-in-mind trips with my dad; Sundays also meant half an hour of 'Western Music' programs on TV. Other than the annual Grammy telecasts - days late and always in the dead of the night on a Saturday - Sunday mornings were our only window into what was happening in the music world in the US and the UK.

And so we saw and heard ABBA, BoneyM, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees, the Beatles. We had cassette tapes of these artists that we listened to on a single-speaker 'Two-in-One,' but being able to watch them on our small television screen was quite something else. When the Grammys rolled around, we were familiar with a mere one or two of the nominated artists, but who cared?

Of all the Michael Jackson songs, I only knew three of them back then - Billie Jean, Beat It!, and Thriller. I could not for the life of me figure out Thriller. I did not know why they were in a graveyard, I did not know why the man laughed that maniacal laugh in the end. I did not know all of the words to Beat It! or Billie Jean. I don't think I know them even now. But I loved the beat, the energy, the confidence, and the absolute certainty of Jackson's dance steps and actions. He knew what he was doing and it was thrilling to watch him do it so well. When I finished listening to the songs, I felt pumped up, inspired, I was amazed that someone not too much older than me was so successful.

Little did I know that the success came at a price so huge as to be incalculable. I had no clue about the backstory.

It was only when I moved to the US that I realized he had siblings, that there was something called the Jackson 5. I pieced together the story from TV specials and magazine articles. Over and over, one concept popped up repeatedly in the media coverage of Neverland, the child molestation charges, the dangling of the child through the window - his yearning for a normal childhood. Although I noticed it at the time, it did not resonate with me at all. Why would anyone want a normal childhood if he was so obviously talented and could be so successful? A normal childhood was boring. It was infinitely more exciting to be able to travel the world, to have millions of fans hanging on to your every step, to be so rich.

That was many years ago. Now, with children of my own, I have an understanding of normal and not-normal childhoods. Being a wife and mother, having lived away from my parents for a number of years and having had the opportunity to see a lot of lives up close has put my own childhood in perspective.

And yesterday, when my husband first told me that Michael Jackson was in a coma and moments later I saw on the news that he was dead, and this morning as I've been reading website after website covering his life and death and music, my mind raced back - longingly - to those days so far away in my past when my brother and I danced our crazy steps to his music, when we wondered who Billie Jean was, when we would race to lower the volume on the TV or on the music player when we heard our dad clearing his throat disapprovingly and tried to explain but failed hopelessly when our parents asked what this kind of music was all about.

As one of the commenters to this Coates essay put it, I, and a lot of others, are homesick.

Do you see the irony in this? On hearing of the death of a music icon who did not have the sort of upbringing that would have inspired feelings of homesickness in him - whose lack of a normal childhood gave millions of us the music that colored our growing years - my first thoughts were of my own childhood homes, of the various living rooms and bedrooms in which we played his music, of my parents and of my brother, of my cousins and uncles who indulged us by buying us music.

Thank you for the music and the memories, Michael. R.I.P.

25 comments:

Tiger said...

i remember gyrating to his songs too and you said it right.. we didnt know who this billie jean was but we didnt care either.. tried to do the moon walk and stick to the national panasonic tape recorder all the time.. Well he is no more now.. i got the songs and thoughts of all the funtimes...

RIP MJ

lakeviewer said...

We shared his music across the world. He was loved as well as pitied.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Sujatha,

Seems often that our most talented artists struggle with common life (that many of us often complain about.)

I guess genius comes with a cost. I can only wonder what we might miss with his early leaving.

Ugich Konitari said...

Sujatha,

My two years in grad school coincided with the time the Jackson 5 and the Osmond brothers appeared on shows on TV. At that time MJ was known only as part of the brothers , but had his own charm and style that stood out. He certainly left everyone behind by leaps and bounds with his musical presence, moves and the like, but what stays in my mind is the singing of the young boy, so straight from the heart , in innocence. That innocence later on got lost. It wasnt the same again. But with all the ghosts in his mind, he is now finally at peace...

Sylvia K said...

Yes, I guess many of us danced to his music, although I was a lot older than many of you -- I loved his energy, his passion and I felt so sad to see his life just peeled away, year by year until it was just an ongoing nightmare. A high price to pay for fame. RIP Michael.

sujata said...

MJ was not on top of my list of fav artists ever.apart from a few of his songs like They dont care abt us, Black or white and we are world..but yes, his life and all the troubles and charges against him ensured that he remain in my radar. But yesterday when I heard the news, my first thoughts were definitely of my childhood, the first cassette of his that was bought, and how I rewinded it time and again so as to understand the lyrics, but failed. Very well written Sujatha, after a long gap, it was a pleasure to read you.

Gymnast said...

That is almost the character of every legend , isnt it? Unknowingly their talent and contribution become such a vital part of the lives and memories of millions around the world. And their name becomes the stimulus to nostalgia.

MJ , will forever continue to live in the heart and memories of his admirers.

Maybe that was the purpose of his life , to gift millions around the world, music , that seeped into their skin and became a part of them.

Kavi said...

I sincerely wanted him to get out of all controversies...i wished that for him.

I have no clue why. Maybe the childhood connect is one..!

His songs and moonwalks take me back to school and college stages !

Life has many stages they say. But MJ ruled part of my life when everything pretty on the stage was adorable.

May he rest in peace.

Prats said...

The revival of memories for us, our chidlhood which brings smiles, are jut one of the reasons we all connect and try to remember him by.

Amit Kumar said...

hi sujata,
I came across your posts through desipundit and would really like to congratulate u for such thoughtful pieces. Once i read one of ur articles, i couldn't resist myself from going thru whole archive. It just reflects clarity of ur thought. Keep writing.

ra said...

Homesick is right...

Debbie said...

Music can bring out the strongest feelings in us. I am sad for his life and his death.

david mcmahon said...

G'day from Melbourne, Australia. I came here from Lakeviewer's blog. I went to a boarding school in Darjeeling and we had half-days on Saturday as well!

Elisa said...

I'm so upset that Michael Jackson died! I was on vacation when I heard it in the news and couldn't enjoy my holidays anymore... R.I.P.

iamyuva said...

he did intro for western music to east more successfully then any other.

hobo handbag said...
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naperville mom said...

I too could never figure out Thriller...though the video was one of it's kind, I'm told...

I guess, fame came too early to him (of course it goes without saying that he was enormously talented)... I mean, in terms of being prepared to handle...esp on such a huge scale.:(

Anonymous said...

I think Michael Jackson's posters have adorned the walls of many all over the world! Great writeup. Thanks!

:)
-Mallika

CT said...
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Onion Insights said...
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Bluest Peach said...

Those were the exact songs that stuck in my memory coz me and my bro watched the grammy awards where he won so many of them, way back when I was only 9years old. It is sad to think that someone so talented and successful had lived with a hole bored through his heart coz of an unhappy childhood. but this is a fact among many gifted people, and it is a tragic irony of life that all of us have no choice but to swallow.

Vale said...

This post was wonderful!! I'm really a fan of Mickael Jackson!! He was fantastic!!

अर्शिया अली said...
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Minal said...

Sujatha,
For one of my favourite bloggers since I joined the bandwagon in 2005!
The award to you here http://grangergab.blogspot.com/2009/08/first-one.html

Bhaskar said...

Heya Sujatha...

long time no see... how r u?

you have been tagged!
http://sbhaskar.blogspot.com/2009/08/few-of-my-favorite-things.html

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