Thursday, 9 July 2009

Michael Jackson's “Bad”.

Like many others, I was saddened and surprised to hear of the untimely death of Michael Jackson. I was a fan. I had the albums, some of which had been purchased multiple times across various formats. I even bought “Invincible” (how ironic a title for what would become his final release) although I waited until it was £2.99 in the Tesco bargain bucket before buying, on account of being pretty sure it would be a big old pile of bilge (it was – I don’t think I even stuck with it till the end of the initial listen – it is there for completeness, although I don’t have all the Motown stuff - I’m more of an Epic fan myself).

I suspect I’ve mentioned before, that it is very hard to give an album purchased at the age of 32, when you have several hundred (it might be into the thousands by now) albums to choose from, any real love and attention. I love the Pet Shop Boys enough to buy their albums on the day they come out, in special edition form, even though I know they’ll be discounted soon enough, but I don’t think I’ve listened to the new one more than half a dozen times.

I have a theory on value for money in purchased material. Consider anything you buy (CD, DVD, Blu-Ray) to be worth one pound per hour’s worth of entertainment. Therefore, if two of you watch a film twice (ever) it is worth £8. (2 hours x £1 x 2 people x 2 viewings). That copy of Invincible is worth about 75p, my Pet Shop Boys CD is worth about £8 already, as Lisa’s given it a couple of listens (we saw them live the other day, stunning show, and Lisa needed to research the new stuff). My copy of My Chemical Romance’s “The Black Parade” is probably worth £20 already (it is so good, I listen to it all the time and relive my angsty youth.)

My cassette of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” must be “worth” hundreds based on this scale. It’s 1987. An unusual looking guy in an amazing outfit has made a great album. I know it is – my friends (HannaH for one) have been going on about nothing but for months) and I want it. There is only one problem.

I’m 10.

My pocket money is about 50p a week, and I suspect I’m hopelessly addicted to Mojos. I don’t have a tape player. Or any tapes. Every so often we’ll go to Monmouth shopping, and I’ll pop into Woolworths, and covet the cassette of this album. It calls to me. I want it, but I can’t afford it.

January comes, and its my 11th birthday. Mum takes me to Monmouth. We have about half an hour before the shops close, and the January sales are still happening. I’ve asked for money for my birthday, with a view to adding up the (hopefully) £5 notes I’ll get from all my relatives, in order to be able to afford my dream. I believe I totalled £30.

First we go to Woolies – £5.49p later and I now own Michael Jackson’s Bad. Then it is time to find something to play it on. There is a midi system in the lounge, but a boy needs music on his own terms.

Off to Dixons (that’s what became Currys Digital in the 21st century kids), and we find just what we’re looking for. Radio and single cassette. £25. It’s probably a Matsui, the cheap as chips anybrand that only Dixons sell. After some (attempted?) negotiating with the staff, (the sale finished the day before, but they strangely left the sign up, I’m not sure if they agreed to the price or mum advanced me the next ten weeks worth of allowance) it was mine. 5.55pm, they shut up shop, and back to the car and home.

That cassette was my pride and joy. I listened to it so many times I learned the words by heart, then I looked up the words in the 2 feet of folded inlay card (downloads are killing inlay cards) and re-learned them correctly, then went back to what I’d worked out originally, as I couldn’t sing the actual words and make them sound like MJ did. (how is that “Come On” how?)

Of course then I started finding out about the man. The Oxygen tent. The chimp. The llama, the elephant man’s bones, the plastic surgery. None of that mattered. It was all about the music for me. I got blank tapes and recorded the albums of Off the Wall and Thriller (since purchased on CD – in case the copyright police are reading – home taping isn’t killing music, it is freeing it to a whole new (poor) audience, and we’ll buy it eventually).

Dangerous was the first CD I ever owned, and was held very highly in my affections. I never truly loved Off the Wall or Thriller like I love Bad and Dangerous, because I wasn’t there. (I remember staying up late to watch the Thriller video on channel 4, but mostly because it gave me proper nightmares. In my defence – I was only six.)

I never did understand hysterical fans. Those who would scream and cry at concerts, who’d queue all night for tickets and (now I know) wee into bottles all day to ensure their place at the front of a stadium concert. I’ve done my fair share of front row gigs (and I did queue all night at Wimbledon once) and it is pretty amazing getting that close to the action, and being able to reach out and touch your heroes. There was quite a tear in my eye when the Pet Shop Boys launched into “It’s a Sin” the other night. (IMHO the best pop song ever written – sorry MJ).

I registered for, but didn’t attempt to buy tickets for MJ’s comeback gigs. I would have loved to have seen a fully in-form Michael Jackson performing the hits and reminding the world why we loved him, why we ALL bought Thriller, and nearly all of us bought Bad. Somehow I knew it wasn’t meant to be. Every expected gig and personal appearance for the last 15 years has ended in disappointment, and I didn’t want my memory to be of that. I also didn’t expect the gigs to happen, but not for the reason they didn’t happen.

I’m not going to go too far into the negative aspects of the Michael Jackson story. I hope he was innocent, but anyone who lets kids who weren’t their own share their bed is more than a little odd, and I hope and believe in his mind anything that happened was completely innocent – but I agree with my big brother that someone really ought to have pointed out that this is not the done thing. People will make assumptions - there will be smoke. In many aspects of his life, no-one was able to tell him when to stop. From spending money to having sleepovers, I have a horrible feeling that if someone told him this wasn’t the best course of action, then he would have found someone who thought that it was.

As has been the case with many who have been taken before their time, the surprise seems to be mistaken for additional grief. I’m sad, but I’m not 36 hours of blanket news coverage sad.

I think the media are making sure MJ will be remembered as a Groundbreaking Genius, with one or two issues in his personal life. This is probably fair, as this is the only thing which is beyond reasonable doubt. People ask why he paid $20,000,000 to have a child abuse case dropped. If someone had reason to accuse me of such things (I don’t share my bed with anyone except my wife) and I could pay an equivalent percentage of my personal wealth, probably the price of a packet of crisps at the time to make those accusations go away, I think I would.

I listened to the first “side” of Bad on the tube today. I still love it.

I still can’t make the lyrics I’m hearing to “Speed Demon” make any sense at all.

That makes me love it all the more.

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