Saturday, July 25, 2009
R.I.P. - Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009)
I was acquainted with his music when I was in my teens. While the highpoint of the Convent Prom was that boys from St. Joseph's School, our brother school, were going to be there, the singularly most important part of the evening that made it so memorable was not the lanky boys in their new stubbles and croaky vocal chords, not their thin frames and cocky swagger, not even the fanciest of dresses that the girls wore. The lasting memory of that end-of-school-year Prom has been his distinctive voice that sang in a unique note, the sound that fell in its own genre and like no other and the overall music that just swept me away.
The second initiation came when I, freshly, got into college; and a friend who was a BBC Radio regular boasted about being abreast with the latest musical fad of that time, yes Beat It, Billie Jean and Thriller. The initial drive for me was that I didn’t want to be left behind from the mass hysteria that was fast engulfing my generation. Once I had been indoctrinated by a gentle nudge from friends, I soon, of my own volition, got baptized into this holy sect of scintillating, never-heard-before sound. Such was the pull and the drawing power of the music and the magnetism of its creator that we simply got sucked in. The western music loving people of my generation had found a new God and his name was Michael Jackson. He was more than an enigma or a phenomenon for us. To us, he was our musical messiah who herded us to the blessed land that lay beyond our daily trials and tribulations.
We grooved to his music at our dance parties that became so famous that they were sought-after in the Doon Valley. No jam sessions were complete without MJ’s albums being played to high decibels. My dancing partners and I chose Michael Jackson’s songs for our piece-de resistance in the dance competitions which we ended up winning. Today, I would like to give credit to the music more than my alacrity and nimble-footedness on the dance floor.
Over the years, Michael Jackson’s music meant different things to me at different times. During the monsoons in Doon, I swayed to the lilting tunes of Ben, The Girl is Mine and Man in the Mirror. During my dancercises I shook my body to his foot-tapping hits. Later, I marveled at the emotionality of his artistic temperament as I tuned into ‘We are the World,’ ‘Heal the World’ and ‘Black or White.’
Now with this musical idol gone forever into the realm of the unknown, into the arms of his creator; I would like to remember one of my greatest influences thus. Here’s my tribute to the one-and-only, to MJ, I loved, adored and revered.
1. Acceptance – We were part of this large international community of young ones who were MJ converts. We had been transformed by his music and we were his disciples following his every dance move or new release. We found acceptance for ourselves amongst our peers and a sense of unity with the global world.
2. Confidence – That is what he instilled in us even from across the Atlantic. We knew his songs, we tried his thrusts and shimmies and walks, we swayed in consonance with his music. And because we did all this, we were never the shrinking violets or the wall flowers who dotted the corners of the room. We were out there having fun, bringing in a lot of back-slapping bonhomie, being the heart of the gatherings – the inspired lot who in turn inspired the others in our coterie. And because we were confident souls in the social circuit, we were also bold not brazen, self-assured not cynical in our other pursuits as well.
3. Popularity – Because we attempted to move like him, because we were in step with what was in, because we were the groovy lot that jived to the MJ beat and were well-conversant with the MJ lingo, because we were this hip set that could sing MJ’s songs backwards and could use slang such as Beat It with a lot of élan; boy, were we popular. I will always be indebted to Michael Jackson for helping me get an image makeover from a studious bookworm to this bubbly babe whom everybody wanted to know in college. And guess what, because I regarded MJ’s music with a sense of sanctity and enjoyed it for its sheer brilliance, uniqueness and ingenuity, I did not allow my reverence to get diluted with any peer pressure. So, I did no drugs, did not enjoy tipple – a dance party mainstay, did not let my grades fall and generally remained a good girl who was popular and fun-loving at the same time.
4. Style - After his demise, I read in several of the obits that MJ was regarded as a style icon. My generation began following him long before the phrase was coined. We came out with our own versions of fedoras, white glove and socks, black shoes, skin-tight jeans and yes, belts. We not only cultivated this ‘MJ’ style but also had the smarts to carry it with a lot of chutzpah.
5. Stress – I don’t know about the others, but for me Michael Jackson’s music has been one of the biggest stress busters. In my last job, at one point of time, getting to work became a nightmare. The commute to work used to be filled with dreadful thoughts of facing the hell boy at work, the only bright light being the Jackson CD playing on the car system. Willy-nilly it brought a smile to my lips, put a song in my heart, lightened my steps and proved to be more meditational and therapeutic than the entire course of Art of Living (Is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar listening!). Similarly, after a hard day’s work that stretched well beyond 10-11 hours, it was Thriller that put the thrill back in my spirit and Billie Jean that helped me battle the stress.
6. Happiness – Again, I don’t know about you but I can speak about myself with the utmost conviction and say that Michael Jackson’s music has always made me happy. Even ecstatic, at times euphoric, a lot of times rapturous but always, overridingly, happy. If I wanted to shake myself from a state of ennui, if I wanted to put on my dancing shoes, if I wanted to beat the blues, if I wanted to stop being lazy and go for that walk, if I wanted a little pick-me-up, all I had to, nay have to do is listen to an MJ number. It always works for me. His music has that inherent feel-good quality to it that spells bliss, bright and bold. Given the tragic life that he has had, I wonder if he really knew how many lives he has touched positively and brought happiness to.
7. Treasure trove of Talent - Michael Jackson was a huge trove of talent. He was one of the most sensational singers of our time, his dancing skills were such that they are emulated to this day, his song writing skills were extraordinary, his videos are legendary and above all, he was the most composite and ultimate entertainer. MJ has taught us that we, too, can multi-layer ourselves with multiple talents and endeavour to reach the zenith in our chosen areas.
8. Lessons of life – Finally MJ’s iconic yet tragic life holds a lesson for all of us. Here are a few that hold a lot of meaning for me -
You can assume responsibility for your family and loved ones even at the tender ages of five or 11. You only need big shoulders and a genuine inclination in that direction.
You can face any assault to your person or mind and come out stronger. At least in the first 3-4 decades of his life, when he rode the upper crest, MJ seemed to have overcome all the negative influences of his childhood rather well. And then there are several examples from the high and mighty from whose lives you can learn to slay your personal demons and emerge stronger and better.
In his leaving for eternity he has left this eternal lesson with us on how not to lead our lives. Drug abuse, child molestation, several liaisons – secret and otherwise, masks & gas chambers, needles & scalpels, tabloids & glowing tributes…………. Certain things in some professions are inherent. They come with the package. But for most, we ourselves are the decision-makers.
In his death, he has shown us that this is no way to go for anyone, leave alone a legend of his stature. The choices are in our hands. Are we willing to turn the stumbling stones into building blocks, the hazards into how-tos and the turbulence & turmoil into a tryst with destiny that strengthens the spirit and lays down the path for betterment.
MJ has taught us how to treasure all that one accumulates not by the stroke of luck but by the dint of one’s hard work. That he dithered it all away in his later years should come as a sharp reminder to all of us, when we tend to get smug and snooty about it.
Michael Jackson, with his choicely penned lyrics and thoughtful words, urged us to look at the “man in the mirror and change some of his ways.”
He has shown us how talent and hard work can prevail over the biases. How the gifted and the genius can win over the prejudiced. In the global and huge, incomparable recognition that MJ has received in his lifetime and so much more in death, he has overpowered the bias of colour, creed, race or religion.
In his musical prowess, his inventiveness, the sheer mastery over his craft and his uniqueness, Michael Jackson has taught us all to strive for excellence and aim for the stars.
And because he had it all before he lost everything – family, fortune, fame – Michael Jackson, in his tragic, untimely death, has taught us how not to squander away the reputation built with the building blocks of inspiration, perspicacity and sweat.
With his fan base and hysteria surpassing that seen for the likes of the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll or the People’s Princess, Michael Jackson filled our hearts with love for him and adulation like for no other, just by the magic of his music and the brightness of his brilliance.
I salute the legend for all this and more.
Michael I will miss you. And I will indeed ‘Remember the Time’ when I used to ‘Rock with you.’ May you rest in peace, now that you are in God’s embrace, far from the world of ghouls and ghosts you created for yourself. Amen!!!
(Picture courtesy - Google images)