I had Thriller. Somewhere out there, 36 million (or thereabouts) did, or still do. I remember how it folded out in gatefold style (albums, folks, albums) to reveal Michael Jackson lounging in a white suit, black shirt (unbuttoned just slightly) and a tiger cub crawling on him. I can't say it was sexy, I don't think I ever thought of MJ as sexy, but he was cute at times, and this was a pretty cute setup.
It was 1984, and I was 14. My tastes were more Duran Duran and Howard Jones and Steve Winwood, but you'd have to be some kind of alien not to have liked at least one song on Thriller. And I do remember at some point hearing every single song on that album on the radio — even if "The Lady in My Life" was never released as a single, it did get radio airtime. I can't think of any other album — though Jagged Little Pill comes close — in which you can make that statement. It was, quite simply, a phenomenon.
But I was never manic about MJ. I left that to others. And when I began hanging out with the cantor's daughter, a lovely redhead named Rebecca — hi there, you! 'Cos we're still friends — I discovered at least one person who was mad for Michael. Through her I got reverberated fervor, saved pages out of my teen magazines so she'd have them, and probably got more into the MJ spirit than I would have had we not met.
Then we went to our Jewish youth group's convention in Ocean City in the dead of winter, and while there were plenty of bouts of madness, the thing I remember best is our little music bubble. We just blathered on and on about the genius of Peter Schilling's "Major Tom," for one thing … and then we learned that mid-convention, the NBC series Friday Night Videos was going to world-premiere the Jon Landis' directed, long-form video "Thriller." The whole thing. Top to bottom. Maybe MTV had it already; VH1 I don't think even existed. But neither of us had cable. So we made sure to leave whatever dance or event or what have you was going on and race like someone was after us up to the hotel room in time to see the premiere.
Puts a lot of change in perspective: We didn't have TiVo, we didn't have Hulu, we didn't have YouTube. Miss it right then, and miss the moment. Miss the zeitgeist as it whistled down the hallway.
So despite what Michael Jackson ended up becoming, both physically and in peoples' minds, I still have that enduring memory of sitting on the edge of a double bed in a hotel in Ocean City, Maryland with a person who would become one of my oldest, dearest friends, watching one of the most talented pop musicians of our time do the zombie dance.
Musicians create the music, but it's the fans who give it meaning.
And just at this exact moment, someone has driven by my window blasting "Billie Jean."
We were all in on it, and we still are.
Keep moonwalking, MJ, wherever you are now.
(Crossposted on Facebook)