Soundtrack to a life

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Funny how poignant cheap music is…

It would seem odd, as all the tributes pour in, not to at least mention the passing of Michael Jackson.

I never saw Jackson in concert, though I can see why you might want to. Nor did I ever buy any album other than Thriller – and that many years after it was issued. But for all that, his music has been, as for many of us, a background soundtrack in my life and it seems strange to think that he is now gone. 

I can’t really remember a time without The Jackson Five – I would have been a small child when they had their first hit, so Michael Jackson with his astonishing voice was just one of those fixtures around the place, like Little Jimmy Osmond. 

Unlike Little Jimmy, though, he never went away. By the time I was finding my clumsy teenage feet on the dancefloors of the local discos, Jackson was ubiquitous. At this point he was the Jackson of ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’, becoming more assured of himself, more solo, much sexier. 

Overall, though, his best music is for me inextricably linked with an on-off love affair that happened when I was living in a batchelorette flat in Earl’s Court. This was the time of the Jackson of Billy Jean and Beat It, and – of course – Thriller. At his beautiful best at this point, Jackson was impossibly handsome, and also quite possibly the sexiest dancer ever seen. He was an astonishing performer. 

He was a huge fashion influence, too. My paramour – a blond, white guy from Essex – rather fancied Jackson and dressed more than a little like him, as did many other white youths, with sleeves pushed up, and a black hat. In particular, he had a black shirt covered in zips remeniscent of Jackson’s red leather jacket.

After Thriller, though, I pretty much lost interest in Jackson (along with, for a time, my Essex friend). I didn’t care for Bad, and from then on noticed his music less and less. Leaving the fun world of college for a life with my new, depressed boyfriend, recession working in dismal offices where Radio 1 was not played, and not owning a television, I became less aware of his music and more aware of his constant presence in the tabloid headlines, with stories real or unreal – hyperbaric chambers and Bubbles the chimp.

Later, the accusations of child abuse seriously bothered me, along with his changing appearance – the almost wilful ruination of that once-beautiful face. He was now beguiling a different generation with music that I found largely pretentious and boring. To me, his life seemed to almost peter away in a welter of drugs and rumours, with the occasional high spot such as Black or White. For the past decade I’ve scarcely noticed him at all.

But I’m sorry he’s gone, especially for the fact that he screwed up his life. Although it’s only fitting that they should pass, it was fun to be reminded of those silly, irresponsible college days for a moment. And just as I feel about the younger and lovelier Sting, it makes me smile to remember that when Jackson was in his heyday, I was also in mine.



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