A REAL Tribute to the King of Pop

Michael Jackson when

"Michael'' meant Michael

Amid the tumult surrounding the sad ending to Michael Jackson’s life, I got to thinking about how I have come to terms with all the baggage that has come with being a huge admirer of the Boy Wonder and Music Genius. It’s a good time to remember that before the age of “Michael’’ when “Michael’’ meant Jordan, a world that transcended music knew Michael. As in Jackson.

As media insist on making his death the freak tabloid sensation of the early 21st century, I have been coping with the loss by reaching back in time. We tend to preserve in a recess of our mind the memories that mark or change us. They surface mostly in times of joy or sadness.

In the fall of my college freshman year at 17, I was in love with two “Michaels’’, in fact, two “MJs’’. One, my boyfriend at the time, the other, the youngest brother in the hottest boy group on the scene, The Jackson 5.

MJ The Boyfriend, and I, and friends drove 30 miles northeast from Grambling, La., to the Monroe Civic Center to bear witness to a concert put on by the popular brothers group we only had known through transistor radio blasts on every floor of every dorm on campus.

After seeing Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon, and Michael perform and interact with the audience, I was hooked. I’ll Be There, ABC, I Want you Back. We rocked the entire show. And, what a show. Memory of other 1970 Top 10 artists – The Beatles, Jimi Hendirx, Simon & Garfunkel –quickly blurred.

I had never seen anything like them, and I fell head over heels. I resembled countless numbers of girls, boys, women and men all ages across the United States. Unanimous echoes on the drive back (in between off-key drones of ABC lyrics) turned into an anointment: “The littlest one, Michael!” We knew that his star would rise and he would become King.

Like all Michael Jackson loyals, I followed the superstar during his high times and low points professionally and privately and shouldered years of mixed emotions. At the low point, I would embrace the special feeling he and his brothers gave me at that performance, and it somehow soothed my gloom. I had taken him into my heart all those years ago. It was easy to do having brothers his age. When rumors of his abusive childhood erupted, I was in disbelief. The Jacksons seemed wholesome, much like my family. Sure they weren’t perfect, but what family is?

We now know how the story ends. Genius often leads to complexity in the human spirit. We need only point to the abundance of examples of masters throughout history. Mozart. Einstein, Hemingway. Van Gogh.

A month ago, a dear friend and I were discussing the movie Ben with our 20-year-old daughters. Long story, but the conversation boiled down to my rodent phobia, the generational divide, and the film’s once popular title song.

My friend and I reminisced about Michael Jackson, who sang the film’s theme song. That led to us talking about Jackson’s July comeback, which led to us looking online at the artist’s vintage videos.

“Why did he have to change?’’ My friend lamented, as we watched footage of Michael and the brothers from their debut appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. “He was so adorable, so cute,’’ we agreed.

The Jackson 5 show all those years ago remains at the top of my list of live performances, rivaling only the late ’70s Smokey Robinson concert in Washington, D.C.’s Constitution Hall. We like to protect our memories. So as I think of The King of Pop, and what is now a Shakespearean ending to a royal life, I will dwell on the 12-year-old boy who made this teenager feel like a princess.

(Want to pay tribute here? I welcome your feedback. Feel free to comment on your favorite Jackson 5 album and/or hit single, as well as memories of your special Michael Jackson solo. This is a Michael Jackson The Genius Safe Zone.)


  1. That brings back memories. I never saw them in concert, but we played a lot of their records at parties. I know we went to the Soul Shack in downtown Washington, D. C. to buy records we could dance to, or that we thought we could dance to!! ha Oh, for the carefree days of driving around D. C. in my MG. I now drive around my little farm on my Ford tractor.

  2. Instantly, my thoughts went back to 1970, Jackson 5 concert, and probably my first real date with my girl. What memories....

  3. My memories of Michael Jackson is that of a man that everyone in my generation (Y)thought of as weird. It's nice to have another perspective from a Baby Boomer like my aunt. Thanks Aunt Jean.

  4. I have to say I love those old J5 songs the best -- you can't help singing along! -- and I love watching those old videos with little Michael, such an incredible pro right from the start. But I liked a lot of his early solo work as well. I guess "Billie Jean" was always my favorite there. He was just the cutest guy, and I have to say I hated it when he started altering his looks so severely.

  5. So you still remember that Smokey Robinson concert? Every now and then, my friend Randy asks about the girl from Lake Charles and her husband. -WBO

  6. We loved MJ,HUGE fans.We are stillin jammin to his music in our ipod,stereo,computer and TV. This man was the greatest entertainer in the world. He was universal.Michael could dance his but off, we're very sad because we never got to see him in concert. No one ever really talked about all the things he gave to children or charities. He was the biggest humanitarium ever( check out the Guinness book of World records).He is a legend and will always be remembered in our hearts.

    Brianna & Taylor

  7. I grew up with Michael Jackson. His music, with the Jackson 5 and solo, is so intertwined with my personal biography...elementary school, junior high, high school. He was pure magic and so many people, myself included, were forever changed by his music. We watched MTV almost nonstop because of HIM....MJ is the reason why MTV had the enormous success it did! I'll remember the Michael Jackson from the Thriller days most fondly. I saw him in concert in Dallas in 1988....the one and only time and I still remember it. I feel like part of me has died. Still hard to believe he's gone.
    - Jill

  8. I have fond memories of the Jackson Five and in particular Michael Jackson when they first came on the scene.They were something special and Michael took off and just soared like an eagle.
    I will always consider Michael as the best. I never got a chance to see him in person and definitely will not now but from what I saw and heard on t.v. and other media it is clear that he was simply the best misical entertainer of ALL TIMES. To Abraham his ability and talent overshadowed any thing else about him.

  9. i have listened to mike since i was a lil girl. i would dance with my pompoms at home in the living room all day bout the age of 8. my favorite song is dont stop til you get enough. all of mikes songs made you wanna dance and move all over the place. some songs you can just tap your toes and snap yo fingers but mike made you wanna swerve and move your whole body. mike you will be missed by us all.--- temesha

  10. I still have my "I want you back" LP. The Jackson 5 were the cornerstone of my youth. I liked Tito, but Michael was obviously the genius, his music and performance spoke for itself. Boys, girls, men and women alike swooned and felt his energy as he performed. I can only speak for myself, but I am almost positive that it applied to most who watched his performances - most people were spellbound, and could only feel good, in fact feel better than they did at the end of his performance than they did before it began. If you listened to his music you wanted to dance, in fact had to dance, at a minimum, tap you feet or sway your body.

    I followed Michael's music and his career - the ups and the downs. I didn't understand then his need for metamorphosis, but I think I am beginning to understand it now, maybe underscored by his song "Black or White". Though he had a large following while his skin-tone was black, I cant help feeling that a lot of his cross-over appeal came from folks who could more identify with a lighter skin tone and european features - once he lost his "young teeny bopper boyhood charms."

    In his death, the black populace totally embraced him, flaws and all, and turned down the chatter, and turned up the music - while the larger population - prodded by the media - turned up the chatter. In disgust, I turned off most major media -- I particularly was disgusted with Matt Lauer - when he did a tour of Never Land and showed the panic room - which he did not describe as a panic room, but said "Who knows what he did in there" and pointed out twice that the room had several locks on it. That as far as I was concerned was uncalled for - the man was dead and that action served no positive purpose... shame on you Matt! That's no way to get ratings.

    Next Saturday 8/29/09 - on TV1 there will be a Michael Jackson marathon - "Forever Michael." Like he said, "Don't stop till you get enough."