"Depending on when you grew up, each of us has a different Michael Jackson that we knew and lost."
- Oliver Wang (Though really, he was paraphrasing someone else. And I'm glad he did.)
I believe that having a successful life is not so much about our accomplishments - but is signified by a process of growth, and change which results in a life where we show the world several different versions of ourselves (each version an improvement, hopefully). I'm aware that the 27-year-old version (i.e., the current version) of myself is quite distinct from the 17-year-old version of myself, as that version differed greatly - of course - from 7-year-old me. You could call them different "stages" of life - but thinking of them as "versions" fits better with the idea that who you are at any given moment will be shared with the people who encounter you. They get to deal with the most current upgrade/downgrade of you at that moment. For example, those who only knew me and had to deal with me at 7, or even 17, would be dealing with a radically different version of me at 27 if they encounter me again. I've been through too many changes for there to be seen any smooth continuum flowing from the who I was then, to the person who I am now. No smooth continuum of change here or with anyone else in my opinion - each change is more like a revision. Thinking of our growth process as creating different versions of ourselves just seems a bit more accurate, in light of everything I've ever experienced when encountering others over long periods of time.
So, in considering my beliefs about "versions" of ourselves and the life of Michael Jackson, I'm reminded that the Michael Jackson I knew as a child was a completely different version than the man that passed away on Thursday. It's not something I ever gave any serious thought - I just accepted whatever version seemed to be out there in the public, for the good and the bad.
The MJ I knew in the early '80s scared me with the Thriller video. It's my earliest memory of him - cowering when he changed into Michael Jackson the ghoul. Little did I know that the video which I couldn't bear to watch actually made history - that the song itself (which I loved) made history.
MJ also gave me my first lesson in understanding just how much people could change. He went from brown to not brown - which confused me (I used to wonder HOW someone could change their color like that?!) He was my first lesson about the fickle nature of race in this country and I didn't even know it. I might have been 6 or 7 when I first learned that the boy singing "ABC - easy as 123" (I knew that song from when I was very little) was the man that sang "Billie Jean" and I remember being STARTLED at seeing a picture of what he looked like as a child. How could someone change THAT much physically?
The MJ I knew was also the first person (that I'm aware of) that premiered a video on prime time television. I remember well (though I can't remember when exactly - I know it was the '90's) when "Black or White" and "Remember the Time" showed for the first time on TV (and if I'm not mistaken, they both premiered on FOX). "Remember the Time" = one of the best videos EVER - definitely one of my favorite MJ songs.
I remember when he married Lisa Marie Presley. I remember that it was a big deal - though I didn't get why - and also that they were in the "You Are Not Alone" video appearing to be naked. I don't remember being fazed by this one bit but that some people made a big deal about it. (The hallmark of a 80's baby: lack of sensitivity to sexual references in the media? Probably.) Looking back, I know that this version of Michael Jackson is the version people started to have serious trouble with - when he started to have serious trouble - around the time there were whispers and then serious talk, accusations (and ultimately, court cases) about his dealings (potential misdealings) with children. I knew it wasn't good - but I was too young to fully understand. This version of Michael Jackson was just as magical as he was when I was scared by Thriller - but more obviously beleagured.
I remember the first time I saw the video for "Leave Me Alone." I remember wishing that they left him alone. Of course, they didn't. I remember learning, around the time I saw the video (the early '90's?), that he had been beleagured for quite some time.
I remember "Man in the Mirror" (by the way, these memories are not in chronological order). It was the first song where I can remember paying close attention to the lyrics - a habit that never went away. It's possible that when I listen to music, I am looking to have the same sort of connection to a song that I had when I first heard Man in the Mirror. I was young - like 6 or 7 - and I remember feeling like it spoke to my purpose, which by that point, was something of which I pretty aware. (I'm gonna make a change, for once in my life...). As I get older, and more solidified in my purpose, the lyrics are just that much more poignant.
I remember when SWV came out with Love Will Be Right Here (Human Nature Mix). I had absolutely no idea why this was the "Human Nature" mix when the song came out until someone on the radio said something about them sampling Michael Jackson's song, Human Nature. I guess I missed that one in my early years. So I ended up I finding the song - actually, they might have played the two songs back to back on the radio. I remember upon hearing it, being taken over with that same magic his music always seem to have. I was in love.
There's so much more I can say about the versions of MJ I knew. I remember when Michael Jackson came out with Butterflies - which I loved. I remember thinking that I hadn't really heard anything musically from him that I liked in some time. It was the first time I realized that Michael Jackson's significance in my life was more in the past than anything else.
And it's like that with some people - as they become different versions of themselves, their upgrade or downgrade just doesn't fit in your life the way the previous versions did. And you move on. The most recent version of MJ that I came to know - the one that passed away on Thursday, was the version that only came across in somewhat negative media. I heard about it - but it didn't fit in with my life. I remember hearing recently that he was sick - that he might have had cancer or something like that. I also remember hearing that he planning on a comeback tour. And I remember feeling a bit excited about that - even if the comeback just a walk down memory lane, recalling versions of him from the past.
Of course he'll be missed. I just didn't know, until Thursday, that I had been missing him - the version I knew - for quite some time.