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Michael Jackson, The Beatles, And Infinite Youth

In Memory of Michael Jackson, who passed away in 2009, we’re reposting this blog written by Vivek J. Tiwary after he heard the news.

I was shocked when I heard that Michael Jackson had died– partially because he was so young and, to me, his death so unexpected… and partially because I felt much sadder than I thought I would. I didn’t think I cared so much about Michael Jackson anymore.

But in the days that followed, I realized that to pretend I didn’t care about Michael Jackson was like trying to pretend I didn’t care about youth. And I don’t mean my youth– I mean the concept of youth itself.

There was a period in my life– that precious place between childhood and young adulthood– when Michael Jackson meant the world to me. (And this was long before “tween” was a marketing catchword, though I’m fairly confident I’m not talking about being a tween, at least as the marketers define them).

In his famous trial, Oscar Wilde spoke of a pure form of love between an elder and and a younger man, where “the elder man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.”

Well, when I was a heterosexual 10-year old boy, Michael Jackson, his music, and his music videos represented all the joy, hope, and glamour that life had to offer. Yes, I loved him. And now that I am an older man with some supposed sense of intellect, I rejected that memory and buried that love. Why?

It would be easy to say it was because I discovered the Sex Pistols.

But that’s a cop-out.

Yeah, I stopped listening to Michael Jackson years ago and Johnny Rotten replaced him in both my headphones and my attire. But what I realized when I heard he died is that I never stopped believing in what Michael Jackson represented to me– and that’s why his passing made me so sad. When I think about it like this, my reaction is no surprise at all.

The Beatles were the first band I ever loved, and I discovered them by listening to my parents’ vinyl. But by the time I got The Beatles’ indelibly under my skin, they were already legends, and they had already broken up. With the rest of my city, I was devastated by the death of John Lennon and I will never forget that day… But Michael Jackson was really and truly the first musician I was old enough to actually follow, to feel the excitement of new news and new developments. I remember waiting up all night for MTV to play the “Thriller” video. This was LONG before the days of on-demand and YouTube; I even remember holding a Walkman tape recorder up to the television set so I could capture an audio recording of “Thriller” with the dialog bits. And I remember the giddy anticipation as subsequent videos, songs, and performances were unleashed, not knowing what to expect– but expecting that it would be, and feel, awesome.

Sure, while I was slam dancing to Murphy’s Law and Underdog at the old Ritz in New York City’s Lower East Side, I read about how Michael’s life got increasingly strange, sad, and even morally suspect. But in the end, since I never actually knew the man, what really matters– to me, that is– is what he represented for me, what he left behind for me. And that sadder, stranger person is not the Michael I knew, nor the Michael I remember. Mine makes me feel young again– full of joy, hope, and glamour; ready to stay up all night again and take on the world.

Thanks, Michael– and rest in peace.

New York City 2009