Friday, June 26, 2009

Big teeth and an IMAX hall

Pic: Lee Celano/AFP/Getty Images

My earliest memory of Michael Jackson is from a story my mum tells me about when I first encountered him. An IMAX theatre at Disney World, or MGM Studios, or somewhere. We're dwarfed by the mammoth screens expanding all around us, my mum and I, and just before the show starts, she leans across to inform me that: "Michael Jackson is a very famous singer". In her telling of the story, she never forgets the details lacing the narrative: that I had rectangular bunny teeth and big glasses. I'm ten years old and with that definitive piece of cultural context, the film begins. It turns out that was all it needed to have me hooked on to him.

Maybe it was because cable TV had only just come to India. Home-grown, all we had was Remo Fernandes and who's-that-guy "Dil Dhadke, Mera Dil Dhadke...". Exchange x number of Pepsi or Miranda caps for a Fido Dido poster. Or a cassette, the one with the Alannah Myles 'Black Velvet' song on it. And then of course MJ. And Madonna for those who liked their rock stars punky and spunky and in-your-face. And Billy Joel's Uptown Girl.

But Michael Jackson was a personal favourite. The 'Dangerous' tape was a cherished birthday gift - just right for an eleven-year-old: the cover sort of Goth-but-not, just a little bit 'bad' with dark colours and gold, but not overly so. The 'Thriller' video was definitive cool: all I remember of our tenth grade farewell party (apart from the mandatory 'Who the F is Alice' screaming) was my Crush doing the Moonwalk... justifying my impeccable taste in having selected him as the honored Object of My Affections.

This morning I am talking to a 22-year-old who is probably wondering about all the shock over Michael Jackson's death. When we were kids I don't remember being particularly disturbed by his nose or his colour or even knowing much about the darker Neverland Ranch aspects of his life. But growing up now, thinking of MJ is probably thinking about him as my friend does - post-Whiteness (and wondering why on earth), post-baby-dangling (and wondering why on earth), post-pedophilia charges (why on earth) and Neverland escapades (...). It's a whole different view. It's an adult view of a adult; not a child's view of a super star who did the Moonwalk.