by Joanna D'Angelo

The death of Michael Jackson is an international news story raising so many questions: How did he die? Why did he die? Was there any foul play associated with his death? Then there are the questions pertaining to his family and estate: Who will gain custody of his children? Why didn't he have an up-to-date will? What will happen to his estate? What about the enormous debt load that he was expected to repay with his huge concert series? So many questions abound that it's difficult to separate the flood of news coverage surrounding his death with our need to remember an artist who touched so many lives and entertained millions of people around the world for decades. So in the glare of all this media coverage my aim with this article is to reflect for a moment on a performer who didn't just make music - he made a connection with us.

I grew up in the 1980s. That was my decade. So, when Michael Jackson came out with his Thriller album- well it was a huge deal on two fronts. First, because the music was amazing and second, because the music videos were unlike anything we had ever seen. Keep in mind that music videos (and MTV) were still very new and record company execs were still trying to figure out what the hell to do with this invention. Were videos a waste of money or a way to make more money? Guess we know how that turned out.

Well, Michael Jackson made the music video into an art form. The videos for Billie Jean and Beat It both captured the essence of the songs. MJ wasn't just a singer - he was telling us stories with his music - wonderfully rich visual stories that would influence how we danced, dressed, moved. But it wasn't until the music video for Thriller came out that the icon was born.

The video for Thriller was in fact a short theatrical film - an homage to zombie/horror movies from the 1950s and 1960s - the Hammer films. Heck it was narrated by Vincent Price. We all know what it's about - the young man who seems innocent enough - teasing his girlfriend after going to the movies but he's actually a monster inside.

I remember the day it was set to premiere on TV. I was so excited. We talked about it at school all day. Are you going to watch the Thriller video? After school I got my homework done early. Physics (shudder). Nothing was going to keep me from watching the Thriller video. And then the moment arrived. And it didn't disappoint. I LOVED it! Still do. That's the thing with music videos. They don't get stale. You can keep watching them over and over and you still love them just as much on the 100th viewing as on the first. Funny that. The record execs didn't realize that going in. But MJ probably did. He knew something no one else did. The power of the image. Not just the music - but music with the image.

John Landis
was on Larry King last night sharing his memories of working with Michael Jackson on Thriller and then on Black or White. Landis reminded us that the Thriller album was already a huge success but after the Thriller video came out the sales went through the roof. He said Michael had called him after he'd seen An American Werewolf in London and told him he wanted to make a music video where he turned into a monster. Landis had carte blanche to do what he wanted. So he made a thriller.

So, like many of you, I'm following the news coverage to try to make sense out of this tragedy. But beyond the headlines Michael Jackson's death reminds us that even though their actual lives seem so foreign to us - artists have an amazing ability to connect with us - with our humanity - with something deep inside us that wants to move, dance, sing, rejoice. So Michael I hope you're doing that in the Beyond. We've got your videos and music to keep us going. I have my memories of dancing to your music and chatting with my friends about which song I loved more - Beat It or Billie Jean. I remember how much I loved your Thriller video. I remember being wowed by your music and your artistry. Rest easy Michael. You shared your soul with us in every song.

So how will you remember Michael Jackson?


  1. As much as I loved the Thriller video, and Eddie's screaming solo on Beat It, my favorite memory will always be the charming little boy who danced and sang his heart out with his brothers. *fond smile*

    What saddens me the most is that he always tried to recapture the childhood he never had, and seemed to fear growing into the 'monster' his father represented to him. The 'man in the mirror'. Michael was a typical artist, very sensitive and sweet. I think he never got past the harshness of his father's abuse, and on some level, he never wanted to grow old and become like his father.

    I wish him peace now and hope that maybe someday he'll come back and have the kind of childhood that leads to a long and fulfilling life...


  2. What a poignant comment Chiron. I will add this thought. I think when a person is gifted with such an enormous - almost otherworldly talent - there might be a high price that goes along with that. Even through the pain and extreme experiences he did suffer through in life I believe Michael Jackson did find happiness in a great many things. I hope he finds a happiness in his after life as well.

  3. I agree with you Joanna on Michael's 'almost otherworldly talent - there might be a high price that goes along with that.' I think it was awfully hard to be Michael Jackson. But a lot of people are glad he was here.

    Like Chiron, my favorite Michael was the boy singer who gave us Got to Be There, I Want You Back and ABC.

  4. Thanks for your comment Julia - I think the boy singer was lovely as well. Cher made a poignant comment on Larry King last week - that she will always remember him as an adorable beautiful and talented boy. I think MJ the superstar alwasy carried that boy inside his heart.

  5. Great, beautifully written article Joanna...Michael Jackson, despite all his personal problems, left a mark on many of us growing up. My favourite Michael is the flirtatious boyfriend-turned-zombie on Thriller. I had such a crush on him, I still remember the poster I had of him on my wall...wearing his yellow sweater vest!! Ha ha! It's such a nostalgia trip watching his videos, especially Thriller...and you're right, it's still amazing even after the 100th watching. RIP Michael.

  6. Thanks Lisa. I had a big crush on him too. Who could resist that boyish/devilish charm he exuded in that video? :D

  7. Thank you Joanna, for bringing this to us!

    I finally had a moment to catch up on all my favorite blogs and beloved writers this July 4th afternoon, after a day of merriment, and before a night of - literally - fireworks.

    It is pieces like this one that really bring the sadness home. In a good way, they expose Michael Jackson for his legacy, for all he meant to all of us who grew up listening to him, dancing to his music.

    Someone I once interviewed posted an update on his FB account the day MJ died. He is great friends with the man who choreographed the Thriller video, and was broken hearted to hear his friend sobbing on the other side of the phone, when he called to tell him the news. That little snippet of information really made Jackson human to me, his fans' dedication palpable, while your piece has made his life and death real. Thank you!

  8. I, too, was a huge MJ fan, and I'm happy to have his music to continue on through the years. I loved the Michael from the Thriller era most, when I was becoming a teen, and I developed a crush on him too. Yes, Joanna...you're right...there is a price for the kind of other-worldly talent he exhibited. It's unfortunate the price is so high, but yes, people are grateful he paid it because we have the gift of his legacy.


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