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“You know that love survives/ So we can rock forever on.”- “Rock With You.”

I guess you could say my love for music began with Michael Jackson. I was five years old when Thriller came out in 1982 and though perhaps the operatic mini-movies for “Thriller, “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” may have drawn me to Jackson’s songs, it was his star power that made me a fan. Combine bombastic dance moves with a red leather a jacket and shiny glove and you get a pop star unseen since David Bowie climbed out of the swamp of the early ’70s. Jackson (and his handlers) used every asset available to propel his superstardom. His charming good looks, bashful public demeanor and elusive, mercurial personality helped add to the beguiling soup cooked up by videos featuring state of the art special effects, massive concerts and the fame already bestowed upon 1979 masterpiece Off the Wall.

I remember borrowing my babysitter’s cassette of Thriller and while listening, holding a tape recorder against the speaker to pirate my own copy. At that age I couldn’t see the dollar signs or calculations of greedy backers and family members. Cynicism had not set in yet. I only could see Jackson for his music and the image being sold to me on the television.

My first concert was the Jackson 5 at the JFK Stadium in Philadelphia in September, 1984. Jackson was promoting the Victory album and my reminisces are vague. I remember a lot of red leather, heavy rain, a rescheduled show, coming back weeks later, monitors that did not work and people in costumes. I remember Jackson did not play “Thriller.” I remember loving the show. I remember singing Jackson’s duet with Mick Jagger, “State of Shock” in the car with my mother after the show.

JFK Stadium has been torn down and Jackson has died. After Bad in 1987, Jackson’s career became a freak show of tortured stunts and cryptic public appearances. People called him Peter Pan. And that’s probably why so many Michael Jackson memories come from our collective childhood. Before that cynicism, that world-weary wherewithal sets in, there is a magic place in all of us that Jackson’s music can inhabit. A place where we can have chimps for pets, live on a amusement park ranch and actually believe in magic. Even though the image was manufactured and sold to us hand over fist, there was a still a man behind it all. It’s a shame, sometimes, that we have to grow up. It’s a shame we have to feel pain and die. – David Harris

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When I was in second grade, my way of deciding if a song was good was based on how much I liked the video. Surprisingly, this didn’t work out as terribly as you might think; for every Genesis song I loved there was a Talking Heads number, or something by Devo. But the absolute ruler as far as my adolescent mind was concerned was, of course, Michael Jackson.

The videos Michael Jackson made were uniformly earth-shattering to me at that age, which makes sense because for all practical purposes they were made by someone who didn’t want to leave his childhood behind. The one that I remember having the greatest impact on impressionable little me, however, was not “Thriller” or “Bad” or any of those certified classics but instead “Leave Me Alone.” I barely even remember the song itself, but the video has Michael riding through some insane amusement park, apparently filled with things that were meant to be a commentary on how the tabloids were destroying Michael’s life. Of course I didn’t get that then, all I cared about were the weird pictures and the crazed stop motion animation.

At one point Michael dances with the bones of the Elephant Man and I can honestly say the sheer lunacy of that moment paired with the rest of the video is more than likely what created my interest in the work of Terry Gilliam, who I would later find out made films that were essentially feature length versions of that video, albeit with more sense and meaning. As an adult, I can appreciate the craft and perfection that went into every aspect of Michael Jackson’s art. His songs are still ahead of their time and it’s doubtful that any artist will ever affect the pop culture landscape the way he did again. In a way, I think the visuals of “Leave Me Alone” might be a Rosetta Stone of sorts for deciphering just what was going on in the brain of this troubled genius. But even if it isn’t, it doesn’t take much for me to put myself back in little kid mode and just enjoy all the weird, pretty things on display. – Morgan Davis

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The video for Michael Jackson’s “Who Is It” was originally directed by David Fincher but never aired on MTV or VH1 in the U.S. It’s surprisingly literal for an artist known to make music videos which rarely tie so closely to the plot of the song. On screen, Jackson fears that his girlfriend is running around on him when, in reality, the nature of her infidelity runs much deeper. The name tag he’s found isn’t of the man she’s cheating on him with, but one of the many aliases used to escort many rich and powerful men. He’s been made to feel special and desired when in reality he’s just another sap who’s been taken for a ride.

What played on American television was far more morbid even if it channeled the same message. Stateside, Jackson’s drowning in quicksand delivery is soundtracked to clips of his live performances and music videos throughout the years. By this simple and almost haphazard mesh of old footage, we become witness to an artist being erased and almost eulogized in the pop culture pantheon. “Who is It ?” becomes the question of a jilted idol, wondering if he’s wasted the best part of his life to be pushed aside so carelessly. Its whispered rocking chair chorus is nonsense but also conveys a feeling of being left behind so suddenly. Ever since he was a child playing schoolyard games on the Ed Sullivan Show, the public had seemingly made a pact to love that kid forever. How could we have the nerve to turn our backs on him when things got rough?

But even as Dangerous and its singles were topping the charts, Jackson must have felt himself being slowly thrown away. His sharply honed sense of self-promotion/preservation picked up on the reality that people were tuning out his increasingly weird persona for dozens of down-to earth-imitators. While Bad had gone to the ludicrous extent of making the promotional full length feature Moonwalker to deify the King of Pop, this effort relied on Jackson calling every celebrity in the book to appear in his videos. Sure he had used collaborators in the past, but now non-musicians (or filmmakers) like Michael Jordon, Macaulay Culkin and Eddie Murphy were lurking about. To stay on top he needed to harvest the organs every early ’90s trend to keep to the monster walking and if that meant calling up Slash, putting Criss Cross on “Jam” or appearing at a Super Bowl halftime show then so be it.

Before the final downward spiral that would poison his name to all those who lie beyond the devoted and obsessed, “Who Is It?” would give Jackson a last chance to confront the public about their willingness to take back all of gifts they had lavished upon him. Of course it was rank hypocrisy. No one had logged more hours to puff up his status as a compelling global icon than MJ himself. The love given to him was bought and paid for with the same cynicism as the cheating girlfriend in Fincher’s video. His faux naiveté makes for a good song but it also can’t strip that realization away. Through this third tier hit’s dulcet and lumbering nocturnal beats, you can feel the itch of self-aggrandizement being scratched even more. What better way to punish people who will only buy your record 37 million times. – Neal Fersko

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Your polo-garbed friend listens to Jack Johnson’s warbling or whatever Rhianna single is currently crooning over the airwaves. That guy in the group with slightly stringier hair is incomprehensibly dedicated to spinning Pink Floyd records and occasionally dabbles in the finer points of Tool’s discography. There’s the DC transplant who just can’t get enough UGK, Wale, and Lil Wayne. And of course, the group’s resident indie-rock aficionado, more excited about Passion Pit cutting a full LP then anything that’s happening on the news. Except for the loss of Michael Jackson.

Because the beauty of Jackson’s pop sensibilities is that they crossed the spectrum of tastes, interests and identities – its safe to say just about everyone likes Thriller. And even though all my friends have very different tastes in music, very different songs and artists they care to hear during a party, trip to a bar, a local concert, or just on the house stereo, they all love Jacko. Even if its just every once in a while.

One particular MJ song that resonates within our little group, and often prompts impassioned sing-alongs, is “Will You Be There” off of 1991’s Dangerous. The Free Willy popularized track combines just the right amounts of emotional duress, charged production, and musical bombast with Jackson’s unique vocal sensibilities. It’s easy to sing along to, has a way of putting the most sad-sack listener in a good mood and reminds the nostalgic of my generation what made their childhood great.

But most importantly, the song is unequivocally Michael Jackson at his finest. And he was right when he sang, “Seems that the world’s got a role for me.”

Michael, you will be missed. But don’t worry, we’ll keep singing along. – Michael Merline

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As did so many others, I watched Michael Jackson grow up. Like a sister who is a little more than a decade older, I cherished his performances and fretted about what appeared to be his personal decline and strange choices, parting ways with him in recent years. When CNN Breaking News blurted his sudden death, the song that popped into my mind was one of my many Michael Jackson favorites — “Never Can Say Goodbye.” Written in 1971 by Clifton Davis (before he became an actor) for the Jackson 5, Michael was only 12 when he sang the lead with backups by brothers Tito, Jermaine, Jackie and Marlon. “Never Can Say Goodbye” only hit #2 on Billboard’s Top Singles chart, although, reflective of the times, it was #1 on Billboard’s Black Singles chart. “Never Can Say Goodbye” has since been recorded by others, the best of which, in my opinion, were the renditions of Isaac Hayes and Gloria Gaynor (a disco version). Recently, Will Ferrell tried to sing this song on the first episode of Conan O’Brien’s Tonight Show, and as Norma Jean in Happy Feet Nicole Kidman sings a few bars.

It was very difficult to understand how Michael Jackson — this pre-teen — could belt out the soulful lyrics of a song that were tortuously romantic and bring at least one 24-year-old woman to tears. How did he duplicate the angst about which he sang? Did he have more life experience than one would imagine for a 12-year old? As everyone is now saying, Michael left us too soon and, at least in my case, I won’t be able to say “Goodbye.”

Rest in peace, Michael, you gave us a lifetime of ground-breaking tunes and amazing memories. – Jane Hruska

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It was a simpler time: Before the Neverland Ranch and before the Motown stars moved to Hollywood. It was a time when you didn’t know that Berry Gordy and Joseph Jackson were maybe exploiting children, and you didn’t care that “ABC” was maybe the same song as “I Want You Back” – because those songs were great, and because the Jackson 5 were the audio crack of Motown Records. As we watch the news, the clips of young Michael Jackson leading his brothers on early ’70s variety shows may point to a simpler time, but looking back, his star power is obvious. The Jackson 5 didn’t contain him for long – his first break out single was in 1971, just three years after the group signed to Motown. Fortunately, this era lives on: Both “ABC” and “I Want You Back” continue to be pumped through speakers in retail outlets and sampled in hip hop songs. Their staying power indicates that they retain the same status as many of Jackson’s songs: They are two of the greatest pop songs of all time. – Melissa Muenz

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While the past few days have found Michael Jackson constantly referred to as the “Elvis Presley of Our Generation,” I’ve always thought of Jackson as more a Howard Hughes type character. It is difficult for me to separate his landmark work with the troubles that he plagued himself with. The world seems to be doing it’s best to respectfully focus on the positive aspects of Jackson’s life, but even the most sincere mourners cannot help hinting at “not agreeing with everything he’s ever done.”

I’m too young to offer much credible insight on the career of Michael Jackson. I missed Off The Wall and Thriller, and I barely existed in time for Bad. I grew up in the Michael Jackson era of freakish plastic surgery, Bubbles the chimpanzee, and pedophilia allegations. It’s hard for me to reconcile the persona of Wacko Jacko against classic footage of the Jackson 5. In this respect, it is a lot like comparing the Elvis of The Ed Sullivan Show to the fat Elvis of the final CBS concert special. And considering how freely the once devout public now jokes about Elvis dying on the toilet, I can only imagine how carefully history will treat the difficult legacy of Michael Jackson. – Brian Loeper

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I grew up with the intention that Michael Jackson would eventually become my husband. I should preface this statement by saying that my infatuation with him grew from the sweetened soil of his music, not exactly by him as an individual. Jackson was a mystery to most people. All the allegations and artifacts he owned were talked about, but only he knew the truths stored in his giant, Neverland home.

Did he really own the Elephant Man’s bones? Did he sleep in a coffin? To me, none of that mattered. He changed music television with his inventive videos: zombies (“Thriller”), faces exchanging colors and gestures (“Black or White”), images of starving children (“Man in the Mirror”). I wanted to marry Michael Jackson, the singer and mini-music-movie-maker, not the headline grabbing troubled man.

On my twelfth birthday, I received a life-sized cutout of Jackson that greeted me each time I entered my bedroom, where walls breathed images of his face taped to every corner.
After Dangerous, my love for him dwindled, shifting toward a different Jackson–his sister, Janet. I always had her tapes and records, but I began to feel my changing tastes of music representing more of her style.

Regardless of what we did or didn’t know about Jackson, the lawsuits and news reports, the time he came on television to announce his forced disrobing to disprove marks on his body, his talent was unstoppable and indisputable.

It was, or should have been about the music. He was the King of Pop. The. King. Of. Pop. He sang with Diana Ross in The Wiz, he created a movement in his USA for Africa song, “We are the World,” featuring all the greats at that time including Bruce Springsteen, Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper and Stevie Wonder, remaining #1 on the Billboard charts for four weeks.

He was constantly reinventing himself, the style of his music, tempo and lyrical content. He performed alongside Paul McCartney (“The Girl is Mine), his sister, Janet (“Scream”), Carlos Santana (“Whatever Happens”) and many others. He was revered wherever he went and just before his death, was rehearsing and preparing for his Comeback Tour that had already sold out every show.

I can’t choose a favorite song. Or video. They all inspired me to be creative and innovative in my thoughts. The one song of his that always makes me cry would be “Ben.” This is one of his earlier songs, recorded in 1972. It was originally written for Donny Osmond, though I cannot imagine tears pulled from any ducts if Osmond were to have crooned it from his paper white, uncomfortably straight teeth. Jackson exuded emotion and solitude in this song. When I first heard it, someone had told me it was about his pet rat at the time, Ben, who had died. I kept that story with me through the years. However, I later learned it was the theme song for the movie, Ben, sequel to “Willard,” about a killer rat. This song has lived on through the years, honored by the actor Crispin Glover in the remake of Willard and featured on the television program, “The Simpsons.” “Ben” was nominated for a Golden Globe and Oscar award for best song in a movie. That nomination became just the beginning to his long list of wins–22 American Music awards, 40 Billboard awards, 19 Grammy’s, 12 World Music awards and 13 Guinness World records including most successful entertainer of all time.

I will miss the music that he revolutionized and the music videos that everyone wanted to be a part of. His last decades were troubled. Hopefully, what will live on will be the reasons he won all those awards, not the whispers behind the curtains. All over the world, feet are sliding against pavement, a mammoth moonwalk in honor of its creator. – Aimee Herman

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On my twelfth birthday, I bought Michael Jackson’s HIStory: Past, Present, and Future, Vol. 1, an extravagant double-disc collection of uniformly awesome hits and almost uniformly unremarkable new material. On my twenty-sixth birthday, Michael Jackson died. It was hardly a shock: tabloid scuttlebutt pegged him with failing organs, skin cancer, blindness and other severe ailments, while his legal proceedings unearthed battles with prescription drugs and painkillers. Even that March press conference announcing his “comeback” tour seemed eerily final: Jackson’s once graceful movements were stiff and mechanical, as if it was a taxing chore simply to approach the podium. Those London concerts were, like so much of MJ’s later career, pipe dreams: vague, overambitious promises to devoted, output-hungry fans. Like the world-saving charity benefits and purported creative collaborations, reality (sometimes financial, sometimes logistical, this time physical) thwarted his increasingly delusional plans to, once and for all, restore his credibility, his fame, and his legend.

Sadly, only in death is that legend restored. For the first time in over 20 years, the media is emphasizing Michael Jackson the entertainer over Michael Jackson the nutty celebrity. Eight years after his last album, and after decades of controversy, he remained among the most famous people in the world—his is arguably the biggest death of the decade, and easily the biggest since John Paul II. Though he spent 40 years in the music business, his body of work is relatively small—just six full-length solo albums since 1979 (he wasn’t exactly Robert Pollard), in part because his every release was a mammoth cultural event, complete with expensive music videos, megaselling tours and a moonwalk down all conceivable avenues of market saturation.

Because of this bombast, Jackson was widely perceived as an enemy to the less-profitable-and-therefore-more-pure denizens of indie culture. Dozens of mythologies about Nirvana cite how Nevermind displacing Dangerous as the number one album was some sort of symbolic victory, never mind that the inherent racism and rockism of that argument echoes the “disco sucks” tenets that plagued MJ (and many less fortunate peers) a decade earlier. But Jackson achieved something not even Nirvana could: a cultural phenomenon whose popularity transcended race, class, age and gender amidst an increasingly fragmented musical landscape. Compare, for instance, the diversity of Jackson’s mourners outside the Apollo or UCLA Medical Center to the relatively homogeneous group who gathered in Seattle after Cobain’s suicide. “Beat It” and “Thriller” got played on rock radio stations and the then-segregated MTV; “Smells Like Teen Spirit” never dented R&B or BET (or even country) playlists. Unlike Cobain, Jackson actively aspired to be a hero, a universally beloved figure, even a god—he never advanced beyond the childhood games that reduce all conflict to messianic good versus satanic evil (much like the culture wars within which he was often vilified). Yet Jackson’s sniffling quiver at the end of “She’s Out of My Life” is every bit as chilling, as devastating, and yes, as authentic, as Cobain’s wounded yowl before the close of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” Here are two American icons—one eager and exorbitant, the other reluctant and contemptuous—in unguarded moments of vulnerability, a childlike vulnerability that, whatever their divergent career paths, would prove fatal to them both. – Charles A. Hohman

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Between 1983 and 1984, my sister and I absolutely hated each other. The bully borrowed my clothes without asking me first, she was popular in school and got all the attention from my parents that I, the first-born straight “A” student, didn’t get. All our “conversations” ended in name calling, mostly from her part, and crying, mostly from mine.

One day, as I was right in the middle of recreating the Flashdance “Maniac” dance routine, I looked out from my window and saw my sister and cousin heading towards the tennis court. Good. It was going to take them a while to smoke that joint. I ran downstairs and into her bedroom. I looked frantically through her closet, rescued a few of my outfits and headed for her record collection. I quickly thumbed through them and came across my Quadrophenia, In the City and Sandinista albums. My blood started to boil but I calmed down before blowing my top. I was on a mission. I continued thumbing through her records and finally! There it was nestled between the bitch’s Face Value and The Romantics. I took what I was looking for, along with all my albums and clothes, and darted out. On my way down the stairs I thought of something. I went back, quickly searched through the vinyl, found the Madonna and then hid it between her mattresses. Ha! Celebrate that, wench!

I was probably the only teenager in the world that didn’t own that album. How could I? I thought I was too cool and so close to convincing my parents to buy me a Vespa. A cool chick on a cool scooter doesn’t listen to pop for the masses. I just couldn’t fathom it having a place among all The English Beat, Stooges and Velvet Underground. No way.

I was only interested in one song: Track No. 1, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I adjusted my leg warmers, Spandex leotard and headband, then carefully lowered the needle. Ah, there it was. That opening synthesizer snare ushering the beginning of my brilliant, improvised routine. Suddenly, I was no longer me, but a version of Jennifer Beals, dancing euphorically across my room, hanging off my ballet bar, pirouetting, leaping into the air, falling into a trance and getting down to the chorus… “Mama-se, mama-sa, mama-coo-sa… Mama-se, mama-sa, mama-coo-sa “…Then, screeeech… followed by silence. Fuck. I had forgotten to lock the door.

We stared each other down as she put the album back in its sleeve. I held back tears. This was so unfair. I had to do something. As she was walking out the door, I did the only thing I could think of. I jumped her from behind and grabbed her by her black curls. She put her hand on mine and twisted around to face me as she reached for my Sun-In-bleached head. She dropped the album and, on the third try, she was able to grab of a big chunk of my orange mane. “Let go of me bitch!” “No, you let go of me first, wench!” Let go. Let go. Let gooooo!

My grandma must have heard us screaming because she showed up on the scene armed with a broom. (Note: Mexican grandmas settle disputes with wooden domestic artifacts.) She ordered us to let go of each other but we just pulled harder and harder, the momentum pulling us across the hallway as we spun around and my grandma smacked us with the broom trying to separate us. She released me first (ha!), then I. We handed our grandma each other’s chunks of hair, she confiscated the album and sent us to our rooms until we were ready to apologize.

The next day I bought my own Thriller. Michael Jackson’s music taught me that being cool means nothing. The only thing that really matters is how the music makes you feel. Oh and by the way, I never got a scooter and since 1985 my sister and I, for the most part, have been the best of friends. -Teri Carson

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Michael Jackson was human. We all knew his life story that was recounted in several movies and television specials. Though what made Michael unique from any other celebrity was that when he fell, you felt like you fell with him. In a strange way, society was the cause of all his ills. His motivations to grow better as an artist with each album and his lack of a “normal” childhood could be another. When a Michael Jackson song came on the radio, you knew it. The vocals were strong, bass-lines and beats intense, it was as if he took all his personal pain and sang it to us personally from the studio. Sometimes, I could imagine him dancing in my mind as I listened.

Any modern musical figure would be a fool not to list him as an influence and would be naive if they said they didn’t take a little bit of his style. Dancing became cool because Michael did it. God knows I wouldn’t go out on the dance floor unless “Rock With You,” “Thriller,” “Bad,” “Beat It” or “Wanna Be Startin Somethin” wasn’t playing and 50 other dance happy idiots weren’t out on the dance floor with me.

Michael Jackson’s death on June 25th not only impacted my life, but millions of others. I was born in 1985, a few years after the smash album Thriller. I can recount watching the 14 minute video, singing to the vocals, then running in fright because of the scary costumes. Now in an era of high cost music video productions, Thriller has lost a little of its edge, but no music video has ever topped what Thriller brought to the table.

I would like to wish my personal condolences to the Jackson family, friends and fans. His death draws a sad conclusion to the painting that was Michael Jackson’s life. There will never be another artist who could match his achievements and his profound impact on the world at large. He will be severely missed. – Andrew Cray

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Dear Michael,

Thank you. In the pantheon of popular culture, we’re happy to grant you your rightful place on a pedestal as tall and celebrated as those of The Beatles and Elvis Presley. As Michael, the face of the Jackson 5, you projected an unforgettable youth and energy that seemed to remain as the years dragged on. Even in tough recent years, your voice conjured the spirit of a young boy who believes that the world really is as easy as ABC. As MJ, the King of Pop, you transformed the very fabric of entertainment while obliterating notions of genre and demographic. The videos, the dances, the glove; the extent of your influence on art and fashion is immeasurable.

It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; you’ve transcended race, age and gender. We are the world and we say thank you. Thank you for the incredible collection of music that you’ve left behind. It was a pleasure rocking with you. Now go on, beat it. It’s been a thriller.

Sincerely,

Brady Baker

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Before I even knew what exactly was on Thriller, before I knew that it was probably one of the greatest pop albums ever released–I was 12… and developing. In other words, I was finding out about the ladies. And the second I laid ears on the keys and that funky, sultry guitar of “Human Nature” it was over. There was no going back. “Walls won’t hold me tonight…,” as he so dangerously put it. And then I remember telling my mom, “As soon as I know what sex is all about, this song is going to be playing when I do it.”

And then I was grounded.

Thanks, Mike for getting a bunch of people laid, me grounded, and all the incredibly wonderful music along the way. – Cameron Mason

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What will I remember most about Michael Jackson? It won’t be moonwalks, his partial plunder of the Beatles’ catalog, increasingly eccentric behavior, a sequined silver glove or messy legal proceedings. No, for me it will be Captain EO, the Coppola-directed and Lucas-produced 3-D film shown at Walt Disney’s money-sucking theme parks from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. For a kid like myself in that Reagan/Bush decade, it was perhaps the first mindfuck I’d experienced, and in 3-D no less. Set in a futuristic industrial world of metal and decay, the story revolved around Jackson as Captain EO, a smooth-dancin’ spaceman, and his ragtag bunch of circus freaks (a flying partner, a two-headed pilot and an elephantine helper who warped my dreams for many a night) who are delivering a gift to a wicked queen played by Angelica Huston (not a joke). Eventually, after many special effects that likely made parents feel the price of the park’s admission was at least somewhat palatable, the crew escapes a lifetime of torture as EO sings the song “We Are Here To Change The World” to queen. After a bit more brou-ha-ha, magic spells, and Jackson fighting soldiers armed with whips, the queen is transformed into a hot babe, her planet morphs into a lush wonderland and the sniveling kids in the audience like myself immediately begged our parents to stand in the hours-long line again for another viewing of it.

Captain EO was the first 3-D film I can remember seeing, and though the specifics of it are hazy, I can still remember how bizarre and fascinating it was, even if I didn’t quite get the story. Which seems an apt, if somewhat cynical, summation of Jackson’s life. Michael Jackson entered the public consciousness in many different ways. I’m not ashamed to say that it took a theme park attraction in my case. – Eric Dennis

I wasn’t alive during the heyday of Michael Jackson, so most of my exposure to the King of Pop was his gradual decline in notoriety. Despite the batshit crazy public persona and lackluster latter day music, the man made Thriller. I can’t heap much more praise on a musician. – Jason Stoff

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Michael Jackson was a fully established star by the time I realized what music was, and how transformative it could be. I missed the excitement and hysteria of Off the Wall and Thriller, and, having just been born, failed to truly appreciate Bad for some years. To be honest, for most of my lifetime Jackson seemed shrouded with accusations, distrust and concern – an undeniable genius, yes, but a perplexing and troubling one. There is one song, though, that is a source of pure nostalgic pleasure for me. As a child growing up outside Toronto, I was enrolled in Jazz Ballet lessons (it’s like ballet but with a bit more edge, apparently). One of my first recitals was to the song “The Way You Make Me Feel,” and to this day the opening beats alone send me skipping and step-ball-changing across a dance hall 15 years and 2,000 plus miles away, decked out in slightly hookerish makeup (thanks Mom) and a magenta leotard that, oh yes, just happened to turn neon orange under a black light. Rest in peace, Michael, thanks for the memories. – Nicola Fairhead

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I don’t have a lot to say about Michael Jackson- for someone incalculably famous as he, someone who basically everyone in the world knew or revered or loathed, I only have a few thoughts. I grew up in the heart of Jackson’s peak years, when his face and name were inescapable. I do recall playing the arcade-version of his Moonwalker game (yes Virginia, arcades once existed in America) and finding it strange that the screen-clearer was a dance move. I recall when Dangerous was released and I first started hearing weird rumors about skin pigmentation and giraffes. I recall the constant news reports at the height of his notoriety.

But the first thing I clearly remember about Michael Jackson was in a featurette on the making of the Thriller music video. Jackson and director John Landis sat conversing quietly, the former as bashful and shy as ever- until Landis pulled off his shoe and began tickling him. No matter how famous and strange and outlandish he may have become, I can remember him laughing and clowning while desperately trying to pull his sock back. – Nathan Kamal

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March 25th, 1983 might have been one of the most important nights in Michael Jackson’s career, possibly his life. He was filming the tribute Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, to be aired later in the year. The night was planned to be special, playing host to some of the largest acts in Motown’s history. The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and many others were on hand to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of the iconic labels in music history.

Smokey Robinson, then vice president of Motown, reunited with The Miracles and performed some of their iconic songs, such as “You Really Got A Hold On Me” and “Tears Of A Clown”. Marvin Gaye gave a narrative of black music history before performing “What’s Going On” and Stevie Wonder followed suite with “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life” and “My Cherie Amour,” along with others. Soon it was time for a reunited Jackson 5 to take the stage. The night was already memorable just on the status of the performers on the bill. No one could have known how big this night would become in regards to pop culture, however.

After the Jackson 5 performed a medley of some of their hits, Michael Jackson took the stage to perform his newest single off his Thriller album. Sparkling from head to toe: jacket, shirt, socks and the glove. As the opening beats to “Billie Jean” started, Michael took a fedora off of his head, flipped it across the stage and began his freestyle dance routine. Halfway through the song, it happened. Four steps in a dance move that would forever solidify him in the history of not just music, but our culture. The “moonwalk.”

No matter where his musical career led him, this one performance, this one song, this one dance move pinpointed the moment of his transition from superstar to icon. Already established as a leading man in the music industry with the prior release of Off The Wall, the “moonwalk” elevated him to a different stratosphere, giving way to “Billie Jean” becoming one of the most famous songs ever and Thriller becoming one of the most highest selling albums in history. That one dance move was forever burned into our minds.

As a kid, I remember spending many nights in my parent’s garage, the smoothest surface in the house, trying to duplicate that one move, never getting it quite as smooth as Michael Jackson. I tried to never miss a live performance of his, just to see what he was going to do next, which may perhaps be why he was so beloved as an entertainer. He always kept you guessing, rarely letting us down. – Josh Vietti

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