Sunday, June 28, 2009

in memory of the king of pop

Since I was about 12, I've been stopped on the street/been told by waitresses that I look like a variety of curly-haired celebrities. Most of this nonsense occurred during the Clinton era, when more people than I can recount, asked me if I was Chelsea Clinton. Then there was Darlene from "Roseanne," Carole King on the cover of the "Tapestry" album (which I also don't agree with but wish was true because I love that album), and the girl from "My Girl"(not even close).
But the most hilarious, most ridiculous comparison I ever heard was from my own Bubby, may she rest in peace. I walked home from a sleepover at my friend, Amanda's, house some morning during the summer of 1993. We probably stayed up late, we probably took personality quizzes in "Seventeen" Magazines, we probably sang along to Sheryl Crow's hit, "All I Wanna Do." We definitely practiced using a curling iron. I don't remember who curled the long piece of hair that hung in front of my face, myself or Amanda. But I will never forget my Bubby's, who was living with us at the time, response when she opened the front door after I rang the doorbell. Her cigarette-induced, distinctive voice traveled through the screen door.

"You look like Michael Jackson."

I couldn't find a picture from that age to illustrate this, but here is a picture from prom ('01), so you get the idea, more or less. That was not the first time the King of Pop made an impact on my life. When I was almost six, my parents took me and my three-year-old sister to Disney World in Orlando. Epcot Center blew my mind. Aside from the Norway ride, which I made my mom go on with me about twelve times in a row, "Captain EO," a sci-fi film starring Michael Jackson as the captain, enchanted me. The show was not only my first experience seeing MJ's dance moves but also my first experience with a 3D movie. All I remember is practically jumping out of my seat to try and catch the winged creature that I sincerely believed had flown off the screen right at me. Here's a picture of my sister in her Daisy Duck hat smiling beneath the 80s-rific movie poster. In, I want to say, third grade, around when "Heal the World" was released, our music teacher had us learn all the lyrics and we performed the song in an assembly for our parents while holding hands with other kids. I remember, even at that young an age, thinking, these are really important words we're singing. "Heal the world/make it a better place/for you and for me/and the entire human race..." Maybe it's what inspired me to volunteer my recess time to pick up trash in the field. Yeah, I was that girl.

In junior high, the movie "Now and Then" came out and my friends and I listened to the soundtrack on repeat. The Jackson 5 have two songs on there: "I'll Be There" and "I Want You Back." Abbi, Stephanie and I made up an interpretative dance to the latter in Stephanie's basement, taking turns being Michael. (This song makes a comeback during my the college years. Stay tuned.)
Whenever I hear the intro to "Black & White" I laugh because I picture myself in all my pre-teenaged-angsty glory...yelling at my parents about turning down my music..."No! No! It's the best part!"..."Too Late? Sure...Eat.This."

Around this same time, my sister and a group of her friends performed a dance to "Remember The Time" in the TJ Talent Show. They diligently practiced on our front lawn, despite the fact that the routine pretty much only consisted of them doing the running man over and over and over.

A month after I graduated high school, I performed in my last dance recitals, something I had been doing annually since I was three years old. My dance studio had themes attached to different sections of the show, one of them usually revolving around the latest Disney film. The older dancers got to wear the "big costumes" and dress up as the characters. I don't remember if the theme was "Wizard of Oz," but one of the songs in that recital was "Ease On Down The Road" from "The Wiz." I thought, okay, maybe I'll get to be Dorothy. I pulled it off rather wonderfully when I dressed as her for '86. But, no. As was proven many a times, I was not cut out to dance the part of the pretty princess. Instead, I was assigned the Scarecrow. While the little kids backstage fawned over Dorothy, I scared the crap out of them as soon as they took one look at my freakish mask and baggy clothes. But I danced my heart out because I loved the stage and I loved that no one knew it was me under the mask. I've never actually seen "The Wiz," but I am happy knowing that I shared that part with the one and only Michael Jackson.
Check out our comparison:

The finale to this same and final recital was to "Shake Your Body Down," a hit by The Jacksons, who had dropped the "5." It was one of the only dances I ever got to be in the front row and, lucky for me, there was a high kick involved (something not everyone could do). My buddy, Michael Novak (who has gone on to become an amazing professional dancer in NYC), and I would dance around to the song just past the wings on stage left in between our actual stage time. My mom has video footage of this, but because it's on an 8mm tape, I unfortunately can't share the love. Also included in the footage is that I am happy and bouncy, until I take one step past the curtain onto the stage, and totally lose all emotional control. I didn't know I cared that much that it was my last dance recital, until I came out to do the last performance of that dance and I was so overcome with sadness that I literally just stood there and cried and pretty much didn't do the dance.
Here is a picture of me and Ashley in the costume.
Onto the college years...
When I got home from work on Tuesday (7/7), I had a gchat message waiting for me, in response to a message I'd posted about a Michael Jackson tribute party that night, from my freshman year roommate, Brianna.

Brianna: will you be in your underwear? cause that's the only way i'd consider going

Seems I had conveniently forgotten about that day. That day that Brianna came home from class and found me dancing, donning only my bra and underwear, around our tiny room to the Jackson 5. I must have had my boombox turned up and didn't hear her come in. She just stood there, laughing, while I continued to shake my body down to the ground and pretend like I could hit MJ's high notes. That was 8 years ago. Clearly I made quite an impression on her.
Second semester of my junior year I studied abroad in Madrid. I barely ever went out with people in my program, for various reasons, but mostly because I wanted to use my money to travel around Europe, not drink and snort my time away in overpriced Spanish bars. One of the last nights living there, though, I did go out. I had finally started to warm up to a small group of friends and they convinced me to suck it up and head to an Irish (a.k.a. Engish-speaking, a.k.a. full of dumb Americans) pub. Almost our entire program ended up being there. For most people, "I was so drunk, I..." stories abound. For me, I only have about 3 or 4 notable ones. Two of them involve Long Island iced teas. One of them involve the aforementioned evening. I had never had an L.I. and my friend, Kristal, said I had to try it. "You can't even taste the alcohol," she persuaded, and conveniently failed to mention, "...even though it's 4+ different liquors mixed." I sucked three down in an alarmingly short amount of time and to Kristal's astonishment, said, "I don't even feel it." A short while later, about a quarter way through my fourth, I suddenly felt like someone had spun me around a hundred times and thought it was absolutely necessary to grab the mic as soon as the band playing took a break, and sing along to "Mr. Jones" at the top of my lungs. Immediately following, "I Want You Back" came on and I overly-excitedly called everyone over to form a circle around me, wherein I performed the entire interpretative routine from almost a decade prior. The next morning, I felt like I was in a movie when I walked into the computer lab and wanted to crawl under a table when almost every person pointed and laughed and had something oh-so-witty to say about "You last night."

My senior year at NYU I interned at Saturday Night Live in their photo department. Part of my job entailed being a celebrity stand-in for lighting purposes. I made it my mission that by the end of my time there, I would learn how to moonwalk in between shots. I'm still not sure I can do it, but I'd still love to perfect the move some day.

Also senior year, I was walking in the village one day, and although it was slightly sunny, it was snowing. I was listening to my fourth-generation ipod, which only had a few songs on it because my computer was a piece of crap by the end of college and didn't support itunes. "Will You Be There?" by Mr. Jackson came on and I literally started skipping and twirling down the street. And yes, I was by myself. I don't know if I love that song because it was in a crucial part of "Free Willy" or what, but I was all smiles in my private unburstable snow bubble. I ended up running into my roommate, who said she had seen me skipping. Awesome.

This brings us to just over four years later, July 7, 2009. At Michael Jackson's memorial show, Jennifer Hudson took the stage and belted that song. When I realized the people behind her were not dancing, but signing, I lost it. That song, her voice, MJ's death, and my love of ASL was too much to control the tears. Instead of all smiles, I was a blubbering mess.
She was then followed by Reverend Al Sharpton, who blew me away with his words and his poignant delivery. Especially when he looked at Michael's three kids and said, "Was nothin' strange about your daddy. It was strange what your daddy had to deal with." And little Paris stood and clapped in gratitude. In an interview, Sharpton said, "No controversy will erase the historic impact. He learned how to create even beyond his own shortcomings. Michael Jackson made culture accept a person of color way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama." Here is the video of his speech in its entirety.

The day after Michael died, everyone on the road seemed to be blasting some pop homage to him out their rolled down car windows. It was like a Chicago-wide Jackson musical! And the day after that I went to a sleazy Vanilla Ice concert in a Wicker Park alley as part of a bachelorette party. As we waited for V.Ice to take the stage, the speakers blasted MJ's greatest hits. I love dancing. This is widespread knowledge that grew in numbers when I started dancing to "Billy Jean" amidst a crowd in the rain. I did a turn around myself and some sort of leg swivel, which prompted a man to say, "You did it!"
I don't even know what I did, but I felt proud and like I understood what Michael meant when he said, "Dancing is about interpretation." Sometimes I feel like I should claim music as my religion. I feel about music how some people feel about a god. Think about how much debate there is surrounding actual religions, then look and see how many people around the world joined hands, flicked on lighters and came together as one to honor the Kind of Pop.
Music makes me feel complete. An extension of this is through dance as an expressive means. I grew up as a pretty shy person, but throw on some music and strap on some dancing shoes, and I've always become a whole new person. In these moments, I sincerely couldn't care less what anyone around me thinks. I feel the music and I want each beat to be recognized. I don't think, I just do.
[Maggie snapped a photo at the V.Ice dance party]

Michael, I look forward to continuing blasting your tunes whenever possible, and I hope now you are at rest and at peace, where people can bother you no more. And, if there is a heaven, I hope you're teaching my grandparents how to moonwalk. Love, a fan (one of your millions)