There is a photograph of me as an eleven-year-old boy, in which I am stood proudly in front of one of the walls of my bedroom, holding our pet cat. Behind me, each and every inch of the wall is plastered in pictures of Michael Jackson in various poses: most of them of him on stage wearing wearing either the silver shirt from the Bad Tour or the gold leotard from the Dangerous Tour. Some of the pictures are huge, one of them is as small as a postage stamp. I would have bought an entire magazine solely for that picture. The other walls, the ones not in the photograph, are adorned in the same way. As is the ceiling. My younger brother and I shared the bedroom, and one of our favourite things to do was intermittently agree to rearrange our pictures. It would take us entire weekends. There is a corresponding photograph, which I took, of my brother in the same pose. The lighting in the photograph, which I’m certain is more as a result of accident than design, is perfect. Though I’m not sure why we both decided to hold the cat.
These photographs are twenty-two years old now. They are beginning to brown around the edges. My memories of those times are often played on Super 8 film. There is a yellow saturation to them, and its inhabitants move with a strange and erratic jerkiness; similar to how toddlers dart around in real time. The photographs evoke a sense of nostalgia that invokes a spirit of eighties and early nineties summers; of hotplate patio flags and the riled ants that filed from the cracks between them; of music from a far off radio somehow managing to carry all the poignancy of a Muezzin’s call to prayer, as it infused thermal air currents with otherworldliness. Radios that would, naturally, have been playing Michael Jackson.
No-one embodies the zeitgeist of those years better than Michael. I sometimes experience waves of Michael-specific nostalgia, often inspired by a mere scent or even particular lighting. In an instant I can be stood in the queue waiting for the coach to take me and my siblings to our first concert: Dangerous Tour, Roundhay Park, Leeds, August 16th 1992. I was twelve.
Pre-Internet, we had pen pals that sent us cassettes and VHS that ended up being played to ruin. Cassettes of albums such as the eponymous The Jacksons album, with rarities such as The Man or Whatzupwitu tagged onto the end to fill up the space. Our longplay version of MTV’s Dangerous Diaries was our most treasured possession. Those tapes contained a lot of soul. The holy grail was a Victory Tour or Bad Tour second leg concert on VHS. We finally received the latter as part of the Bad 25 package (at least the profiteers in charge kept the quality the same as those mail-order bootlegs from back in the day).
My Michael nostalgia begins in 1987. But imagine those fans that saw the star appear in that coruscant dusk of 1969, before following its trajectory all the way through to its dark dawn of 2009? That’s a whole heap of Michael zeitgeist. The analogy of Michael’s lifetime being a nighttime is an interesting one. Michael always said that he was merely a conduit for the wishes of a higher being, such as how the moon is to the sun. The moon reflects light from the sun, which illuminates our darkness when the sun is not around, and in much the same way, Michael lit up the darker occasions of many of our lives. In turn, those that honour him, borrow light from him also.
There is a faction of fans that call themselves ‘Moonwalkers’. The original name for the dance-move now universally recognised as the ‘moonwalk’, was the rather insipid title, ‘backslide’. Michael premiered the move on Motown 25: the show, which, fittingly, fired him into orbit and made him a superstar. Michael’s earnest intent and actions to change the world for the better began on this night, and continued for the remainder of his corporeal existence. It’s up to all fans, Moonwalkers et al, to help ensure this continues.
In the song Cry, the call-and-response between Michael and God illustrates Michael’s self-awareness of his mission perfectly, the closing words being Michael’s (or is it God’s?) instruction to “change the world”. The closing words to his song The Lost Children are uttered by his own children, and are them recognising that it’s time to return home, as it’s getting dark.
As many of us do in such circumstances. We return to Michael. We return to the light.
Whether we’re carrying a cat, or otherwise.