Four pairs of unblinking eyes had watched her reading out the numbers on the newly-acquired credit card. My mum settled the phone back in its cradle and looked up at the four unusually silent and well-behaved children perched apprehensively on the couch across the room.
She piqued the moment with a mischievous pause.
“So… who wants to go to a Michael Jackson concert in the summer holidays?”
We leapt into her lap and smothered her with kisses of ecstatic gratitude, each of us promising we’d never be naughty ever again.
My mum had recently been discharged from hospital, where she had spent months recovering from illness. This was her way of apologising for not having been around. Not that she ever needed to.
Immediately – in our naivety – my brother and I began fantasising about which songs Michael might perform. Would the concert simply consist of each song from the Dangerous album? Played in order? We had no idea. My brother was ten years old. I was twelve. This was our first ever gig. Our comprehension of a pop concert had been informed purely through perpetually-repeated viewings of the Moonwalker version of Man In The Mirror. As far as we could vaguely appreciate such an abstract event, the ensuing experience would most-likely entail us weeping ourselves unconscious, before being dispatched from the crowd by a conveyor belt of hands and into the custody of some burly men at the front. Strange men, who apparently preferred to throw water at people rather than watch the Michael Jackson concert happening behind them. Even though they all wore Michael Jackson T-shirts.
We four siblings had already been Michael Jackson fans for five years. But the idea of going to see Michael live in concert set our fan status on fire, instantly rocketing us far and away into the stratosphere.
We were somewhat excited.
Our appetite for all-things Michael became insatiable. We collected everything. We studied him. We imbibed him.
Roundhay Park, Leeds – the scene of the shout. August 16th, 1992 – the day with an infinite echo.
And the infuriating view of a fluorescent shell suit.
We were walled-in by adults making early-nineties fashion mistakes.
Alone, my mum had brought four young children to a Michael Jackson concert. I can only imagine it was our delirious level of excitement and regular reminders of our oath to never misbehave again that helped made the scenario manageable for her.
That neon cage is all I can recall prior to Michael’s arrival on stage. My brain was no-doubt drenched in adrenaline. (Although I know that the support act went by the quite ironic moniker of D’Influence.)
But the memory of the crowd’s roar announcing Michael Jackson was now amongst us is invincible. It remains the loudest sound I have ever heard.
The Michael Jackson.
I couldn’t see a thing. It was bewildering. I felt terrified.
The smash of glass.
Michael had kicked things off.
I turned to look at my mum. Her face was beaming.
I felt exhilarated.
Whenever I could manage, I stole glimpses over the shoulders of the garish giants that jumped around me. With the Jumbotron providing a contingency view.
The details I can recollect are few. I remember feeling embarrassed at not knowing the lyrics to Human Nature for the call-and-response section. I remember instinctively turning to my brother as the words “My footsteps broke the silence of the pre-dawn hours…” began to emanate, to find him looking right back at me; whereupon we both simultaneously screamed “Heartbreak Hotel!” Although, of course, it wasn’t. Unbeknownst to us, Michael now used that spoken intro for Smooth Criminal instead. And as that song’s bassline burst open, the mutual exclamation “Smooth Criminal! Ha ha!” was our delighted response.
During the denouement of She’s Out Of My Life I remember laughing at hearing a man shout, “Cheer up, Michael! She’s not worth it mate!” I remember marvelling at the dancing skeletons in Thriller – from my hindered perspective, all I could see were the puppets, not the puppeteers. I remember Billie Jean. Because two men hoisted my younger brother and youngest sister onto their shoulders so they could see the show better.
Yeah. I remember that.
I remember my mum worrying that Workin’ Day And Night and Beat It were too noisy; before relaxing again in the beauty of Will You Be There.
But most of all, I remember Man In The Mirror.
At its climax I witnessed my hero fly.
I watched Michael Jackson fly.
At least, as far as I was concerned as a twelve year old boy.
The magic. The atmosphere. The adoration.
I became a mere one of millions privileged to see the uniquely superlative spectacle that was a Michael Jackson concert.
The stage lights faded for the final time. Michael Jackson had left the stadium. Fireworks blossomed in the sky, stroking strobes across the faces of a dazzled crowd.
We made our way out of the arena. On our own feet – neither crying nor unconscious. But awestruck and soul-altered all the same.
Little had my mum known what a profound impact the experience of seeing Michael Jackson in concert would have on her young children.
The echo of it.
And she reckons she’s still paying off that credit card.
Italian translation available here: http://amzn.to/1O85aRV