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Friday, June 26, 2009

Reflecting on Michael Jackson (1958-2009)

michael jackson

When I woke up this morning and saw the news of Michael Jackson's death, I was quite affected by it. I grew up as a fan. As a child I listened to all the cassette tapes I had with me then, OFF THE WALL, THRILLER and BAD. I didn't know how it all started, I can't remember. The King of Pop then was at the pinnacle of his popularity, television was often dominated by his electrifying performances, or the music videos.

In kindergarten I drew pictures of men grabbing their crotches because that's the pose I remember most from Michael Jackson's dances, to the consternation of teachers.

Watching his Black and White music video in Las Vegas when I was 7, during my very first magical trip to the States with my parents, was a vivid moment of my childhood memory. We were in the hotel room and my dad switched on the TV.

"Look, it's the boy from Home Alone!" Mom said.

That got me glued. After the dad got blasted all the way to Africa by Macauley Culkin's power guitar, I was exhilarated to discover that it was a Michael Jackson music video. And what a music video it was!

The aforementioned trip was magical because I would later visit Disneyland for the very first time, and watched my very first 3D movie, Captain EO.

The Dangerous album came along, and that was the defining MJ album of my childhood. I listened to it over and over again. But most times I tried finding a particular song to listen to since each one gained more significance during different moments. First there was Black And White. Then the awesome Do You Remember The Time music video came along and I listened to that more.

Then came Heal The World. I've been watching the NBA highlights on local TV since as long as I can remember but it was the Bulls vs Suns 1993 Finals that turned me into a fan, especially a Michael Jordan one. So JAM became significant.

I also saw Free Willy that year, I began to listen to Will You Be There more as well.

I guess I'm old enough to live in a time when Michael Jackson was still considered 'great', and that you could say without irony that you were a fan.

I remember attending his concert in Singapore for his DANGEROUS WORLD TOUR. What year was it? 1998? 1999? Growing up with my parents in the music industry, attending concerts was a common part of childhood, I also had the privilege to meet the performers on backstage either before or after the concert. Yet Michael Jackson was a different case, the ticket was a hard-fought one. My parents didn't go, but I went with my father's colleague and his family, I could still remember how festive it was, even though I sat so far from the stage that he was a tiny speck, and I could only look at the big screen. Because I was only look at the big screen, it was an occasionally surreal experience where I wondered whether he was REALLY there. Until I was handed the binoculars, but only for a while, because we took turns using it.

As years went by, with all these accusations of child molestation, and his increasingly bizarre public appearances, a personal life seemingly spiraling out of control, and I, like most people, occasionally followed with morbid curiosity because, well, it was impossible to keep him out of the news, I secretly still wanted to see a comeback from him. A late-career renaissance, some sort artistic redemption, all these allegations meant nothing to me, for me, Michael Jackson was more about the music, that will always be his legacy.

1995. HIStory's release was an exciting moment of my life, when Scream or You Are Not Alone started playing on the radio, I would turn the volume up.

The attachment to him always lingered. In 2001, when I was already finishing secondary school, I still turned on the TV and waited for the local premiere of YOU ROCK MY WORLD. The parents (and I think the sister) watched too.

We decided it wasn't as good as his old classics, but then, what is?

News of Farah Fawcett's death was the last night I read before I slept. Then I woke up to news of Michael Jackson's death from Twitter and RSS feeds I subscribe to. Not entirely a cheery day.

The news jolted away whatever lingering effects of the sleep, and I tweeted/ posted on my Facebook status before heading off for breakfast.

I don't deify people, so I have made my share of Michael Jackson jokes, and laughed at even more of them. His personal life was more a cautionary tale than anything, and I do think that his decline was mostly consequences of his own actions. Sebastian's contrarian attempts to celebrate Michael Jackson's death was initially deemed classless by me, but ultimately, as I quote from a blog "It's not wrong to reflect on someone's mistakes or misjudgments at the time of their death. That's the way we reinforce our own mortality and reinvigorate lost ambitions."

Yet when someone who had such an immense presence in your life dies suddenly. it's hard not to feel a slight numbness and melancholy.

Today was the last day of the basic cinematography classes I've been attending that were taught by Kenji Takama (cinematographer for the DEATH NOTE films, WELCOME BACK, MR MCDONALD'S etc.). I presented my newest short film 3PM to him, and then KINGYO, the former he enjoyed, the latter he was genuinely impressed with, telling me that it belonged to an international stage.

To be praised by such a respected individual in the industry was a joyous moment, but it was fleeting. As the class ended and my friends dispersed, I found myself overwhelmed by thoughts of mortality again, of 'the one shot in this silly little exercise called life', of its impermanence, of the possibilities of never fulfilling one's own potential, of creating a legacy, and so forth.

Yes. Sitting alone in my room now, I think I feel a little melancholic.

We're on a mission
In the everlasting light that shines
A revelation
Of the truth in chapters of our minds

So long, bad times
We're gonna shake it up and break it up
We're sharing light brighter than the sun
Hello , good times
We're here to simulate, eliminate
An' congregate, illuminate

- "We are here to change the world" Michael Jackson