Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough


The rubber soles of cheap, worn sneakers dragging across the gravely pavement of my 1980's school yard had a distinct sound. I was in third grade when Thriller was released and EVERYBODY was trying to moonwalk.

That's me in the back row, with the unfortunate bangs and the plaid dress. I didn't have my finger on the pulse of pop culture back then. Like today, my tastes were a little...different. But even I knew what a big deal Michael Jackson was. I remember other kids wearing buttons of Michael Jackson on their fake red leather zipper jackets. I remember that my friends rented top loading VCRs in order to watch his videos. I remember when Tammy Malden's Dad got her Thriller for her birthday and that once she opened that first gift, everything else was forgotten. Her party turned from a "birthday party" into a "listening party", all of us gathered around her Fischer Price Turntable in our party dresses and sweater vests, listening as intently as A&R men or Quincy Jones himself.

Yesterday, while watching the flurry of media coverage over Michael Jackson's death I found this great video on Youtube of The Jackson Five at the peak of their early popularity.

It has the added bonus of Cosby as "Scoop Newsworthy", another icon from my youth. This is the music that really speaks to me now, as an adult. This early, joyful stuff that I wasn't around to experience the first time.

As I was sitting there, bopping to that little kid's brilliant vocals it dawned on me that he was missing a tooth. I mean, he was such a little kid that he was MISSING A TOOTH. And that realization just made me desperately sad. To think he was about the same age then as I was when Thriller changed the landscape of popular music is pretty much unimaginable. To think of what he was put through at the hands of his thug of a father and then what the ravages of mental illness and Dysmorphic Disorder did to this beautiful little guy is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion. Especially if any of the allegations about his inappropriate relationships with children are true. Regardless, a lot of people were caught in the web of tragedy that surrounded this once promising, unbelievably gifted kid.

There has been a lot said in the last several hours since the news of his death broke about how the media's attention should not be diverted from the human rights crisis that is unfolding in Iran or that his personal troubles somehow erase everything that this man accomplished and all the joy he brought to others. On some level, I understand that sentiment. But our attention spans are wide, we should be able to seek out other news sources if places like CNN have developed MJ OCD and we should be able to look beyond an artist's personal life and appreciate their body of work and how it touched our lives. As Rev. Jesse Jackson said yesterday, "We are out of our joy and he is out of his pain. Several generations have not lived a day without Michael Jackson in their lives..." and that I think, really is the point. The arts don't exist in a vacuum and neither did Michael Jackson, as much as he might have wanted to.


  1. Jen Andreae12:49 PM

    The very first video I ever saw on a Betamax was Thriller. Strange how we share this memory!

  2. Wonderful post, Tracey. You captured many of the thoughts that I have had over the past 18 or so hours...such a wonderful talent, such a tortured individual. Thank you for this post. Our generation was influenced so greatly by this man...may his musical and humanitarian influence remain for years to come.

  3. God, I remember those red zipper jackets. Everyone who wasn't Michael and wore one looked stupid.

    Also? One of the best things about my previous job was that my supervisor, Nina, a middle-aged woman with two grown sons, would sometimes randomly moonwalk down the hall during a lull in the workday. Thank you, Michael!

  4. When I came home from my first year of university, my little sister - 6 years younger and so pleased with herself had decorated my room with her most precious things to welcome me home.... 8 giant Michael Jackson posters.... it is a moment I will never forget.

    and who amongst us doesn't secretly want to be able to dance like they did in their heyday in the Thriller video? Thanks MTN!

  5. I agree that the media and, consequently, most people are missing the real sadness and tragedy here. I'm guilty of it as well.


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