End of a generation symbol: A tribute to MJ
Generation Y is not likely to understand how huge a legend Michael Jackson was, or why our generation (aged in our 40s) regard him as iconic and a cultural hero. There are many icons who represent a generation locally or regionally – for example, Shucitra Sen or Uttam Kumar in greater west Bengal – but Jackson made a global impact. So this memoir is for you youngsters, to share the influence he exerted over a particular generation, starting out in the US and then spreading all over the world. I just couldn’t help but to write this while watching him on TV after many years.
I’m writing this not because Jackson was a ‘king of pop’ or his albums were among the biggest sellers of all time. The singer was part and parcel of our school and college memories, too. I am not alone in being shaken by his death, as it signifies the end of an era. His demise is indeed a whistle signaling the end of our generation and carries a message that we’re getting old.
Following Michael’s sudden death on 25 June 2009, many things are surfacing in my mind: boyhood memories, friends (who will be hopefully reading this) and the fun we had in those days. I wonder, living thousands of miles away in a different culture and context than Bangladesh, what a deep impression he was able to create in our youthful minds through his unprecedented charisma and performance. He was surely a genius blessed with unquestionable talents and a signature voice. His innovative dance moves, stunning musical composition and king-like profile carried him to worldwide acclaim.
I remember that many of our peers had the Michael mania, liked to walk and twist like him, even dress as he did, wearing one of his trademark leather jackets. Our text books, black boards and walls were often filled with his posters, songs or words of song like Beat it. I don’t know how many pots of talcum powder we have spoiled to practice moonwalk on the floor during our breaks in between classes or at home in the 1980s. Maybe we were unable to rate or judge many things at that age, but one thing is for sure – Michael was able to make an amazing impact for all of us and became a source of joyful youth.
In my life, I hardly remember any song beyond two or three lines. But the lyrics for Michael’s whole Thriller album are lodged in my memory. That reminds me another story from my days in military academy. To avoid a punishment from our senior corporal I volunteered to sing a song, something I’d never done before in my life. We were given the choice of an ongoing punishment or to exercise our musical muscles. It was nothing but a desperate attempt to escape the punishment at that moment, as I found some were escaping by singing bathroom songs. Surprisingly I also managed to be excused by singing Beat it under that harsh condition. However, I didn’t realise that I‘d have to repeat the performance on several other occasions in different punishment parades, because in uniform one has no choice other than to obey the superior. Possibly, the rhythm and lyrics of the song Beat it merged well with the rough and tough punishment spree, if not my voice and performance.
One of the reasons Michael’s songs touched our heart was the lyrics, which always carried some special message rather than sheer entertainment. His choreography was equally thought provoking, supported by high tech effects as well as an artistic theme. Overall his performance, dance and move on the stage had always something special to offer.
Beat it was the first song I heard and since then I became his fan. It was in 1982, when his greatest album Thriller was released. We watched it first hand as someone managed the video cassette. Thriller was a revolution in music videos and a true sensation in our minds. Eventually Billie Jean, Off the Wall, Human Nature, The Girl is Mine, Heal the World, and Black and White were on constant repeat on our tape deck.
Yet, famous people are never free from criticism and scrutiny which unfortunately follows the fame. Michael, who gained fame in later years for his ‘whacky’ behaviour, was no exception. The media tore him apart with personal attacks for his scandals and improper dealings with children, although many of those still controversial and were not substantiated with enough proof. Some say this was a ploy to get a share of Michael’s billions of wealth. Anyway, the typical and strange human tendency is that when somebody dies, all of a sudden people start looking at his or her contributions. People possibly prefer to offer posthumous awards and honour than living ones. Today, after his death, the media is naming him ‘the brightest supernovas of the pop galaxy’, ‘a musical prodigy’, Peter Pan of pop music’ and so on, all of which were possibly preserved for his death.
Michael Jackson had an amazing gift and was an inspiration to many young minds. But I feel sorry for him that he never had an enjoyable youth himself. Michael became a star at the age of five and then onwards he was always haunted by the pressure of fame, stealing his normal life as a child. His desperate attempt to make Neverland as Disney-like as possible is nothing but the reflection of his deprived mind.
Words cannot describe his legacy and talent. His songs inspired and energised millions. His departure brought back many boyhood memories, which we hardly can recollect in the midst of our busy lives. He definitely left an imprint on many hearts around the world, on people who speak different languages and are from different cultures, but the sheer power of uniting everyone through his song is possibly his biggest achievement.
I’ll just finish with a line from his song Man in the Mirror,
“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look to yourself and make the change”
Goodbye Jacko and thank you for making our youth a vibrant and joyful one, just like your magical moves and tone!!!
Ahmed Imran, Tuesday, June 30, 2009