Michael Jackson: Still in My Heart

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Vanessa Obioha

On Tuesday, August 29, Michael Jackson would have been 59 years old. I often wonder how he would have celebrated his birthday. Would there have been a concert parading the best of music stars in honour of the legend? Or would he have come to north-east Nigeria and celebrated it with the children at the IDPs camps? Certainly, he would not be watching cartoons with his children like he did in his last birthday on earth for they are now adults. Perhaps, he would have spent it alone, reminiscing or enjoying the solitude?

As a young rising star, birthday celebrations were not entirely euphoric for him. The reason is not far-fetched. His religion Jehovah Witnesses at the time forbade such celebrations. So it was with an avalanche of mixed feelings that the King of Pop marked his birthdays. According to his close pal and make-up artiste Karen Faye, Michael was uncomfortable with his birthdays. Her memories of Michael’s birthday celebrations were cited on www.truemichaeljackson.com. She recalled the first time he revealed to her that birthdays and Christmas celebrations were not allowed in his household due to their religious beliefs. Then she witnessed it during one of his birthdays they spent together working.

“One August 29th, we ended up working. Everyone was wishing him Happy Birthday and giving him little presents. He smiled and graciously accepted them. Once we were in the privacy of the trailer, he puts the gifts down on the seat and looked down at them: ‘I wish people wouldn’t do that. Please promise me, Turkle, don’t ever say happy birthday to me.’

Faye kept to his wish but she was just one of a million fans who wished the legend well on his birthday. He would later disconnect with the religious group but by then that hard principle had taken its toll on him. His birthday celebrations were mostly on low key like his last. Although part of his reason to mark the day with his children Prince, Paris and Blanket was due to the recent sexual allegation against him. The accusations started in 1993 when a 13 year-old boy Jordan Chandler and his father Evan accused the singer of sexually abusing him. An investigation was carried out but was inconclusive. On January 1, 1994, Michael settled with the Chandlers out of court for $22 million.

In 2003, Michael faced another child abuse allegations. This time from a documentary about him ‘Living with Michael Jackson’ which showed a controversial scene where Jackson was seen holding hands and discussing sleeping arrangements with a young boy. Another bout of probing were carried out and Michael was arrested in November 2003 and charged with seven counts of child molestation and two counts of administering an intoxicating agent in relation to the 13 year-old boy shown in the film. He denied the allegations and was finally acquitted on all counts on June 13, 2005. He moved to the Persian Gulf of Bahrain after the trial.

These public scandals were part of what made Michael’s life an interesting one. His adoration for children was no secret, part of which was due to his lost childhood. No one could have sang for the ‘Lost Children’ like he did. To further prove his love for the little ones, he founded the Heal the World Foundation in 1992, named after the most successful song of his 1991’s album ‘Dangerous’. The charity brought underprivileged children to his Neverland ranch to enjoy park rides and sent millions of dollars around the globe to help children threatened by war, poverty, and disease. Now tell me, didn’t he ‘Heal the World’ with this act of altruism.

No doubt, he was every child’s idol and adults too in the 80s and 90s. With hits like ‘Thriller’, ‘Bad’, ‘Black or White’, ‘They Don’t Really Care About Us’, ‘Dirty Diana’, ‘Smooth Criminal’, he became the idyllic superhero of all times. His Moonwalk moves were practised by children back then who wanted so badly to learn how to keep one leg straight while gliding and the other bent as if walking. Then there was the popular crotch grabbing which have been made popular by contemporary artistes like Usher and our own P-Square.

Again, I still wonder the magic the King of Pop would have brought in this age of advanced technology. He was credited for transforming the music video to an art form. Before him, music videos were kinda dull until the inventor introduced the use of complex story lines, dance routines, special effects and famous cameo appearances. Soon, the music video became a promotional tool. Till date, his ‘Thriller’ music video is the best-selling album of the year. This is also the album that severed his relationship with Jehovah Witnesses.

Imagine the wonders he would have done with sounds and graphics. Perhaps, he would have come up with a unique sound of afrobeat. Michael was known for his exploration of sounds. His music genres was a plethora of sounds: pop, funk, RnB, soul, disco, dance pop and others. Or maybe collaborated with some of our artistes and pay a well deserving tribute to the originator of afrobeat sounds, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.

But he may also have retired, tutoring upcoming ones or making cameo appearances in movies. He hinted on retirement during the announcement of ‘This is it’ tour before his untimely death on June 25, 2009.

Despite the various child molestation accusations levelled against him, Michael was a lover. His intimate part was seen in some of his songs like ‘Remember the time’, ‘You are not Alone’, ‘Speechless’, ‘You Rock My World’,’The Girl is Mine’ (Featuring Paul McCartney), ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, ‘Liberian Girl’, and others.

In all of his fame, the legend never forgot the ‘Man in the Mirror’. He kept reminding world leaders to pay heed to the suffering of the poor and needy. Remember his ‘We are the World’ project? He took a great swipe at corrupt leaders with his ‘They Don’t Care About Us’ and to those who attacked him for bleaching his skin, he gave them an apt reply in ‘Black or White’.

Michael’s deeds are endless and I really pity children of today who will only be regaled with stories of this myth, man and legend. I secretly harboured a wish to be at one of his concerts or even have my children meet him. But those wishes died that fateful evening when I heard Vickie of Cool FM announced his death. I have never felt so much pain the way I felt at the news of Michael’s demise. I had sworn never to cry for the dead having lost my father at a young age. But Michael broke that resolve. I waited till morning, hoping that it was a hoax, but it wasn’t. Truly, the legend had passed on from an overdose of painkillers.

I may not have met him during his lifetime, but he is still in my heart. Though he may not have enjoyed his birthdays, I join the rest of the world to light 59 candles for the man who lightened the world with his creativity and endearing ‘Human Nature’ but ‘Gone Too Soon’.