Michael Jackson was pretty creepy as he got older. But when it came out, Thriller was one of the most exciting things that ever happened to me when I was a kid. I loved that album so, so much. (I think I got it as a birthday present at a sleepover, which was THE birthday party to have in 4th - 6th grades.) The only album I'd really loved before then was Olivia Newton-John's Physical (this because I so admired her performance in Grease). Also, Thriller was one of the first pieces of music I loved on my own - I had a Doobie Brothers tape, but that was a gift from my folks that came with the tape recorder I got for my birthday in third grade. (I do remember walking around my neighborhood, blasting that tape as loud as I could. Probably many people were not expecting a little girl to be rocking Michael McDonald on a tape deck.)
Anyway, back to Thriller. It was the first record that I loved just for itself - for the music. Not because I knew the singer from a movie or somewhere else. I wouldn't discover The Wiz or The Jackson 5 for a couple of years - but learning more about Michael Jackson at that point was nothing but an utter pleasure. He was an attention-hungry kid's dream idol. He was relentlessly talented, he'd been in showbiz pretty much since conception, and it seemed like EVERYONE loved him. The whole entire world loved Michael Jackson. I was deeply envious.
Then, the Thriller video happened. I was very fond of television as a kid, but I'm telling you, that video was the most mind-blowing thing I'd ever seen on TV. I watched it as many times as I could - and of course MTV was playing it constantly. I can't remember what happened or why this decision was made, but one night at dinner my dad announced that my sister and I were forbidden to watch MTV because the video for Thriller was too scary. I remember being stunned. How was I supposed to go about my life as though everything were normal, when I'd actually never be allowed to watch that amazing thing again? What I didn't know then, of course, was in a few months the ban would be lifted, and the video's immense popularity meant I'd be able to watch it, and, later, the making of it, pretty much whenever I wanted until I got my fill.
I will admit that after a year or so Thriller lost its hold on me. I moved on to...whatever I moved onto when I was 10 turning 11. Drawing horses obsessively, maybe? But then my folks introduced me to The Wiz, and that's really when Michael Jackson earned a permanent place in my psyche. I have always loved The Wizard of Oz, but The Wiz felt like an incredibly exciting adult version of that story. As a kid, there were jokes I didn't get at all in The Wiz. (Why do all the cabs refuse to pick Dorothy up? Didn't figure that out till I was probably in college.) But over the years, I've watched it again and again, and Michael Jackson's performance as the Scarecrow is still fantastic. I found it to be a good point in his past to focus on - which I think many fans did, focus on Jackson's past - as his present and future got increasingly disturbing.
Anyway. I watched The Wiz again last night and was once again struck by Jackson's performance as the Scarecrow. (Ray Bolger, respect, but he kind of kicked your butt on this.) Jackson's big song, especially, I think is amazing. The Wiz, btw, was made in 1978. So Jackson was 19 or 20 when that movie was filmed. Here's his big song.