Being 13 was horrendous. It was the time when I moved up to the big junior high, feeling somewhat reassured that being at the same school as my big sister was somehow going to make everything all right, only to find out that was not the case. I was still alone, and my sister had her own friends, I soon learned. And the jealousy and the bitching amidst the female half of the school population seemed to be in full bloom.
I didn’t like being the youngest in the school. I didn’t like how you suddenly lost your friends because they were not in the same classes as you anymore. I kind of liked it when my Dad said that the drug problem used to be so bad in that school ten years ago, that if I had been there then, he would have sent me to private school. But what an opportunity I had missed!
There were things at school I was afraid of, and that I didn’t understand. I was afraid my locker would get broken into. And everywhere I looked people wore rock t-shirts – Blue Oyster Cult, and The Doors- and rather ashamedly I didn’t know who the Doors were then. And afterschool sometimes, me and a friend would just sometimes hang out, with no purpose whatsoever, sitting in Brownie’s Fried Chicken eating fries and gravy. Dreading the life void of freedom when we got home.
And when I went home afterschool, I went home to the awkwardness of a somewhat childish room struggling to grow up alongside me. Closet doors plastered with magazine ads and posters that I liked. Spines of the pullout posters flattened carefully and taped. I had liked other music. I had liked The Cars and The Knack, and had always listened to the radio. When Michael Jackson arrived on the scene I added him to my collection of posters. I knew who Michael Jackson was – I had liked him in The Jackson Five and had heard Off the Wall.
I remember in the midst of this, I had gone with a friend to visit her grandparents in Victoria. (It was sometime in between the release of Wanna be Startin’ Something and Human Nature). I had jumped at the opportunity, it was going to be fun, and plus I loved going on the ferry. The whole ferry process reminded me of summer trips with my parents as a child. I loved the tailgate picnics, the echoey start of cars when it was time to drive off the boat. Even the idea of the expensive ferry food which I never got to eat appealed to me. And the beauty – the expanse of the ocean and the faded blue-lined islands.
My friends Grandpa was great – he would get up at 5am every morning and bake bread and make homemade beans in his slow cooker. Why would anyone get up early when they didn’t have to? So my friend and I bombed about Victoria, checking out the record stores and doing whatever we wanted and had a great time – a total escape from the school world we would return to the next week.
Four years later on a school band trip to California, some of the class went to Disneyland for the day, and I actually saw Michael Jackson there in one of his get-ups. He was in a wheelchair, with an old lady’s hat on, and wearing a medical mask, with a nurse-like person pushing him, and I could see his curly black hair poking out from under the hat. Chance it might not have been him, possibly, but thinking it was.
Kinder words? (That seems to help anyone.) Maybe if Thriller hadn’t been SO big? The days of the biggest album of all time. And the posters were up there for a long time, till the end of the hype back then, anyway.
With the death of Michael Jackson last week, it makes me think back to the release of Thriller. I am going to Victoria, B.C. later this week, and one of my visits to Victoria as a teenager was in the months following the album’s release.
It was 1982 and I was 13, almost 14. Somewhere in between the release of Wanna be Startin’ Something and Human Nature, I had gone with a school friend over to Vancouver Island. One of my favorite things about going to the Island was the ferry. I loved the tailgate picnics we had while we waited; the excitement when the cars ahead started their engines and it was time to drive on the boat, and we had to rush back into the car and buckle up; the smell of the gasoline and the oil and the salt water; the expense of the ferry food no adult would ever buy for us, hence the sandwiches with the open trunk beforehand.
We were staying with my friend’s grandfather in Victoria. Her grandfather would get up every morning at 5am and make pork and beans in his slow cooker and bake bread. Unbelievable! At the time, I couldn’t understand why would anyone get up at 5am on purpose when they were retired? Even the luring smell of baking bread was not enough to drag me out of bed. I still look back with admiration at such behavior.
My friend and I went out in Victoria shopping and going to museums, too young to be charmed by the Englishness of the town, our hair whipped with the ocean air. We were in the middle of our own Michael Jackson frenzy― the posters, the videos, and then there was the Off the Wall stuff and The Jackson Five music – we liked that too. We would go into a record store and dig around in the Michael Jackson section and they had Thriller playing in the store. There was definitely something about Michael. It was the way he moved, the red leather jacket, the little nose. There were discussions about favorite songs on the album. When we got home the posters were pulled from the movie magazine spines and flattened with the aid of scotch tape onto the inside of our bedroom doors. And the posters were up there for a long time, till the end of the hype anyway.
Four years later on a school band trip we were down in California at Disneyland, and guess who we saw there. Michael. Who else would go to Disneyland in a wheelchair, with an old lady’s hat on, and a medical mask? And besides―I could see his curly black hair poking out from under the hat. Okay, there was a chance that maybe it wasn’t him. But seriously who else did that! I knew who I saw but I just stood there stunned in disbelief.
So now that he is gone, I think about what went wrong. What could have stopped this? More socialization as a child? Kinder words? Maybe if Thriller hadn’t been SO big? I find that, despite what has been said about the Prince of Pop, I still look back at his music, and extraordinary talent with some of that same fresh admiration from 1982.
Now, 27 years later, when I am on the ferry this week, I might not have the same childish teenage fear of the blast of the ferry horn. But the expanse of the ocean and the faded blue-lined islands will still be there, much like MJ’s music. Instead of running around the town like a crazed teenager, I will sit out on the sundeck at the hotel with a drink in hand and remember his music, and think back to that much, much earlier visit, and the days of the biggest album of all time.