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.
This is a work of creative nonfiction; it contains no composite characters and no names have been changed. I have tried to recreate events, locales and conversations from my memories of them, but I have taken some storytelling liberties, due to my interpretation of events, fading memory, lack of time machine, and need to cherry-pick some memories over others in order to express my thoughts within the story.