I’ve written this before, but many times when people will ask how many kids are in my family, it feels like a lie to say “three”. Yes, technically I did grow up in a family with three kids, but we’re so loud it seems like more. Not only do we each have our own ticks (my Irish dancing and Conor’s drumming on any hard surface, Brighid’s piano playing, etc.), but we’re also all huge music lovers. Unfortunately we’re all extremely different as well, so at any given moment growing up you could hear big band coming from one room, reggaeton from downstairs, singer-songwriter from another corner, mariachi from the bathroom, and disco from the kitchen. It was, at times, enough to drive everyone absolutely crazy . . . can you imagine the fights in the car? Even though music (what kind, which artist, volume level, etc.) led to many disagreements, I think that Motown is something that everyone could agree on.
I remember my brother and I listening to “The Big Chill” soundtrack over and over again, singing “Tell Him” by The Exciters and thinking we were so funny. I remember my brother and sister dancing to “Heat Wave” and “My Guy”. These were songs that my parents obviously introduced to us, and even though that was the case, they never seemed uncool. I was never embarrassed to admit that, “yeah, The Temptations are really, really good”, unlike some of my parents other musical inclinations, say, Cat Stevens or even Joni Mitchell.
And I think Michael Jackson was the best representation of this phenomenon.
Probably like many people, I didn’t really think about how much I like Michael Jackson’s music until yesterday. When I heard he died, I automatically wanted to listen to “I’ll Be There”, and I just kept thinking of songs and what they meant to me and their memories. Something as stupid as “I had to sing ‘Heal the World’ with my fourth grade class in the talent show!”, “Oh my god, I was so proud of myself because I learned how to play ‘Will You Be There’ by ear on the piano”, and “I remember watching the world premier of this video (Black or White) with my family after The Simpsons and thinking it was the coolest thing ever!” Those are my personal memories, but it was also just so common to walk into my house and find my sister singing “Ben” or my brother playing “Butterflies” – and what was Christmas in our house without “Give Love on Christmas Day”?
It’s just really unbelievable to think that an artist who was insanely popular when my parents were teenagers would even still be able to be relevant to me and my siblings. And not just relevant in the sense that we can all agree that The Temptations made great music – relevant as in still being the King of Pop. That being said, I grew up in the early-mid 90s, and making fun of Michael Jackson was definitely the most hilarious thing a kid on the playground could do.
I don’t think it’s funny anymore, and I don’t think I really ever will again. People can remember him for his faults and his demons, but I choose to focus on his soul, his genius, and the music that really is one of the few things that can bring me and my siblings together in full agreement. When I heard he died, I immediately sent them text messages. I guess that even though I thought his death was sad and tragic, my instinct was to feel sad for us, for that weird, unspoken bond that resonated through boom boxes and computer speakers for so many years. Shamone.