A Seven Year-Old’s Thoughts on Michael Jackson Before and After Thriller

My youngest daughter was perched at my husband’s computer the other day, while I sat opposite her in an armchair sorting through bills.

She was watching an early video of Michael Jackson’s — “Blame It on the Boogie” — and I couldn’t help but notice her face. Her eyes were wide and focused, her lips in an open-mouthed smile.

She was beaming.

Her delight was contagious, so I decided to live a little. I dumped my mail into a pile at my feet and went to sit beside her. We watched “Blame It on the Boogie” three times, then “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You.” Over and over. I showed her “Beat It” and “Thriller,” then “Billie Jean,” but it was when we moved past the “Thriller” album — onto “HIStory,” “Bad” and “Dangerous” — that her interest waned. Not entirely, but it was clear her attention had gone from rapturous to merely entertained. She’d lost that look of unbridled joy that had drawn me to her side in the first place.

And I’d lost it, too, even if I was still a little hungry for the shot of bliss Jackson’s early videos had given me. It was the pop culture equivalent of a hangover — the kind of bluesy, reflective state that washes over you after watching Judy Garland in the “Wizard of Oz” and thinking, What the hell happened?

In “Boogie” there was a sense of wonder. Jackson moved with an easy grace and basked in his performance. There was a give and take with the audience that flowed like a perfect kiss. All sweet and tender but on fire at the same time.

His dancing was raw, almost childlike. And although he was on stage with his talented brothers, he was the only one you wanted to watch. As I sat writing this post, I had to call it back up on my screen, then get up and dance. I couldn’t help myself.

Fast forward to “Bad,” which was good, but forced, over-choreographed and detached. Jackson had wind machines blowing at him and sported a quasi-military outfit that jingled like a charm bracelet. His face, so handsome, had already begun its transformation — looking chiseled and waxy.

Everything about him seemed to say “go away.”

My daughter’s interest was piqued again when I showed her pictures of Jackson’s metamorphosis. Yet I found myself at a loss when it came to explaining to her why it happened. To talk about childhood trauma, or the trappings of fame, or the loneliness that some very talented people feel seemed trite. I didn’t know Michael Jackson, after all, and it felt silly to try and psychoanalyze him.

But as usual, she bested me.

“Frankenstein,” she said. She was looking at a picture of Jackson at his worst — towards the end of his life.

Frankenstein is a big theme for her. She loves the original 1933 black and white film as much as the 1974 Mel Brooks parody.

I’ve always thought it’s because she, herself, has so many scars — from the many surgeries she had to endure at birth, to the fact that no one could hold her until she was several weeks old and could actually tolerate the pain of being moved and cuddled. Whatever the case, she feels a kinship with Mary Shelley’s dark protagonist, and was able to make the connection between the fictional character and the very real Michael Jackson.

And as I looked at the pictures of Jackson that spanned from his youth in the Jackson 5 to his beyond the stratosphere fame, I felt the urge to hunt down a quote from Mary Shelley’s classic horror novel — one that I could only remember in vague terms, but I knew it would fit.

“I was dependent on none and related to none. The path of my departure was free, and there was none to lament my annihilation. My person was hideous and my stature gigantic. What did this mean? Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come? What was my destination? These questions continually recurred, but I was unable to solve them.” — the Monster.