The world is mourning the death of Michael Jackson. It is interesting to think what the man meant to different parts of the world. It became fashionable to scoff at his music, to portray those who listened to it as musically deficient. I say, who cares?
I had a couple of early encounters with Jackson’s music. The first, I think, was when I suddenly developed an interest in “Western music”. Back in 1985 or so, this was some mystical chaotic unmelodious music that the cool kids listened to; it didn’t have melody and the lyrics were impossible to decipher, but it did have a certain peppy spirit. I walked into a store that sold music cassettes and asked for “Western songs”. The first thing the guy pulled out was something called “The Best of Sentimental – Vol. I”. But it was only instrumental music, and I was wary of spending all the money I had on something that experimental. The next thing the guy showed me was Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I had no idea what the hell it was, but it looked cool with Jackson in a white jacket on a black background; it was one of the best blind purchases I’ve ever made.
I encountered him again during a jamboree: they played the Thriller music video at night. It scared the living daylights out of me; I couldn’t sleep for 2 weeks after that. But still, I knew of every album he released, every new dance step he invented. Not because I was particularly interested in his music or his dance. I wasn’t. But he just had a media presence. Everything about him got reported. He represented Western music in a way that no one else has, and I don’t think anyone else will.
We found a way to make Jackson our own; everybody knows that Mai ka lal Jaikishan was actually born in Bihar (or maybe UP) and only became famous in the USA. For a couple of decades, I’m convinced that in India, Western music was Michael Jackson. The same way that science fiction was Asimov, the action star was Amitabh Bachchan and photocopying was Xerox. There just wasn’t anyone else. (Yes, some people knew a little more about Western music, and are probably appalled that I’m revealing all this Indian ignorance that will rub off on them but unki to aisi-ki-taisi.) When Jackson cancelled some of his India performances, I think Indians were more bitterly disappointed than anyone else would have been.
If only I could find that cassette!