I've been doing a lot of thinking about the 1980s recently. I was never far away, at least culturally (more than half the songs in my iTunes have a 1980s date). But recent events, especially my upcoming 20-year high school reunion (arrgh!), have given the decade renewed prominence.
Perhaps the death of Michael Jackson will help crystallize my feelings. Was I ever a huge fan? No. But "Thriller"was the first album I ever chose to illicitly copy (a cassette held up the the speakers while my cousin Marco's LP played). Jackson was a cultural phenomenon while I was in sixth grade (Lincoln Elementary) and junior high (Rosemont Middle School) and I enjoyed his music and showmanship for what it was worth.
Not that I thought the music was great (some of it began to grate on me rather early), but I thought Michael was amazing -- partly simply because he was popular. As soon as I got into Rosemont, however, the dissolution of my beliefs began. Michael Jackson was one of the first times (but certainly not one of the last) that I saw "tall poppy syndrome" in action.
"He's gay" (then as now one of the most misused epitaphs). "He's weird." "Michael Jackson is sooo lame." The put-downs came from right and left. And although I never did anything to show my fandom and was never victimized because of it, my enjoyment of Michael's music faded prematurely -- simply because of peer pressure. And to be honest, these put downs of Michael came before any of his well-document later behavior.
Whatever his later problems (and I am in no way saying look the other way when it comes to allegations about child molestation), I will choose to remember Michael Jackson as an extremely talented performer, an outstanding dancer and spectacular songwriter.
None of the numerous 1980s songs on my iTunes are by Michael Jackson. But thanks to the radio (BBC Radio 1 played an hour-long block of MJ songs today) I am flashing back to a more innocent time where I could make my own choices without worrying what others thought. RIP Michael. You were part of my youth and you leave with my respect.