I Wish I Could Move Like Michael Jackson
Outside my window in Harlem I heard residents blasting Michael Jackson’s music until the early morning hours—or I at least I did when I wasn’t doing the same.
The thing is, it was difficult for me to think of a prescient or sentimental MJ song to go along with the mood from yesterday. In many of his best songs, he seemed to just be trying to figure out how to live a human life for a moment. And he was confused and lonely, but he tried; my favorite moments in his music were the undeniably triumphant times that he shed the paranoia and violence often in his lyrics to find a sort of pure joy, e.g. the entire last two minutes of “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”. In his music, and only in his music, did he ever seem like he almost had it figured out. Never in real life.
Last fall, my one and only (aborted) book proposal thus far was to write about Thriller. Music has been making people want to dance forever, but Thriller is notable because it has made a whole bunch of people want to dance exactly like Michael Jackson. Who was dressed up as a zombie. And they don’t want to do it as a campy lark, which would make way more sense, but will actually learn a seriously complicated dance routine, people who otherwise would never bother to learn a seriously complicated dance routine, because yes it’s fun but mostly because Michael Jackson made it look like the coolest thing ever. He had a charisma that compelled even the most cynical sots to get off their asses.
Myself included. I think I wanted to write about Thriller because making me want to do something I’ve never done before is so much more powerful than reminding me of something I’ve already done. As a bulky and pretty uncoordinated white guy, I have no real business reproducing anything the man did on stage, but within the safe confines of my locked room (or when I was working late at the office) I certainly did try. MJ effected dance. One of the central selling points to my proposal was going to be getting together a group for the Thriller dance, despite it being the silliest thing ever, despite never having danced in public once in my life. I wanted to understand why it was such a phenomenon, from weddings to Filipino prisons to Bollywood movies. Hundreds of millions of people have wanted to dance like Michael Jackson.
The Mitchell Brothers released a single a couple years ago featuring the chorus, “I wish I could move like Michael Jackson/Spin around, have the world in a gaze”. That pretty much captures it. It’s just sad to have that gaze broken.