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Changelings 

When I see Jackson now, I don’t see the same person who could make my teenage heart flutter with his bright, innocent smile.

I cried when I saw Michael Jackson in concert. One of those hysterical, ‘50s-style Beatles-, Elvis-fan cries. Amazingly, I am still married. Sixteen years, a master’s degree, marriage and two children later, I still can’t explain why my teenage self broke into hysterics at that 1988 Bad tour concert. I was a freshman in a small Midwest high school when the Thriller-Bad era was at its peak. Michael was performing his Bad tour in Chicago, two hours across the state line. Ever since Jackson’s Thriller album had been released and he became an immediate teen idol, my mom had tolerated the ever-increasing number of Jackson posters plastered on my bedroom walls. (Remember the one in the yellow vest? Or how about the red leather multizippered jacket and single white sequined glove?).

When the Bad tour was scheduled for Chicago, Mom finally gave into incessant pleadings and bought tickets for my best friend and me. She coerced my older sister into taking us and then wrote a note to my principal saying I was to leave school early for a parent-sanctioned “cultural activity.” When we returned to school the next day with Bad concert T-shirts on, we were swiftly slapped with multiday detentions. It was worth it.

The tears began even before Jackson sang a note when an impersonator walked into the stadium. (Hey, I was way, way up in the nosebleeds and I thought it was Michael, OK?) I immediately broke into hysterics. It only worsened when the real Michael walked onstage. By the end of the concert, my nose was runny, my eyes swollen, my voice gone. I physically could not stop when my college-age sister who accompanied us threatened harm if I didn’t.

For some reason, most preadolescent girls find themselves attached to a singer, actor or some celebrity that gives them those first feelings of giddiness later known as infatuation and, even later, love. Maybe it’s nature’s first trial run for females in choosing a suitable mate. Harmless fun, really, and a great daydreaming subject during boring middle-school days.

Andy Gibb was my first pop icon love. I treasured my Andy Gibb T-shirt, with Gibb Shadow Dancingly posed in a white leisure suit. I got it from one of those now-historic shops once in malls, those high-tech, high-fashion stores where they ironed superstar photos onto shirts with a huge iron press. I wore it so many times that the iron-on photo got little tears in it, making Andy look something like a zebra, but I didn’t care.

But alas, Andy didn’t last past fifth grade. My mom took me to his concert on a steamy summer day at the Wisconsin State Fair and he didn’t show up for hours (perhaps due to the drug abuse that later killed him? Perhaps because he didn’t want to come to Wisconsin?), so we finally left. He stood me up, so Jackson took the No. 1 spot until my first real boyfriend came along my sophomore year.

When I see Jackson now, I don’t see the same person who could make my teenage heart flutter with his bright, innocent smile. The singer that my best friend and I listened to, single after single, on my record player. The electrifying dancer I watched moonwalk across the stage at the Motown awards. In my memory, he isn’t the same person I see on the news today. I cannot — I will not, for my childhood memory’s sake — make the connection. Back then, there were no associated thoughts of baby dangling, no shrinking nose, no handcuffs.

I wonder if Michael Jackson feels the same way about himself. If he just can’t make the connection between then and now. His life took on a life of its own, and I have to wonder if the adorable Michael I saw then knows the same-named eccentric man of today. If I saw him in concert now, I might shed a tear or two. Unlike my wails at the Bad concert many years ago these tears would be reserved, and very explainable. S



Dana Villamagna is a freelance writer who lives in Richmond.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.


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