A World Without Michael


I used to slide back and forth on the carpet-free floors at home, moon-walking in my socks. When I learned how to do it in a circle, you couldn’t tell me nothin’! I used to open up my high school locker to a collage of him made from fanzine posters. I wore my button of him wearing his yellow vest with the pride of an innocent crush.

My aunt Lainie and I partied to the 45 of ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’ from the Off The Wall album; it usually fell into rotation somewhere between ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by the Sugar Hill Gang and ‘Shake Your Pants’ by Cameo.

My best friend Maliika Chambers (now a college professor) and I stared for hours at the Jacksons Victory poster in the closet of my room. As a young Muslim girl, I wasn’t allowed to put images up on my wall in the house. But on the walls of my walk-in closet, the Jacksons were the paint. The Victory Tour was my first concert, thanks to my grandfather, whose escort was the only way I was allowed to attend. I screamed until I lost my voice. I still remember my Victory Tour tee shirt: black, baseball-style with purple sleeves.

I wore it under my school uniform. Anything to be closer to Michael.

And then, there was Thriller.

I actually met one of my dearest friends, and amazing fine artist, Alex Asher Daniel, at our neighborhood ‘premiere’ of the Thriller video. It happened at my neighbor Jennifer’s house; she had MTV. She lived across the street from me in Altadena, CA. She also happened to be his girlfriend at the time.

We were all so mesmerized, that only while recounting our ‘the first time I saw ‘Thriller’ stories did it occur to Alex and I that we’d met over a decade earlier at Jennifer’s ‘premiere’! Ten years later I could still feel the sheer awe we collectively experienced as we watched this movie of a music video, complete with storyline, suspense, special effects, score and a one-song soundtrack. Over the span of 14 minutes, he went from adorable and sweet to terrifying, but there was no looking away as he moved.

He was a dancer like no other, part warrior boot dancer, part b-boy, part Bob Fosse.

I terrorized my younger brother and sister with ‘Thriller’, playing the Vincent Price part of the song extra loud to scare them, lights out, windows open, curtains blowing. Heartbreak Hotel was pretty eerie too, I must admit. I wondered, the nerve of Sefra and Sue! I could never imagine breaking Michael’s heart.

Then, on June 25, 2009 it stopped. First his heart. Then the world.

I swear I could feel a hole tear through the Universe as the Creator called Michael Jackson home.

And then, his music got the world turning again. Like a healing touch or a cleansing rain, it was everywhere, filling the air, all over the web, pouring out of cars and shops and blaring through ear buds. The writer Harry Allen had a brilliant idea, tweeting: “When we theatrically screen Jackson’s music videos, this must be there: “Can You Feel It?” I’m with Harry. Sony should play all of Michael’s videos and screen Moonwalker in theaters. If Thriller knocked our socks off in a living room, imagine what it would do for this generation of young people on a movie screen.

This is my request to Rolf and Barry over at Sony BMG: can you hook it up by August 29 for his birthday? Re-master the videos and show them with a theater partner, with proceeds going to a cause that mattered to Michael.

I’m blessed to have known a world with Michael Jackson in it.

Can you imagine a world without Michael?

There would be:
No Jackson 5.

No Jackson 5 cartoon.

Motown would definitely have been a different label. No ‘The Wiz’ as we know it. Quincy Jones would have been without his muse. No easing on down the road. Who else could have done a better scarecrow with the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup wrapper on his nose?

No mini-movie music videos.

No Alphonso Ribeiro being discovered for a Pepsi ad. Without Michael, multitudes of Black people would be drinking a lot more Coca-Cola.

No iconic performance of Billie Jean at the Motown 25 special. Unthinkable. Motown is 50 now; and 25 years after Motown 25, that’s the only moment of the entire show that was seared into my consciousness.

No USA for Africa.

No ‘We Are The World.’

Michael Jackson is the Guinness Book of World Records holder for most charitable pop star. Without Michael, countless human beings would have gone hungry, remained sick, or perished. Michael Jackson even raised the profile of the animal kingdom. It started with that adorable tiger cub inside the Thriller LP. From there, it was Bubbles the chimp. Without Michael, I bet we wouldn’t like llamas as much.

Hip-hop would certainly be less radio-friendly, less fun, and much less interesting without Michael. Michael had hip-hop caught up in his rapture, from the hardest emcees to the shiny crossover acts.

Without Michael, no ‘O.P.P.’ with Naughty By Nature.

No ‘It’s All About The Benjamins’ for Puff Daddy and the Family.

No ‘Hey Lover’ from LL and Boyz II Men.

No ‘911 Is A Joke’ from Public Enemy.

No ‘She Said’ from Pharcyde, my personal favorite use of Michael’s work in rap music.

No ‘Breakadawn’ from De La Soul.

And hip-hop soul would be missing some bangers, too.

Check out the Michael Jackson Sample Map:

Put simply, a world without Michael, a world without his melody, would be a world less beautiful. While I must accept that he has become an ancestor, I refuse to live in a world without Michael. His songs and performances will play on forever more. What else would we be missing in a world without Michael?


Share your memories and comments here.

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10 Responses to “A World Without Michael”

  1. LaTanya Rene Says:

    My biological father is no longer a part of my life, but he gave me one of the greatest gifts besides my own life: music. He gave me Keith Sweat, New Edition and most importantly, Michael Jackson.

    I had a rocky childhood, moving from family friend’s homes to foster homes back to my mother’s house then to my father’s house and to another foster home or two. My living situation wasn’t stable from 5 – 11 years old.

    But one thing remained constant: Michael.

    I would watch the Moonwalker DVD over and over again. My brothers and I, when together, would fall over each other countless times trying to perfect MJ’s lean in Smooth Criminal. We would creep up on each other like the zombies in the Thriller video. We would wrap socks around our arms and dance like in the Beat It video. Bad was our anthem. No one could tell us different.

    No matter where we were in the world, with our loved ones or not, Michael was always there.

    I remember the 2001 MTV Video Awards when Michael showed up with Britney Spears and *NSYNC. I sat in my college dorm room and screamed and screamed at the TV until my voice was hoarse.

    It took me a few days to cry. I was literally in shock, my soul reeling from the fact that I’ve lived in a world with Michael Jackson my entire life and he would now be gone.

    I was in San Francisco the weekend following his passing and I watched the city turn into a tribute for MJ. Float after float in the Gay Pride Parade passed blaring different Michael tunes with everyone on the floats dancing and singing and everyone in the audience, lined 5-6 people deep all along the parade route, dancing and singing.

    He’s a legend. His music touched the world. He will be missed.

  2. Bryan R. Adams Says:

    The moonwalk on Motown 25 was my first encounter with “watercooler talk.” At school that next day, that’s all any of us talked about.
    I remember asking my mother or my aunt to put an S Curl in my hair. I wanted that Mike look from the Thriller album cover. My hair didn’t cooperate. Previous to the S Curl, I had been rocking a shag and wearing a doo-rag for waves on top. When the Curl was applied, the shag in the back was curly, but the top was spiky. I looked ridiculous. And I just couldn’t sleep with that plastic bag on my head. I should have gone all out and gotten the jheri or the California curl.
    I’ll admit, I even had a poster or two of him on the wall. Especially the yellow vest joint. RIP, Mike.

  3. Maliika Says:

    I have never blogged, I don’t Tweet, I don’t have a Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, or any other kind of page that I am aware of, but the outpouring of emotion over the last few weeks begs a personal response.

    Michael Jackson created the soundtrack of my life – from ABC, Rockin’ Robin, and I Want You Back to Rock With You, Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough, to Billie Jean, Thriller, and my high school anthem PYT, to the smoothed out Butterflies and You Rock My World, some of my earliest memories of love, friendship, family, and most importantly, a sense of possibility were shaped by him.

    He was the first child (besides Shirley Temple, and for a long time I thought she wasn’t really a child, but a little person) I saw perform on television, and he was black like me. He was the first child I heard sing on the radio, on a record, on Soul Train, or anywhere, and he was black like me. He wasn’t just a cute black child back in the day, i.e. Rodney Allen Rippee, but he was talented, precocious, funny, and positive – he was clean-cut with an afro, dressed in bold, bright colors, didn’t use profanity, had a mother, father, brothers, and sisters that all lived under the same roof, and appeared to be loved by all. When I saw the effect he had on his audiences, grown men and women screaming, crying, and falling out, as a child, I didn’t just love him – I wanted to be just like him.

    Not that I wanted to be a singer, dancer, or entertainer – anyone who knows me knows I that while I can get my groove on and belt out any song on the radio, no one is going to pay to watch me do it – but that he was respected for his craft, always gave the best show no matter what was going on with him personally, and that his artistry and skill exceeded any boundary or label society tried to put on him. Even now, as we watch human nature – his (and ours) worst critic – try to “hate” and blemish his image, even those individuals and media outlets cannot begrude his talent and professionalism. Tabloid headlines and legal proceedings notwithstanding, he still sold out stadiums around the world – simultaneously.

    When I reflect how Thembisa and I used to “swim in the sea of clothes” that was her closet under the watchful paper eyes of the Jackson family, I can’t help but smile. I remember when Thembisa got the chance to go to the Victory Tour concert – I didn’t get to go, but there was no envy or jealously there because I knew that if she was there, it was just like me being there (especially since I had never been to a concert at that point in my life, anyway). The day after the concert, I went to her house and she re-lived the whole event for me; she let me hold the ticket stub and showed me the peanut shells she collected as “souvenirs”, and we put on the Victory tour album on volume 10 as she did the dances and I followed along, alternating between dancing and jumping on the trampoline for effect. Don’t ask..

    I can’t explain why even today, I know the words to every song. I can’t explain why when you sing along with a Michael Jackson song, you even sing the hiccups and the breaths in between the lyrics, and you hold that trembling whisper at the end of the slow songs, and growl “Sham-ohn” at intervals on the fast ones. I can’t explain the tape on his fingers (does anyone know? I’ve always wondered…), but you know, I don’t really have to. ‘Cause you, we, and me – we already know.

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  5. ND McCray Says:

    After reading this, can’t think of anything better to do than to listen to my fave MJ album of all time: “Off The Wall”. Thanks, awesome post!


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  10. Alexa Says:

    What a lovely tribute.
    Michael Jackson was undoubtedly one of the greatest genius of our time. His gifts to the world in music, dance, and the advent of music-video (for which no one has come close to improving in the past 30 years), and kind spirit will live on for all Centuries to come to all people in the world. Like you, Ms. Mshaka, he was the consummate student, then taking what he learned and perfecting and reinterpreting it. One would be hard pressed to find another that worked as hard as he did to create a clear and beautiful message. These are the marks of an extraordinary artist. True artists, not to be confused with craftsmen and entertainers, also speak the truth. It was this part of his being that was attacked and maligned by the racists, confused, and self-loathing part of our population. Nevertheless, even if he died without fully knowing it — his legacy had taken root with our own humanity. His generosity, like his good looks and kind gestures, only gave us more to admire.
    May his memory and work be eternal. I know I will be forever thankful.

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