And I suppose you’re asking, “Just WHAT the Farnsworth does this have to do with sports?!”
Nothing and everything.
I was nine years old when Thriller was released. Admittedly, the first time I heard “Billie Jean” on the radio, I thought I was hearing a woman (but I also thought Boy George was a woman and at nine was still holding on my belief in Santa Claus)
Eventually, that album was in heavy rotation on our turntable. And then I saw him perform the Moonwalk on that Motown 25th Anniversary Special and had a feeling – even at that age – that I was witnessing something incredible.
My love for Michael was deep and loyal. My first pop/rock star poster was that scene from the “Billie Jean” video. That Christmas, I asked for his back catalogue. I probably drove my dad crazy making him play my Jackson 5 greatest hits cassette in the car. When we rented that “Making of Thriller” movie I must have watched it dozens of times, and performed that dance hundreds of times. Michael triggered my interest in watching music awards shows – I remember how thrilled I was to see him walk off stage with armloads of Grammies.
In fact, I dug Michael long after the hype of Thriller‘s success tapered off and most of my friends had moved on to hair metal or Duran Duran.
Eventually, I hit my teens and new musical heroes emerged to help me deal with junior high stupidity. I was getting more into rock and alternative, while Michael was getting more into plastic surgery and reclusiveness.
I continued to track his career, but I don’t remember caring much about him musically after the Dangerous album (and by then, I had discovered Nirvana) We all know what happened in the years to follow. Recently, there was all this talk of him going back on tour and I barely gave it a passing thought.
Last night, about 24 hours before CNN announced to the world that they’d received confirmation on the King of Pop’s death, I was in a grocery store. “Human Nature” was piping in and I was quietly singing along in the cereal aisle, reflecting on how remarkable that song was – a delicious slice of pop perfection.
I thought of that moment tonight as I scrolled through every single Facebook update from my friends referencing his death. There was shock, sadness, cynicism, but mostly many memories shared.
Music and sports are so much more than mere forms of entertainment, and I am heartbroken when people downplay the power and impact that music and sports can have on our lives. Think of your favourite album, concert, ball game, hockey playoff series, no matter what it is. Now think about the memories you associate with that. Music and sports have the ability to transcend hype and create lasting emotional connections.
When we lose a Michael Jackson, a Farrah Fawcett, a Walter Payton, a Maurice Richard, a Wilt Chamberlain – I could go on – we lose so much more than an iconic figure in popular culture. We feel (and Maggiesox, I’m going to paraphrase you a bit here) we lose a little bit of our childhood.
And that brings me to my final point about my two great loves – music and sports. I am grateful that they allow me the opportunity to escape reality, connect with the people I love and provide me with a little reassurance and joy in a crazy world. I will venture a guess that you feel the same way too.
If they say why, tell ‘em that it’s human nature.