April Moments

Maybe, just maybe, telling the story is just as important as the story itself

Imaginary Michael

I have a confession to make – Michael Jackson was my imaginary friend when I was a child.

I also had a Michael Jackson doll, complete with the military-inspired jacket, dark pants, white socks, black loafers and the famous silver, sequined glove. I had a special affinity toward MJ’s music. I sang along and danced even though I was not very good at either, and the same is still true of the latter.

I grew up listening to the “Thriller” album. “Beat It” was my favorite tune from that record, which we played on our old-school turntable. I would watch the videos occasionally (MTV was just in its beginning stages then), but the “Thriller” video was (and still is, if you ask me) the most entertaining of them all. Another confession: I had to wait until Michael’s werewolf transformation was over before I could view it.

Granted, Michael Jackson’s appearance and behavior became questionable over the years, but my liking for his music never wavered.

So, when I saw “This Is It” on the big screen, I could hardly sit still. And, you can bet I was not keeping my mouth shut. I sang along proudly, imagining that Michael sat next to me in approval.

After watching the film, which was directed by Kenny Ortega, I am certain that Michael Jackson was a musical genius. He knew every note, every hook, every song as if the sheet music were imprinted on his mind.

During the first number of the documentary, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” Michael imitated in a beat box style the way he wanted the bass line to sound. While rehearsing “The Way You Make Me Feel” with “This Is It” musical director Michael Bearden, Jackson intently listened to piano chords, deciding how long he wanted each grouping to “simmer.” When Ortega asked the “King of Pop” how he would get his cue for the beginning of “Smooth Criminal” after a 1920s-inspired film sequence aired on the huge screen behind him, Jackson simply said, “I’ll just feel it.”

“Thriller” and “Earth Song” also featured video counterparts, and these elements added to what already would have been one of the best stage shows ever produced. What MJ fan wouldn’t want to hear some of his greatest hits?

Here is a rundown of some of my favorite moments in the film:

  • Learning that dancers who are catapulted onto the stage from underneath it call this process being “toasted” (like being popped out of a toaster – love it!);
  • Seeing a 50-year-old MJ do the original “Thriller” dance;
  • Watching the FEMALE choreographer show the male dancers how to do the legendary, crotch-grabbing, hip-thrusting dance move;
  • Hearing every “Hee, hee,” “Owwww,” “Whoo” and my personal favorite Michael Jackson-ism, “Sh-mon.” Those utterances have never had as much meaning as they did when I watched “This Is It”;
  • Witnessing MJ’s dancers stand in the audience and cheer him on when their talents were not needed on stage;
  • Listening to lead guitarist, 24-year-old Australian Orianthi Panagaris, rock out, especially on her solo in “Black or White”; and
  • Observing Michael Jackson struggle with his in-ear monitors, so much that he could not hear himself on stage. He finally removed them and rehearsed without them.

The film closed with another one of my faves, “Man in the Mirror.” With the music still playing, the cameras cut to an emotional Michael as he thanked his dancers, his back-up singers, his band and his crew for their efforts. And, in true MJ fashion, he reminded them that his music is about spreading love.

The movie did not specify if that get together was the last time they saw MJ alive, but I can’t imagine how heartbreaking it would have been to work with Michael Jackson for what would have been his greatest tour, only to have it all ripped away suddenly. Still, I’d be willing to bet that not one of those performers ever regrets working with the man who made the Moonwalk a household term.

Originally published on ovparent.com.

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