I still remember my first exposure to Michael Jackson. It was 1982 and I was living with my family in Naples, Italy. Our neighbors across the street were from Texas and had a VHS (a big deal at the time as there was no English language TV station in Italy and we didn’t even have a TV). Jimmy, the boy across the street came over to tell me that his grandfather had sent him a new video that I had to see. It was “Thriller.” The video tape had the video of Thriller, Beat It and some footage of Billie Jean (whoa! the sidewalk lights up!). It also had some footage of the now infamous moonwalk.

How that video didn’t burn up I’ll never know. We watched it countless times. The glove! The moonwalk! He’s a zombie! A werewolf! The moonwalk! We drove his parents crazy with that video. When we had watched it too many times and got kicked outside, we’d play Michael Jackson. One of us would be Michael, the other would be Quincy Jones. The next time we were on base, I begged my father to buy me the cassette of Thriller. He did, if only to shut me up. He also bought Off the Wall. Good lord those tapes were awesome.

We soon learned about the Jackson 5. We were hooked. Rockin’ Robin was my favorite. Jimmy loved Ben. I played Off the Wall endlessly.

The following summer, my mother and I came back to spend a few weeks in Boston. The local clothing store, Decelle’s, was my least favorite place on earth. I hated school clothes shopping. One trip, though, was different. Dragged kicking and screaming through the front door, my eyes locked onto a jacket just inside the door. It was Michael’s jacket from Beat it. I had to have it. They had the jacket from Thriller too, but the Red jacket with the zippers and the shoulder patches. Ah, I had to have it!

My mother would have none of it. I pleaded my way through the store, and was ultimately sated with a pair of glittery socks and matching glove. I was going to be awesome. I practiced moonwalking and damn if it didn’t work better in those socks!

My love of all things Michael continued the rest of our tour in Europe. 1984 brought the Victory album and while it wasn’t as good as the early Jackson 5, or Michael alone, it was new and had to be had, and played endlessly. We moved back to the US in 1985 and by the time Bad came around in 1987, my addiction to Michael had reduced to a simmer, but Thriller was still a frequent player in my tape deck.

The family was up in New Hampshire this week when news of Michael’s death made it onto the one station the TV in the house picked up. As with many people, Michael had been a curiosity mostly for the last decade or so. A lot of old memories have been conjured up these last few days, though.

In a small way, though, I’m happy that I get to teach my kids about Michael in my own way. His legacy, no matter how twisted or tainted, is sealed. Michael can just be a performer, a singer of awesome songs and dance moves that still amaze.

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