The way he knocked us off our feet
The King of Pop lives on in his enormous influence and in the hearts of his fans, writes KIM NOWACKI
Today, much of the world’s attention is focused on a celebration of sport. A year ago the world was also focused on a single event: the unexpected death of global pop star Michael Jackson.
It was a day when Twitter showed its social networking might by quickly spreading the news of Jackson’s death after the story broke on the American celebrity gossip and news site TMZ.com. Legacy news outlets scrambled to confirm the report.
By the afternoon of June 25, 2009, it was official. Jackson, 50, had died.
In the wake of the news, websites crashed under the online traffic, newspapers ran the story on the front page, American radio stations played Billie Jean hourly and even US President Barack Obama felt compelled to comment,while across the world, people grieved.
“His untimely passing was felt globally. In Cape Town that too was keenly felt,” says Benito Vergotine, long-time DJ on 94.5FM. “Radio, print, television all carried the news as lead for the entire day. The impact of his passing was evident across many generations. That in one sense is why he remains the King of Pop – his ability to bring generations of fans together, all with one thing in common, the love of MJ.”
Jackson’s countless fans grieved for the loss of an icon, of a man who had an inexplicable golden touch when it came to making hit after hit, after hit, the inventor of the moonwalk, pioneer of the must-see music video and an ambassador of global goodwill. They also mourned Jackson’s ever-changing looks, his bizarre family life, the allegations of child molestation and everything else that lent to his “Wacko Jacko” persona.
And, they grieved over a comeback tour, announced just months earlier, which would now never happen.
It wasn’t until Seth Rotherham got a middle-of-the-night text message about Jackson’s death that he understood how much the mysterious and mesmerising entertainer meant to him.
“My big album was Bad which I still have on vinyl,” says Rotherham, the early30-something man-about-town and editor of the popular, booze-fuelled blog www.2oceansvibe.com, which regularly genuflects to Michael Jackson.
After Rotherham got the news, he grabbed his laptop and began a blog post, tears streaming down his face.
“I didn’t realise I’d be that affected by it,” says Rotherham.
In Southern California, mourners flooded Neverland Ranch, Jackson’s lavish former estate, and flocked to his star along Los Angeles’s famed Hollywood Boulevard.
“Michael Jackson cared about his fans. Unlike many bands and artists, he adored his fans and thanked them each and every day for allowing him to be a star,” says 22-year-old Christopher Fan, an American living in Cape Town who works with an NGO called Ikamva Youth that focuses on students in the townships.
“If you could interview almost every new pop sensation, every R&B artist, I would say all would thank Michael Jackson for what he did for the music industry, for society and for people around the world,” adds Fan, a recent college graduate with a bachelor’s degree in comparative cultures and politics.
“To start a revolution, to ignite that much passion and hope for children to become pop idols and legends is something very few could say they did. Think of your favourite pop artist or R&B artist, male or female, and listen to the music, watch the music video, watch the dancing – it’s all attributable to what Michael Jackson did.”
The first time Rotherham saw Jackson do his trademark moonwalk: “I actually couldn’t get my head around it. I thought it was some kind of magic show. I still have some Michael Jackson dance moves that I pull,” notes Rotherham, who wore white socks yesterday in a silent personal tribute to Jackson. “He’s still the King of Pop, nobody can take that away.”
The cemetery where Jackson is buried opened its gates to fans yesterday and there were tributes, large and small, across the globe.
In September, the musical stage-show tribute Thriller Live comes to Cape Town’s Grand Arena at GrandWest Casino. The two-and-a-half hour show features the biggest hits off Jackson’s groundbreaking album Thriller. Radio station 94.5 FM is one of the sponsors of the show.
“It is going to be a wonderful tribute to the King and will showcase his skill, dexterity and his kind heart, which has captured the imagination of millions around the world,” says disk jockey Vergotine.
“In South Africa, at the time when he was growing as an international superstar he provided black fans with the truth that they too could follow their dreams, regardless of circumstance.
“I am truly grateful he was around in my lifetime and will continue to enjoy (and celebrate) all the hits, from Off the Wall to This Is It.”