Beat It was one of the very first albums that I owned. Oh, I had, of course, a collection of Disney Pops, and the soundtracks to Annie and Star Wars and the like, but Beat It was the first real pop album that I ever owned. And I listened to it endlessly. I danced to it, I dreamed to it, I rocked out to it as only a scrawny white pre-adolescent girl can: with utter abandon.
I didn’t have a crush on Michael Jackson – I was young, and had already promised my heart to Speed Racer – although my cousin Christopher accused me of just that. He’s BLACK, you know, he would whisper, the weight of the conspiratorial wisdom of all ten year old boys heavy in his voice. That means that you can’t have his babies. I didn’t understand what loving Michael Jackson’s music – anybody’s music – had to do with making babies – I wasn’t sure that I understood entirely how one even went about making babies, or why anyone would want to (the narrative of Billie Jean escaped me entirely) – but I knew that it didn’t matter to me what color he was.
This, of course, became the great cosmic joke about Michael Jackson: that even he didn’t know what color he was. That he became devoid of color. Except that in the way that mattered to me – what his music sounded like, and how it made me want to dance – he was always full of color. And flashing lights and fireworks; explosions of sound and feeling. Beat. He remained full of that color, for me – or rather, his music did – through all the years that followed, through all the controversies and scandals and the gradual disintegration of Michael as a person that I could recognize (literally and figuratively) as sharing the same human world as my own. The music never changed. The music was always among the mostly deeply textured, the most richly colored, that I had ever heard. And it always made want to dance.
Like a white girl. Like a white girl who didn’t know that there was such a thing as dancing like a white girl. Which is to say, like a person, just responding to the most stirring of beats.
And for that I’ll always be grateful to him, and glad that he was part of this world, my world, for a time.