Perhaps my blog’s theme should be “expanding upon interesting things found in other people’s comments,” because I found the apparently drive-by observation found here, in response to a somewhat obligatory Jackson tribute, utterly fascinating, to the extent that it’s hard to view Thriller any other way.
Been listening to Thriller a lot lately, and I’m struck by how obvious it was that M.J. was already going insane — it’s like the “ALL WORK AND NO PLAY” scene from The Shining, I knew he was crazy, I just didn’t know how long he’d been crazy. “Billie Jean” is a documented mental breakdown in progress, “P.Y.T.” seems to push Michael aside in favor of the voices in his head, “Beat It” is a musically violent plea for peace, “Thriller” has him openly terrorizing the listener, and in “Wanna Be Startin’ Something”, Michael gives over a whole verse to lyrics about how you’re a vegetable and they eat you. It is a weird fucking album, especially given the contrast between how tightly controlled the music is and how clearly losing it the lyrics and vocals are (and I’m pretty sure he never did that spastic “ee hee shamon” shit before Thriller either).
I was all of a year old when Thriller was released, and I came to popular music somewhat late (in 1995 or so, when I was already 14 years old), so I knew Jackson as an unfortunate freak-show even before I came to see his old videos on MTV and realize that, yes, he was quite a mega-star before he started losing it.
Honestly, though, it took me a lot longer to start gathering a passing familiarity with some of the Jackson 5 singles, which predate my life by many years, and the more I think of it, “I Want You Back” and “ABC” showcase a really beautiful voice, while “Billie Jean” and “Beat It,” well… not so much. Is it just a question of puberty? Not entirely… I feel that Jackson’s falsetto sounds a lot better on singles like “Rock With You” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” from Off the Wall.
So in retrospect, I feel like this is one of those great 80s questions. How did the mainstream not know that George Michael was gay? (
(“Gayness” wasn’t sufficiently visible by that time?) How did they not know that Jackson had already lost something by Thriller? They loved him too much to notice, or care? I wonder.
I leave you with this bit of intarweb tomfoolery. I mean, come on, who the hell could suitably interpret this passage?
You’re a vegetable, you’re a vegetable
Still they hate you, you’re a vegetable
You’re just a buffet, you’re a vegetable
They eat off of you, you’re a vegetable