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Sunday, May 7, 2017

The King Of Pop

I spent some time with my daughter watching a snippet of This Is It earlier this month. Showed her the movie just to tell her that, "this guy was called Michael Jackson. A legend. Watch his feet and see how he dances." My daughter kept quiet as she continued watching so I'm not sure if she really got what I meant, but then again, perhaps I was just subconsciously saying it to myself. For all I know, it could be me reminding myself, what Michael once meant to me. 

I remember what it was like to grow up in the 80s. In those days, there was only one nationwide TV channel for Indonesians to watch. Lucky for me that we had a satellite dish installed on our rooftop, allowing me to browse various channels from other countries. Malaysia's TV3 was like the coolest channel with a language I could understand, at least partially, when it was broadcasting in Malay, so I watched it frequently. One fine afternoon, TV3 had a Michael Jackson special. That's when I watched the music videos: Billie Jean, the Way You Make Me Feel, Beat It, Bad and Thriller (which scared the hell out of me).

My life was never be the same after that. I never saw anybody sang and danced like that before. The way Michael did the kick as he danced (no, not the moonwalk, but that split second kick, if you know what I mean), the seriousness in his eyes as he performed (if you ever noticed, Michael only smiled after he stopped performing), the excitement he generated from his singing voice (his music was often a series of repetitive rhythms and it was his voice that made a difference), everything he did was inspiring. In the eyes of an eight years old boy, Michael was, without doubt, what I wanted to be. After watching Michael, who cares about being a doctor or a pilot anymore?

Then I watched Moonwalker at the cinema. Looking back, the movie is actually quite disjointed. It doesn't really have a strong story line to hold it together. However, this was Michael at the height of his fame. He couldn't go wrong and his fans tended to agree to that. I could only imagine now that my Dad must be confused as the movie was unlikely to make any sense to him at all, but to me, it was a revelation. The thing with Michael Jackson was, he'd redefine the meaning of being cool and bring it to a whole new level, just when you thought you'd already seen how cool he was. That's what he did with Smooth Criminal. The white suits and the fedora hat, how Michael defied gravity by leaning forward around 45 degrees, the splendid music video, the catchy music with unlistenable pronunciation (that was true! I'd give up learning English if the teacher forced me to write down what Michael sang), that was Michael at his peak, I believe. 

Moonwalker was released during the Bad period. Thriller may be the biggest selling album of all time, but I always held Bad with the highest regard. It was the first English record I ever owned, courtesy of my Dad. He bought the CD, quite rare back then. I remember wondering why it had an extra song called Leave Me Alone whereas my cousin's album in a cassette form didn't have it. Love almost all the songs in it, except Speed Demon. It also came with a video game or two, the arcade version, which I didn't really got a chance to play, and the Sega Mega Drive version, which I owned. I mean, what sort of Michael Jackson was I if I didn't own a game where I could immerse myself into the ultimate Michael Jackson experience, spinning my way through the enemies and throwing the white fedora hat at them? And of course there were those signature dance moves, too!

Things went downhill after that. Michael got himself into all sorts of problems in the 90s, which were damaging. His output, ranging from Black or White, Remember the Time to Heal the World, was still going strong, but at the same time, there was this widely reported molestation case. It was a very confusing time. It was a pre-internet era, therefore we could only read on newspapers and had only the faintest idea about what molesting actually was. In fact, back in the 90s, I don't think any parents in Pontianak would be very keen to discuss about molestation with their children. It was either taboo or very hard to explain.

In hindsight, the problems that plagued Michael seemed to drain out his creativity, too. By the time he released HIStory, it was as if it would be the last time we heard of him. There were still good songs such as Childhood, They Don't Care About Us or You Are Not Alone. There was also this image of Michael in pseudo-army suit everywhere, but that was it and he became irrelevant afterwards. Blood on the Dance Floor didn't feel like an album and I didn't even bother to check it out anymore when he released Invincible. By then, he was newsworthy only for his antics rather than anything else, a pretty sad turn for a man who once was known as the King of Pop.

I don't remember much about This Is It. Had a glimpse of it and I thought, "okay, so he finally decides to get his act together." But the concerts didn't happen. What came next instead was his death, and it was a death to remember. It was one of those deaths that you'd remember for life where you were when you first heard of it. For me, I was at the trading arcade, fixing a GL trading platform issue for my customer. That's when I saw the news on the television right in front of me. It was hard to believe and even harder to accept. The feeling immediately prompted me to deny the news. It was like, "come on, he is Michael Jackson. He can't be dead, right?"

It was surreal, really. When the movie was released, one could see how sorry the state he was in. A 50 years old man, so skinny that we could see his shoulders curving up, Michael was so frail that it must be daunting for him to perform the upcoming 50 concerts. Perhaps it was a good thing that he didn't make it. However, the movie also captured Michael at his happiest moments: when he was on stage, rehearsing. It was visible how he loved every moment of it. 

I was busy rediscovering Michael again after his death by reading books such as Moonwalk and the one written by Jermaine Jackson. I smiled a lot when I did that. After all those bad publicity, it was refreshing to be reminded about how talented Michael Jackson was. I knew him since Bad, but he started much earlier than that as a member of the Jackson 5. A great singer and a brilliant performer since he was very young, Michael gave his all and he touched many along the way, including yours truly. I'm thankful and that's how I choose to remember him. Rest in peace, Michael. Thanks for making this world a better place... 

The Bad 25 box set. 

Sang Raja Pop

Saya duduk bersama putri saya menonton cuplikan film This Is It di awal bulan Mei ini. Saya beritahukan padanya, "pria ini bernama Michael Jackson, seorang legenda. Perhatikan kakinya dan lihatlah caranya menari." Saat itu putri saya diam saat menonton sehingga saya tidak tahu apakah dia mengerti apa yang saya maksudkan, tapi di satu sisi, mungkin saya hanya bercerita untuk mengenang kembali, apa artinya Michael untuk saya. 

Saya ingat seperti apa rasanya menjadi anak yang tumbuh menjadi remaja di tahun 80an. Waktu itu hanya ada siaran TVRI untuk ditonton. Saya beruntung karena di rumah ada antena parabola sehingga mungkin bagi saya untuk menyaksikan siaran dari negara lain. TV3 dari Malaysia adalah stasiun TV yang paling mantap dengan bahasa yang bisa saya mengerti di saat itu, paling tidak ketika TV3 menampilkan acara berbahasa Melayu. Suatu sore, TV3 menyiarkan serangkaian video musik Michael Jackson. Saat itulah saya menyaksikan untuk pertama kalinya video-video seperti Billie Jeanthe Way You Make Me FeelBeat ItBad dan Thriller (yang membuat saya ketakutan setengah mati).

Hidup saya tidak pernah sama lagi semenjak itu. Saya tidak pernah melihat orang menyanyi dan menari seperti sebelumnya. Gaya Michael dalam menendang (bukan moonwalk, tapi saat dia mengibaskan kakinya dalam sepersekian detik, jika anda tahu apa yang saya maksudkan), betapa seriusnya dia ketika beraksi (jika anda perhatikan, Michael hanya tersenyum ketika dia berhenti bergerak), kegembiraan yang timbul saat melihat dia bernyanyi (lagu Michael seringkali berirama sama dan suaranyalah yang membuat lagu itu hidup), sepak-terjangnya sungguh menginspirasi. Di mata seorang bocah berumur delapan tahun, Michael adalah seorang idola. Setelah menyaksikan Michael, anak kecil mana yang masih ingin menjadi pilot atau dokter? Saya ingin menjadi seperti Michael! 

Kemudian saya menonton Moonwalker di bioskop. Kalau saya lihat kembali, film tersebut sebenarnya agak aneh karena tidak memiliki alur cerita yang kuat dan menghubungkan setiap adegannya. Namun ini adalah Michael di puncak kepopulerannya. Dia tidak bisa berbuat salah dan para penggemar menyukai apa yang ia perbuat, termasuk film ini. Saya hanya bisa membayangkan betapa ayah saya pasti merasa bingung karena film ini sama sekali tidak masuk akal baginya, tapi tidak demikian halnya bagi saya. Michael senantiasa menerobos ambang batas dan mendefinisikan ulang arti dari gaya, mutu dan keunggulan. Dan itulah yang ia lakukan dengan Smooth Criminal.  Pakaian jas putih dan topi fedora, bagaimana ia berdiri dan memiringkan tubuhnya seakan menentang gravitasi, video musik yang luar biasa, musik yang mantap dengan lafal yang tidak bisa dipahami (oh ya, saya akan berhenti belajar bahasa Inggris jika guru les memaksa saya menuliskan lirik yang Michael nyanyikan), sekali lagi Michael berada jauh di puncak. 

Moonwalker dirilis pada periode album BadThriller mungkin saja merupakan album terlaris sepanjang masa, tapi Bad adalah album yang paling berkesan untuk saya. Ini adalah album bahasa Inggris pertama yang pernah saya miliki. Ayah saya membelikan CD-nya ketika itu (saya sempat merasa bingung karena album CD tersebut memiliki lagu ekstra berjudul Leave Me Alone, sedangkan kaset sepupu saya tidak memilikinya). Saya suka hampir semua lagunya, kecuali Speed Demon. Saat itu Michael begitu populer sehingga game-nya pun ada. Ada dua versi, yang pertama adalah versi arcade yang bisa dijumpai di Orbit Wonderland. Satunya lagi adalah versi Sega Mega Drive dan saya memiliki versi ini, sehingga mungkin bagi saya untuk bermain sebagai Michael, mulai dari melempar topi sampai menari. 

Namun keadaan mulai berbalik menjadi buruk setelah Bad. Michael mulai dirundung masalah di tahun 90an. Lagu-lagu pada era tersebut, Black or WhiteRemember the Time dan Heal the World, masih populer. Namun pada saat bersamaan, Michael dijerat oleh kasus pelecehan seksual. Masa-masa tersebut adalah masa sebelum internet, jadi kita hanya bisa membaca beritanya lewat surat kabar. Selain itu, yang namanya pelecehan seksual juga sulit dimengerti bagi anak remaja tahun 90an, jadi saya tidak paham kasus seperti apa yang dituduhkan pada Michael saat itu. 

Sepertinya tidak berlebihan jika dikatakan bahwa masalah yang menimpa Michael juga mengeringkan kreativitasnya. Tatkala ia merilis album HIStory, ada perasaan bahwa itu mungkin kali terakhirnya saya akan mendengar tentang Michael. Lagu-lagunya, ChildhoodThey Don't Care About Us dan You Are Not Alone masih tergolong bagus. Lalu Michael terlihat di mana-mana dalam pakaian tentara, namun itu adalah terakhir kalinya dia terlihat relevan. Blood on the Dance Floor tidak terasa seperti sebuah album Michael Jackson dan saya bahkan tidak lagi peduli untuk mencari tahu ketika dia mengeluarkan album Invincible. Setelah itu dia hanya muncul di berita karena tingkah-lakunya, suatu hal yang menyedihkan untuk orang yang dulunya menyandang gelar Raja Pop.

Saya tidak banyak mengikuti perkembangan This Is It. Saya hanya sempat melihat bahwa dia mengumumkan serangkaian konser dan saya berpikir, "akhirnya dia memutuskan untuk melakukan sesuatu." Tapi konser itu tidak terjadi karena Michael tiba-tiba meninggal. Peristiwa tersebut adalah suatu kejadian yang akan saya ingat selalu: saat itu saya sedang membantu klien saya yang mengalami masalah dengan sistem jual-beli sahamnya. Mendadak televisi di depan saya mengumumkan berita meninggalnya Michael. Berita itu sulit dipercaya dan lebih sulit lagi diterima. Hati kecil saya membantah, "hei, dia ini Michael Jackson. Dia tidak mungkin meninggal. Pasti ada yang salah." 

Rasanya seperti mimpi. Ketika film This Is It akhirnya ditayangkan, barulah saya mengerti betapa buruknya kondisi Michael saat itu. Di usianya yang ke-50, dia begitu kurus sampai-sampai bahunya seperti terangkat naik. Michael terlihat begitu rapuh sehingga 50 konser yang akan dijalaninya pastilah membebani mentalnya. Saya jadi iba melihatnya. Mungkin ada baiknya dia meninggal sebelum konser. Jika ada satu kenangan manis di film tersebut, maka itu adalah sewaktu Michael terlihat gembira saat latihan. Dia selalu suka berada di atas panggung. 

Setelah Michael meninggal, saya membaca lagi buku-buku seperti Moonwalk dan sebuah biografi yang ditulis oleh Jermaine Jackson. Saya tersenyum saat membaca kisahnya. Setelah begitu banyak publikasi yang buruk tentang Michael, saya diingatkan kembali betapa berbakat Michael itu sebenarnya. Saya mengenalnya sejak Bad, tapi dia mulai jauh sebelum itu, sejak dia masih menjadi anggota Jackson 5. Penyanyi dan juga bintang yang luar biasa dari sejak kecil, Michael memberikan segenap talentanya dan menyentuh begitu banyak orang di dunia ini, termasuk saya, dan saya bersyukur untuk itu. Beristirahatlah dengan tenang, Michael. Terima kasih karena telah membuat dunia ini menjadi tempat yang lebih baik...

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