I was staying at a friend's apartment on East Fourth Street on the Lower East Side in New York the summer "Thriller" broke on the airwaves.
It was sweltering, so I wore a bandana to tie back my longish hair, and prevent the sweat from sopping my face.
My friend had a fan that was wedged into the window but the cast-iron grate was bent back where thieves had attempted a break-in.
Floating up from the street, I would hear "Billie Jean" or "Beat It" or the entire album all hours of the day commingled with the howling from the men's shelter opposite my friend's building and the traffic and white noise of the city. One floor of her building was a junkie shooting gallery.
"Thriller" was pure pop confection, and its gloss and sheen had nothing to do with the grit that surrounded me, but it was the sound of the day. Except for "Billie Jean" and "Human Nature," I've resisted its pleasures. I've always been fond of the early Jackson 5 hits when Michael had not yet effaced his blackness.
Probably I've listened to "Thriller" all the way through once, at another friend's apartment in the Chelsea district of New York.
By my reckoning, the album roughly coincided with the repressive Reagan-Thatcher years, and lately I've become more interested in British punk and postpunk--Sex Pistols, Clash, Gang of Four, Buzzcocks, Au Pairs, Raincoats--neo-garage bands like the Strokes and White Stripes, and the Sugarcubes, Bjork's first band.
I'm losing interest in the moribidity surrounding the King of Pop's death. Critic Greil Marcus wrote that after Elvis's death someone released a single sung in the persona of Elvis's late brother Jesse: "Now you're gone / you can join me / and I'll see your face on the other side"--lyrics of that River Styx ilk. We can expect tons of hagiography and crap like that.
If belatedly, I surrendered to the Beatles, but Elvis and Michael not so much. A pop phenomenon of that magnitude, I think, rips a big blinding hole in the cultural fabric, and consigns everything and -one else to the margins, unfairly. It isn't a question of whether you listen to "Thriller" or not; when it came out, it seeped into our DNA. But it seems to represent the corporate convergence of maximum media exposure through mainstream pop radio, MTV, Internet and cable saturation--a global phenomenon.
I know it's a heresy, but I prefer the work of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, or for that matter Otis Redding and Smokey Robinson.