Breezy is 8. Her parents, Papa and I sometimes talk about how much we miss the baby Breezy. She is growing much too quickly. But we all agree that we love conversing with this older, wiser Breezy. She is simply, in a word, amazing.
Earlier this year, when she was but 7, she, her older sister, Papa and I were dining at Taco Bell. Breezy was eating her usual: two tacos, meat, cheese, and sour cream only; fiesta potatoes; nachos with cheese; and a Sprite. It’s a lot of food for someone not yet 50 lbs. She’d probably pack up the tacos for a snack later.
I was absent-mindedly singing along to a Michael Jackson tune that was blasting from a speaker somewhere in the restaurant. “You know that song?” she asked. “Oh, yes, that’s Michael Jackson,” I replied. “My daddy likes Michael Jackson,” she told me.” “Yes, and he likes Phil Collins,” I said. Breezy had never heard of him.
“Call your daddy,” I said, “ask him who he likes more, Michael Jackson or Phil Collins.” I would have bet it was Phil Collins. She called, and the answer was Michael Jackson.
Always the opportunist educator, I took my cell phone and looked up pictures of Michael Jackson and Phil Collins. Papa and I began to explain that when MJ was a little boy, he was part of a group, with his brothers, called the Jackson Five. I showed Breezy a picture of a young MJ with the group.
She studied the picture for a short while, then exclaimed, “Michael Jackson was black?” She was surprised. I was laughing on the inside, but merely answered, “yes, he was black.”
“How?” she asked. She was curious, so we explained what we knew about his taking medicine to change skin pigment and plastic surgeries. I showed her a You Tube video of Thriller. She said she’d heard that song before. That’s pretty much how our conversation of MJ ended. You can only stay in Taco Bell so long; it was time to pick up and go.
The conversation made me think though. It’s interesting to see kids learn things from a more historical perspective than from a “we lived it” perspective. MJ would have been 60 in August of this year; I turned 60 in June.
I literally grew up with him. He started his career in 1964, the year I started first grade. I remember seeing the Jackson Five perform on the Ed Sullivan show. Ultimately they had their own variety show.
I’m not sure when MJ started changing his appearance, but by 1983, when we were in our early 20’s, he already looked significantly different. This was at the time when he went out on his own with Thriller and other music videos. I watched them, along with the rest of my generation, on MTV.
I lived through his marriage to Lisa Marie Presley and the birth of us three children, two by Debbie Rowe, his wife of three years, and the third by a surrogate. I saw baby Blanket, his youngest, dangled from a balcony by his dad. I followed the news of child abuse allegations and watched his trial, at which body guards carried umbrellas to shield the star from the sun.
And, at 50, I heard the report of his death by propofol, an anesthetic given to patients to induce a coma during surgery. His doctor gave it to him 60 nights in a row to induce sleep.
Michael Jackson died in June of 2009. Breezy was born in June 2010. She knows nothing of MJ other that what she hears from family and friends or the media. She didn’t live through MJ’s many changes in appearance over the years. Her thinking he was a white man, based on his later pictures, comes honestly.
When you’re watching something as it happens you have no idea how it will end. When you learn something historically you know from the beginning how it ends. However, you are at the mercy of historians, the media, and others from whom you hear the stories.
What Breezy will learn about MJ remains to be seen. It will depend on her interest in him, and if his music is significant to generation Z, or to her individually, based on her dad’s interest.
One thing I know is that she now understands that MJ was born black.
As I stood at the counter at the hair salon, where I penned these words, a familiar sound came from the speakers. It was Michael Jackson’s sweet young voice singing with his brothers. I smiled and tapped out the beat on the granite as I waited to check out. I turned and walked out the door, ready to face the late summer day with sweet precious memories of childhood lingering in my mind. I was thinking of when MJ and I grew up together.