A few weeks back Michael Jackson -- without question the greatest performer of a generation -- announced he was setting up his circus tent in London for a last-ever stint of fifty concerts.
My reaction: pure, liquid joy.
Bad was the first tape I ever bought, closely followed by Thriller. I spent an entire Christmas check from my grandma -- twenty-five dollars -- on a VHS copy of Moonwalker, which features the 45-minute cut of the "Smooth Criminal" video and which I still keep at home today. During little-league play, I carved out a reputation for Michael Jackson-style dancing in the outfield. I helped set the Guinness World Record for people dancing "Thriller" simultaneously. And I count among the happiest moments of my life the time my mom met me at the airport after returning from the Peace Corps with a copy of the as-then-unheard Invincible CD.
MJ has also been the white whale of live performances if you happen to live in the United States. In the past twenty years, the King of Pop has headlined a grand total of four shows in the US. That counts two shows in Honolulu on the HIStory tour, and two mega-birthday-parties-slash-celebrity-fests at Madison Square Garden, for an average of one show every five years, all of which I managed to miss.
Add in how the British pound is plunging, international airfare's bottoming out. And who needs an excuse to go to London?
With three laptops and two iPhones I assaulted Ticketmaster at midnight, when tickets went on sale in London. Forty minutes later I scored four pricey tickets, then did a little dance when the confirmation email came through.
Look. I hear you. Dude's weird. I wouldn't let him order a pizza, much less let him look at my kid for more than two seconds. He looks fake and deranged and acts like a guy who has way too much money and way too few people saying no. He's a full fifty years old, meaning there's a good chance he's going to sit out some songs or employ a squad of impersonators to lip-synch "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and the other sweat-stinking dance tunes. Who knows if the pipes are still there.
And there's a good chance he'll flake, or cancel, or get lost in a zoo, or die of an extremely rare genetic disorder. Nothing would surprise me.
But I'm not going to hang out with MJ. I'm not going for his babysitting services. I don't expect him to move around like the superhuman robot panther he used to be. And if he's not going to dial up some primo Michael Jackson strangeness, really what's the point?
Like the million other people who bought tickets, it came down to simple joys. I want to see one of the planet's great shows with my own two eyes, to hear childhood anthems with people I love, to absorb the theatrics of this man's fairytale life, to scream out at his irresistible impossible stardom.
You've seen the crowds at his concerts. They're on the edge of rapture and system failure, ecstatic fainting and orgiastic song and holy crap that guy can move and this was the song I heard on the van to summer camp and do you remember that awesome part of the video where they do the forty-five degree lean?
Same reason people go to the Rolling Stones every year. Same reason Clint Eastwood keeps taking home award-show hardware. Same reason dads take their kids to major league baseball games.
The sweet elixir of nostalgia supported by a still-terrific-if-not-quite-as-good-as-you-remember-it experience.
"Thriller"? "Billie Jean"? "Man in the Mirror"? Hell, "Captain Eo"?
Come on. I'm biased, but also one-thousand percent certain there's no recent musical showmanship -- though Kanye comes closest -- that matches MJ's majestic scale of spectacle.
And for one night in London this fall, I get to witness his last great grasp at glory. As Mike would say: a-hee-hee!