June 25, 2009, was what looked like a beautiful day when I woke up in the morning for another thank Lord, I made it day, feeling summer all around me. And the coastal weather did look nice through the afternoon. Nobody had expected any sad story, not of Michael Jackson.
Around some minutes after three o'clock in the afternoon, a friend called me and said, "Michael Jackson is dead. He had suffered a cardiac arrest at his Holmby Hills home. Doctors couldn't revive him."
"What?" I said.
"Michael Jackson is dead," he further exclaimed.
"I am stunned, let me call you back," I said.
On the other line was my daughter whom I guess was coming up with the same breaking news of Michael's death. "Dad, did you hear what happened?" she asked.
"Michael Jackson died, right?" I said.
While my daughter was still on the phone, another call came from Maryland whose voice wasn't clear -- Michael's death has broken people down and everybody is talking about what might have went wrong in the King of Pop's sudden death after going through some rehearsals the previous day in preparation for his O2 Arena concert in London.
"Ah, they killed him," my friend, Emeka Amanze, would say. Another call came from a friend who said, "Babe, I know you love music and you love Michael Jackson... it's sad he died." The calls kept coming in, Michael Jackson is dead.
I have been speechless and do not know what to do. Michael Jackson is gone and we all hope he finds peace that eluded him while on Earth.
On June 4, I had blogged on Michael's new image and the O2 Arena concerts coupled with movie deals, record deals, memorabilia, world tour and other packages that was going to net him a staggering four hundred and something million dollars by the time he's done with all the shows. He never made it. He's gone.
I have vivid memories of the 70s Motown blasts. As a little kid, Michael, little as well, had already turned what would be Hitsville into something else, evolving from a 5-year-old singing sensation to a superstar by the time he turned 13. The group Jackson 5 had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and the whole world had seen a rising star.
While in high school through the late 70s, the Jackson 5 went through many paths --Motown, Philly Sounds and Epic Records. Growing up in the disco era when Harry Wayne Casey and colleagues at TK Records changed our moods catapulting most to the top, disco fever was all over and, the epidemic was widespread and had become hard to find a cure. We all had been stricken by this disease called disco fever and in UK, it was more like the 1920's influenza epidemic.
When disco popped up, Michael was still there, and an incredible talent about to blow up. He had been a Jackson 5 all along, cutting some solo singles on the way. During the days of our high school ballroom dances, proms and other social events around the dorm, Michael was there but not loud enough. There was the pure funk engineered by George Clinton which saw the likes of Bootsy Collins' chained Rubber Band and Uncle Jams Parliament/Funkadelic. And there was the New, New Super Heavy Funk ordained to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, as Minister, who had been Michael's mentor in those amazing steps. But then again, came da groove, da soul, da funk and da dance, a collective from the three major recording concerns of back in the day studio recordings that exploded in the 70s through the 80s.
Berry Gordy's Motown, Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's Philly Sounds and Dick Griffey's Sound of Los Angeles Records were the three major labels that produced top performers in between two decades in the class of funk, soul and R&B.
The competition was tight and the vibes came in different flavors. But Michael was special from the moment he went solo after Jackson 5 opened up acts for James Brown, and Gladys Knight and the Pips. That did it. Hits upon hits were made. "ABC." "I Want You Back." "I'll Be There," etc. and Michael's number one single on the Billboard charts "Got To Be There."
I was not into Michael and all the Jackson growing up tunes which blended rock, soul and funk until the Jacksons first all out written songs produced the album "Destiny." That was in the summer of 1978 and the single "Blame It On The Boogie" began to jam around all the pubs, the hangouts and in my neck of the woods. You don't blame it on the sunshine, you don't blame it on the moonlight, you blame it on the boogie; such was the vibe.
Also, before the "Destiny" album smashes, Teddy Pendergrass' "Life Is A Song Worth Singing," album, Chic's "Le Freak Ces't Shit," Fat Larry's Band "Down On The Avenue," George Clinton's "One Nation Under A groove," Brass Construction's "Changing," B.T. Express' "Bus Stop," T Connection's "Do What Ya Wanna Do," and the reggae explosions of U Roy, I Roy, Nicodemus, Prince Jazzbo, Dillinger, Mighty Diamonds, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Johnny Clark, Max Romeo, Burning Spear, Lee "Scratch" Perry coupled with the studio time sessions of Sly Dumbar and Robbie Shakespeare, had made significant impacts in my days, growing up.
"Destiny" changed all that and Michael had just arrived, independent, free of Gordy, an adult, already 20 and ready to prove his point. In every gathering, ballroom dances, the melting nite clubs, even at the makeshift mama put, the roadside food joints, "Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)" was the song of all songs. Anywhere you go, you got to shout, dance and shake your body to the ground because the rhythm was so compelling one had no choice. Yes, let's dance, let's shout... A blend of of some soul, jazz and funk had been ushered in and disco had begun to wane.
Da moves, da groove, da dance and da funk, Michael turned everything around. In every party you got to shake that your body to the ground. But hey, it wasn't long after the overwhelming commercial success of the "Destiny" album that the original studio rat, Quincy Jones, found home in the complex of Epic Records for a thorough and tasty dish we all will be licking our fingers up until today.
The year was 1979, and it was around summer, I think, and we were just hanging out on the front porch of Esther's Beer Parlor at 21 Item Street, D-Line, Port Harcourt, and everybody was just loud, perhaps for the fact that US and UK imports invaded our entire neigborhood. This was before Boy George's Culture Club and Eurythmics invaded the United States. Yes, it was nothing but US, UK imports overshadowing our local ensembles -- Wings, The Apostles, Doves, Heads Funk, SJOB Movement, Black Children, Black Souls and the rest.
Hanging out at Esther's and academic pursuits, and youths on job hunts, was just fun. There was Kaje Igwah, George Ekweh, Fidelis Awasianya, Mike Uzoma (I nicknamed him Jack Lord, and he took it), Onyema Uche, Mike Ozulumba, Kawawa (never knew his real name), Ajamiwe "Ajammy Junky" Ihekwoba, Obiora Ihekwoba, Cornelius "Hugo" Kanu, Charles Douglas, Joy Douglas, Eddie Bongo Brown of Nteje who loved storytelling and numerous others. The girls stopped by a whole lot and the gist always was about Michael and what had happened to the music world.
Da moves, da groove, da dance and da funk, Michael Jackson, a new era had just begun. Igwah, Ekweh and I had just been back from what youngsters normally do. We walked into the complex of 21 Item Street, and the place was being blasted with some loud speakers set up by Ajamiwe, and the music was what the studio rat had cooked for a year, and the artist was none other than Michael, and the album was "Off the Wall," and the track was "Don't Stop till You Get Enough," and it was all boys and girls, and the party had just begun and we all had fun. Never have I seen anything like that. Da moves, da groove, da dance and da funk, Michael Jackson, it's a new era.
So did the grooves of Michael's vibes and those amazing steps took us to the jams at Orupolo Nite Club, Lido Nite Club, Manatee and the Presidential Hotel Night Club on Aba Road. You can never stop until you get enough. Every dish in "Off the Wall" was well cooked and tasty. Quincy Jones, the studio rat, did it here superbly. Michael has exceeded superstardom, but the best is yet to come.
I was in Lagos and my hangouts were similar to the Port Harcourt days. There was the Afternoon Jump at the National Assembly complex that had been turned to jam sessions, and radio DJ's, Pat Oke, Jacob Akinyemi Johnson, Bode Seriki and many others stopped by to spin, and Michael's "Off the Wall" was always on top. Michael has taken over all the airwaves rocking every soul.
Da moves, da groove, da dance and da funk. Everybody wants to be like Mike. The glittering white socks. The tux. The gloves. The handcrafted custom made shoes. Michael conquered the universe. It was all over the pubs in Lagos. Club Phoenicia at Bristol Hotel. Gondola Nite Club. Ikoyi Hotel. Jazz Temple. Club Ace. Fantasy Nite Club. Tagged Restaurant. Durbar Hotel Night Club. Ritz. Hot Spot. The local pot-smoking joints in the ghettos of Ajegunle, Mushin, Agege, Iponri, Amukoko, Orile, Olodi and the surrounding red light districts, you name it, Michael was all over rocking with every soul. He was simply the best. I had emulated my rhythm and dance steps from him. And we never stopped until we got enough.
The studio rat had thought about Michael's remarkable success and how "Off the Wall" brought in a new era. He went back to Epic to prepare some more delicious dishes. Right On, Black Beat, Hit Parader and Rolline Stone Magazines wrote extensively about it -- a new blend had been in the making.
As of 1981, when Brothers Johnson, Kool & the Gang, Shalamar, Dynasty, Delegation, Whispers and Klymax had trooped to rock National Theater, Orile, Iganmu, courtesy of Ben Bruce Murray's Silverbird Productions, we Michael fanatics wondered what had happened in a new album. But our worries would soon be over.
In 1982, what would be the biggest selling album in history -- covering rock, funk, soul, R&B and jazz funk in a new generation -- was out with all casts. Eddie Van Halen. "Beat It," "Billy Jean," "Thriller," "Wanna Be Starting Something," and all that funk. The music videos, first of its kind in the modern era. The concerts and all the awards. Motown's 25th Anniversary and hell getting loose upon Michael performing the moonwalk suspense "Billy Jean." The Grammys. The Hollywood Walk of Fame.
There was nothing like that moment when Motown came home as predicted by Diana Ross in "Someday We'll Be Together." I watch that classic all the time for many reasons: memories, my boyhood, Michael's "Billy Jean," Richard Pryor's character, Diana Ross, Berry Gordy and how he built Motown and developed Hitsville.
When the 1984 Grammy Award nominees were announced, the news spread fast. I had walked into Suru Lere Nite Club for happy hours with my colleagues before the jam sessions. The news was all over. And we were in Lagos not in Hollywood. Michael's "Thriller" had 12 nominations. Lionel Richie had been assigned to MC the one of its kind function. Puerto Rican native, Irene Cara, had been scheduled to perform her hit single "What A Feeling." The talk was all over town. The newspapers and magazines carried it. Michael Jackson had won 8 of 12 Grammy nominations including Best Rock, "Beat It," smashing all records. Michael Jackson is the new King of Pop. He earned it.
And right now, we have a legend. It's a bottleneck driving through the Jackson's family compound on Havenhurst and Ventura Blvd. in Encino. The entire area around his Holmby Hills home by Sunset is totally closed to the public. There has been a 24/7 vigil on his star in Hollywood. His songs are played 24/7 on every station that knows what the stuff is all about.
Michael, you are a legend. The King of Pop. You called the shots in showbizness.
Rest In Peace, my man!
Michael Jackson visits Freddie Mercury backstage. 1980.
Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, who team up on duets, are seen recently in a recording studio. Jackson was 5 when the Beatles invaded America. He and McCartney also spend hours together watching cartoons. Both are collectors. (1983). Image: Linda McCartney.
The Jackson 5, the famous pop singer group, where Michael Jackson began his singing career at age five with his four brothers, pose with legendary singer Diana Ross. (1970)