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Remembering Michael Jackson’s Better Days

In the days to come, you will hear a lot of negative stories — some true, some not — about Michael Jackson. His squandered fortune. His strange health history. His failed marriages. But I can remember a time when “Michael Jackson” only meant good things.

I remember being five years old and listening to Bad on cassette tape over and over again. I remember being eight and playing Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker on my Sega Genesis until my eyes started to tear.

ÂI remember going to Disney World with my family and seeing Michael Jackson in the 3D movie Captain Eo. I remember how my friend Adam Litovitz could do the moonwalk better than anybody else in our 4th grade class. I remember the thrill of being allowed to stay up late and watch the video premiere of “Black or White.” I remember when Michael Jackson was more than a freak.

I’m 27 years old. Right before I left the office last night, I asked a 21-year-old SPIN colleague if he could remember a time when Michael Jackson wasn’t best known as a public train wreck, a punch line. His first memory of MJ was the “Scream” music video from 1995, but even then, he knew about the allegations of child sexual abuse.

I called my sister. She’s 19. Her first memory of Michael Jackson? “As someone who looked white but was really black.”

It’s sad to think that I might be part of the last age group that can recall when Michael Jackson was great.

I can remember when Michael Jackson was magical, charming, kind, and seemed as wonderfully superhuman as Mickey Mouse or a Transformer. I believed in him as a video game character and the captain of an intergalactic spacecraft. That’s why all my friends and I tried to mimic his dance moves on the carpet of Mr. Bryk’s classroom — he was a hero.

I remember when Michael Jackson was a joyous spectacle, not a sad one, and when his ubiquity was a good thing. I wish we all could say the same.