Farewell, our Thriller Love. It’s Bad.


There goes a fellow we once loved. That’s the sad epitaph I’ve carved on his tombstone.

The announcement came to my phone too late for me to read it last night, and this morning when the wife cut through the last bits of my sleep to tell me she was rushing to catch Michael Jackson on Larry King Live I thought she was mistaking me for one of her girlfriends with a fetish for old men.

An hour or so later, I walked into the sitting room to find her all in tears and ten minutes after watching the world break down in various ways at the news, I almost joined her. Being a ‘hard’ African man, though, the eyes stayed dry but I must admit that the heart quivered a bit as memories and realisation spread from my mind downwards:

I flushed MJ when it became evident that he was a child molester one way or another, but I never begrudged him his apparent desire to change the hue of his face. The child molesting thing was betrayal in a big way, considering how much emotion some of us gave this guy – but I never, ever stopped buying, pirating or listening to his music the way I have fools like Chris Brown the woman-beater.

Watching the Larry King Live review today though, I thought about MJ some more, and then thirty minutes later I had a discussion with a Radio Presenter who runs a Current Affairs programme on Saturday’s who was faced with a dilemma over how much time to give to MJs death vis a vis something stupidly stereotypically Ugandan like… ‘Who will (mis)manage Kampala City’ or ‘What’s the Fate of Independents in NRM’.

I told him to focus on Michael Jackson, as in my opinion and experience there are many relevant points for any Ugandan to pick up from him, besides the nostalgic.

Speaking for myself, in early 1983 I was the freshest kid in my school (Buganda Road) and even though we didn’t have a video deck at home, I had already watched the Thriller video and, more significantly, I knew about Michael Jackson and could do some of his moves. I recall distinctly giving some character a video tape pilfered (polite for stolen!) from an aunt of mine (I haven’t confessed yet…) in exchange for a music video tape that had the Beat It video on it, and spending not little time at somebody’s house (I think the Rwanyarare’s?) dancing those moves.

But most importantly, his story is definitely one to learn from – beginning with the fact that even as a child he was so hard-working. I remember reading then, in Jet and those other magazines, how much of a perfectionist MJ was – his sister too (Janet)! These siblings perfected their dance steps into an art form that kept them on a form that very, very few Ugandans attain in anything.

Then, the dogged determination of their father in building them into what they eventually became (the artiste/performer/model part, not the paedophilic, narcissistic one). The same Radio Presenter above spent his programme last Saturday discussing Father’s Day and news reports on the shortcomings of Ugandan fathers in general – not so the old man Jackson, if his children’s professional achievements are a measure!

Back to myself on this same theme though, there are not many promises that I remember my father making and breaking, but among the significant ones is one he made in excitement on the verge of closing some business deal, which involved getting all of us ‘Jacksons’. Remember those trousers? The ones with Zips? They were kind-of-denims but of a lighter kind (I always suspected they were Japanese, but I don’t know why). He didn’t deliver the damn Jacksons and I therefore never owned a pair, and felt bad about it for about a whole year. Even after they had gone off-fashion…

Nonetheless, I went off them, as I eventually did MJ himself. When the reports of his wealth started to reveal themselves, like after the Pepsi deal, he was out hero! The richest black man in the world. But then there followed more reports that made him seem like the usual monied black chap – mbu he owned a chimpanzee, and a zoo, and a house with a compound as big as three or four districts (pre-today’s district sizes, of course). When he visited Tanzania wearing a mask, it was over for me, and I just stuck to his music. Ergo, it mattered little to me that he married white women, or ‘bleached’ his skin and sharpened his nose.

I ignored most of the other news about him till The New Vision broke the news that he was considering investing in Uganda. My other sources had confirmed the story that Richard Branson had convinced Michael (that’s what the guys who really knew him – like my source – called him) and a few other rich guys to put money into Uganda. They were supposed to build up some satellite cities here with mega-entertainment complexes within a Safari Park or something.

Until some other newspaper ran a headline about Kony chopping off someone’s nose. We all knew MJ and his nose issue, so apparently he wasn’t going to risk anything, and withdrew from the project. Discussing his withdrawal then, I remember sitting down with a bunch of journalists and telling them I would also have withdrawn. In fact, I argued, stupid stuff like what Kony was doing then was also good reason for any African to try to change their skin colour.

But the fellow was being treated unfairly, news turned up, because his skin colour wasn’t being changed by some vaseline – it was a disease! Vitiligo, I think it is called!

Anyway, there goes a fellow we once loved. A true great, in his day.