ben, the two of us need look no more

It was 1971. It was a little tiny town in Michigan (a town so podunk that when I visited it 25 years later, I called my mother to demand she explain where on earth we bought clothes). It was me, and a little black GE transistor radio. It was me, and a brand new school. It was me, and my friend Linda Fisher, who could dance, trying to teach me how to dance like the Jackson Five did in their Saturday morning cartoon.

My elementary school had two Jewish kids (me and my brother) and one African-American girl, who was adopted. Overwhelmingly, the music of choice in grades 1-5 was stuff like “Seasons In The Sun” and the DiFranco family or the Osmonds. I listened to it all, got the 45’s for birthdays, but hated it. I tuned into WLS across Lake Michigan, and would pull in bits of Motown coming in from the other side of the state. At that point it was just sheer feel, sheer instinct. What I loved. What I hated. What was interesting. What I couldn’t possibly understand.

But I loved the Jackson Five. I could watch them in cartoon form on Saturday mornings. I owned the singles, I did the moves as best I could (in the playground near the 5th grade classrooms, where there was a little corner out of sight). I tried to talk about it but didn’t have the words yet, not that anyone wanted to talk about the Jackson Five, exactly. All I knew as that the music made me want to dance. It made me feel happy.

It was a place to start.

When I did a list of my top 40 songs for my 40th birthday, “I Want You Back” was easily at the top of the list, without even thinking about it twice.

It would be so nice if this would be all that mattered, if the rest of it could be overlooked, and perhaps I am ungracious and unkind but I can’t sit here and innocently embrace all of Michael Jackson’s career or say that it was only the music that mattered. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth to try to do that. But I will remember how it was something else, something different, my first foray into liking something because I liked it and turning my back on what everyone else said they loved.