Bill Werde is editorial director of Billboard.
This is the second time in my life I've been heartbroken to miss a Michael Jackson concert.
The first time was when I was in the sixth grade, and my 17-year-old sister came home and surprised us with the news that she had tickets to the Jacksons' Victory tour at the now-defunct JFK Stadium in Philadelphia and wanted to take me, her spazzy little brother, to the show.
My mother-probably wisely-decided I was too much of a handful to be sent to the big city with only my sister as supervision. I've only recently forgiven my mother; actually, as I type these words today, I realize that maybe I really haven't.
I have two other early memories of Jackson. One was when I excitedly opened a giant, heavy box that my twin best friends had given me for my 10th birthday, only to find that they had duped me by stuffing the box with pieces of wood and newspaper. But the box also included a cassette tape of "Thriller."
The other memory was watching the "Thriller" video for the first time on a large, rickety projection screen at the roller skating rink near my home in Newark, Del. There were about 45 of us restless, wriggling 10-year-olds, who for 14 minutes all sat still as statues, riveted by what we were watching. MTV hadn't hit many of our neighborhoods yet and we were still too young to stay up for "Friday Night Videos" on NBC. For the rest of that birthday party, we all zombied and spun, falling over as often as we made it around the rink.
I've been blessed to live a life around music, as so many of you have. And as I sat reflecting in the days after Jackson's death, I can say that I've never experienced fandom the way I experienced fandom for Jackson. I bought postcard-sized photos of him in cheap cardboard frames with my hard-earned quarters at the mall: Jackson looking wholesome in a yellow sweater vest, Jackson looking sleek in a sparkly black jacket. I practiced moonwalking in my bedroom like every other kid on my block, in my town, in my state, in the country and all over the world. When the bus driver who took us to Bancroft Intermediary School finally relented and let us bring a boombox onboard for the long ride from the suburbs into Wilmington, it was always MJ on one of the two tape decks. "Mama say mama say my moc-cas-sins," we'd chant.
Somewhere, the love faded. Moonwalks gave way to breakdancing and hip-hop, "Thriller" was replaced by "Born in the U.S.A." And eventually I didn't just move on, but consciously left Jackson behind. His face got too strange, the songs too stale, the allegations too upsetting.