Thursday, June 25, 2009

And we danced, on the floor, in the round

In 1983 I shared a house in the Wallingford district of Seattle with my best friend, her boyfriend, and a couple of other people who were friends of friends.

It was a 1920s bungalow, with a cobbled-together remodel enlarging the second floor, and a tiny backyard that could accommodate a barbecue. It was on N.E. 51th Street, a half block from a little corner store. The front porch had a wrought iron railing that was overgrown by a wisteria vine.

My friend and I worked as stagehands, being dispatched to jobs by our labor union. That summer work was slow, and my friend and I were low on the seniority list. We spent a lot of time at home together, collecting unemployment.

My friend's boyfriend bought a big TV, and subscribed our household to cable. It was the early years of MTV, and we had a lot of time on our hands.

My friend's mom had just given her an odd gift - an antique mah-johng set. We set up a card table in the living room, and taught ourselves how to play it.

I remember we used to walk down to the corner store and buy half-racks of generic beer (the kind with the white paper labels that said "BEER" in black letters). They came in squat brown glass bottles, and the bottle caps were printed underneath with rebuses - goofy jokes.

We'd play mah-johng and drink generic beer in the torpid heat of a Seattle summer, while in the background MTV played.

And throughout that summer, there was Michael Jackson on TV, dancing to "Thriller" and "Billie Jean" - tipping his hat, rising up on his toes, swiveling his pelvis far more than Elvis ever did, going "ooh hoo!" and glaring at us under a carefully corkscrewed ringlet falling over his eyes. There were staring corpses. Lit-up sidewalk squares. Clean white spectator shoes.

Can you believe he got Vincent Price to narrate "Thriller"?
Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'all's neighborhood

And whosever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Shall stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse's shell.

The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty thousand years
And grisly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom

And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the Thriller.
I never saw Michael Jackson perform live - although I saw a lot of shows. But I remember that summer, when he was on my TV everyday. Whenever I hear those songs, that summer comes fully up in my memory.


Tristan Robin Blakeman said...

That's what I"m going to remember, too - not all the tabloid garbage.

He was such an astounding showman - and like Elvis, Judy, Frank, and Barbra, crossed audience boundaries and became an icon within his own lifetime.

Kate said...

Great memories of a summer when Micheal's singing and dancing dominated the music scene. I can't get those songs out of my head and think back to Thriller Days and remember that I was deep into my training as a doctor, working long hours, but feeling full of life and full of his music, dancing in the round....

yes indeed.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

Those were the good MJ years, indeed.

My oldest daughter was born that year, and I was married and busy and a mother. I remember that loving those songs gave me proof that I was still young and hip.

I was twenty-four. How I wish I were that "old" now (but, of course, know what I know now, too).

Mama Mary said...

It's amazing how music can represent a time in our life and then take us back there in our minds and spirit when we hear it again. MJ's music was the soundtrack to most of my formative years (as you read in my post).
Love this post!

Anonymous said...

In my mind, I am walking down your street in Wallingford. Actually, I probably came close in reality!
Small world.