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News |  26 Jun 2009 12:43 |  By anil

The good die young - RIP Michael Jackson

MUMBAI: The year: 1996. Thousands of fans have formed serpentine queues running into miles outside the venue where Michael Jackson is supposed to perform in Mumbai. Kids are screaming, begging to be allowed in but, security is high and only the lucky few who have got tickets are allowed in. The concert at the Andheri Sports Complex was put together by Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's nephew Raj Thackeray and his Shiv Udyog Sena.

The heat is intense, sweat is pouring down, MJ fans don't let it bother them. Being a member of the press, I am up front, about 10-15 rows from the stage in a special enclosure. The fact that I am standing, and I am being jostled and  pushed around does not perturb me. As a 33 year old then, I am still a rock solid fan of Michael Jackson, music's greatest entertainer ever, in my opinion bigger than the Beatles and even Elvis Presley and John Lennon, thanks to the power of global television. I have got the ticket after scrapping with the agency which was dishing out the tickets.

In a short while I break through the ranks and move up further with the clock ticking down to the opening performance. As the act begins, we have MJ descending from a crane overhead or emerging from a rocket, I can't recollect amidst an explosion of smoke. And my heart skips a beat as I am transported to another world of gizmos, technical wizardy, over the next sixty minutes as I witness nay participate - one of the most electrifying performances and acts I will ever witness in my life.

MJ sets the stage alive, he moonwalks, breaks, waves, spins, and even clutches his crotch, with consummate ease. Every act, every move, every step  is so precise. It is magic. He is much more a delight than what I had imagined him to be. He belts out Beat It, Scream, They Don't Care about us, amongst several others. The venue explodes as fans go berserk with shouts and yells, and I find myself screaming Michael We love you.

Child molestation allegations, body transformation, be damned, I tell myself with tears in my eyes. This is MJ, Michael. The musician, entertainer who stood out as a stellar performer from the time he began to groove as a 4 year with his brothers as the Jackson 5.

I call my daughter Prerna  amidst the blaring music who was only seven then - on my brick cell phone and tell her to listen over the phone, to listen to MJ, a  once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She has seen MJ on TV, she relates somewhat, and she shares in my excitement. I am joyous, I am ecstatic, I am gone in simple terms.

People may find the hysteria that I experienced unreal and childish, but I did experience it. And I am glad I gave into it. Because Michael performed as though his life depended on it. It was a special moment, I will never forget as long as I live. I have attended other concerts: The Rolling Stones, Police, Jethro Tull, among many others. But none of  them comes even close to what I experienced that day.

So today, the news that MJ died following cardiac arrest came as a shocker which jolted me. His death came on the eve of what was to be a global tour from next month. He was rehearsing in Los Angeles for the tour, when the life went out of him. The tour was drawn up to help him connect with his existing fans and a new generation,  and get back some financial muscle. Tickets to the Los Angeles concert sold out in a few hours, that's how much he was still adored.

He attained global acclaim with his best selling album Thriller which sold around 27 million copies world wide, and has possibly sold more than that since then. This was Michael who loved to dance, who sang songs with a shrieky voice, but the lyrics resonated with you:  They Don't Care about us, Heal the World. The  first expressed the angst all of us youth felt, the second tried to send out a great message of love and togetherness. MJ was a multibillion dollar industry along with Madonna, another performer of his generation. He collectively sold more than 750 million copies of all his albums during his lifetime, pocketed 13 Grammy Awards.

The fact is MJ was one of music's most misunderstood performers especially in the last two decades -  because of the bad press that followed him. He fell a tad from grace (the persona that was MJ, that is)  from my perspective following his alleged misadventures and eccentric behaviour. But his music and his performances never did. And that is the memory I choose to cherish.

The good die young. And good musicians especially do. Remember Elvis, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury and now you  MJ, you with the single  sequined  glove,  you with the clean and smooth dance moves and moving music and lyrics, and you with a heart that truly loved children, may you rest in peace.

Click here to view Michael Jackson's 1996 Mumbai Concert

The author is Anil Wanvari -'s CEO and editor in chief