I’m steeling myself for the next few days of non-stop tributes to Michael Jackson, and the impact he had on American pop culture.
Nothing will persuade me of that fact more than my memory of an extraordinary event in a community where I once lived. That event tells me all I need to know about what Jackson meant to American youth.
It was the summer of 1984. I had just moved to Texas, settling into a new job way down yonder in Beaumont. Jackson was at the peak of his popularity. “Thriller” had come out and billions of kids around the world — including my then-10-year-old son — began moonwalking their way across the planet.
The operators of Parkdale Mall — Beaumont’s version of Westgate Mall — had this bright idea: Why not stage a Michael Jackson Impersonator contest? So, they announced plans to invite every Michael Jackson wannabe to the mall to participate in this competition.
The Jackson knock-offs came, all right. Hundreds of them, in fact. Then the mall operators’ worst nightmare began to unfold before their eyes: They didn’t have enough room to accommodate the impersonators and the crowd of spectators, numbering in the thousands, that had come to witness this event.
We can’t go on, the mall gurus said. So, they announced to the huge crowd that had packed the common area inside Parkdale Mall, that the event would have to be postponed until they could locate a larger venue.
All hell broke loose! The crowd rioted. The police were called in to quell the disturbance. The Beaumont Police Department arrested several rioters.
And this was because of the crowd would be deprived of the chance to watch a bunch of Michael Jackson pretenders strut and kick and dance their way across a stage.
I shudder to think what would have happened if Jackson himself had canceled a concert in Beaumont. They would have burned the place to the ground.
Did this guy have an impact on pop culture? You bet.
Oh, and my son — who turns 35 in a couple of weeks — can still moonwalk with the best of ’em.