Catherine Naylor: Growing up with Michael Jackson's world

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The Independent Online

It was 1989. Hair flying everywhere, our brown lace-ups scuffed and knee-length socks falling down our shins, we stood together on the hot bitumen, ignoring the boys’ bulrush games as one by one, we tried to make our nine-year-old legs do the moonwalk.

Oh the innocence of it, when we had no qualms about spending a whole lunchbreak imitating a Pop God, when it was still the pure genius of Michael Jackson, unburdened by claims of child sex abuse, or shrinking noses, or baby-danglings over balconies.

Michael Jackson was one of those rare events – and his presence was too big to be contained within the human form – that pierced the self-encompassing nature of our Eighty-Baby childhoods. We might not remember the Berlin Wall coming down. Or Tiananmen Square. Or the Chernobyl disaster. But we remember "We are the World" and the famine in Africa.

Then as teenagers, when the weird stuff began and Jacko became Wacko, we felt a little horrified, a little disillusioned, like when you find out that your parents are not so infallible after all. We were embarrassed that we had been so foolish to do moonwalks in the playground, and angry that the innocence of our childhoods had now been somehow tainted by this fallen idol. We abandoned him, hid our cassettes, let them gather dust behind our new CDs of Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the Chili Peppers.

But he could still make us dance. At university, as we first experienced the freedoms of adulthood without the responsibilities, it was Michael Jackson that provided us with the anthems. It was Jackson that made us work the dance floor at those garish Retro-themed bar nights, when we would all, en masse, perform the "Blame it on the Boogie" routine or crink our necks doing "Your Black, Your White". We revelled again in the music, stripped of the headlines that had followed it the first time round. And then, perhaps, stilettos discarded, stockings laddered, we would attempt another moonwalk on the footpath that led us home.

And so yes, I am saddened to hear that Michael Jackson is gone, with all his fallen, tainted genius, and that this man who could make nine-year-olds dance under a hot lunchtime sun in Australia, and still dance 10 years later into the wee hours of the morning, had lived in the end such a devastated life.

But death can be kind to those it enfolds. The 24-hour music channel is playing all his hits. On Facebook, my friends write of their shock and sorrow, of how they looked up "Man in the Mirror" on YouTube and got all choked up, and how this death almost seems to mark the end of their youth, of our youth. In a way, it has resurrected the genius of the man, and made us remember the way he made us feel, when we did the moonwalk in the playground, trying to avoid the cracks in the bitumen and fighting over who really knew how to do it like Michael.