photo & text by nacrowe
honestly i only really came to appreciate this record a few years ago when i was teaching 6th graders in MYANMAR. this school was AMERICAN but i wasnt teaching AMERICAN or foreign kids, instead it was the sons and daughters of local business, political and military interests. the school was relatively new, less than 10 years old and was initiated to capitalize on what was assumed to be foreign corporate interest in the region as it became further democratized and open to foreign investment. sadly with recent events that optimism and hope seems to have been severely trampled upon.
i taught ENGLISH and i was always hesitant about utilizing AMERICAN cultural concepts as the basis for lessons. i was teaching the language and not necessarily the culture if that makes any sense. there were times i let that slide and as was the repeated case with music, especially JAMES BROWN, ARETHA FRANKLIN, LOUIS ARMSTRONG and RAY CHARLES. anyway so there i was teaching a typical class on HALLOWEEN, which the school promoted as an event, when i asked the class if they'd ever seen MICHAEL JACKSON's "THRILLER" video? they hadnt. well i fixed that immediately. i nixed the last half of class just to watch it twice. the kids were transfixed. the music, the choreography, the melody, the howling. from knowing nothing about MICHAEL JACKSON to dancing in the hallways and their next two classes (sorry!), they very much got the gist of the true spirit of HALLOWEEN.
so yeah, even 30+ years late on a culturally neutral, unbiased and unsuspecting audience full of preteens (the most critical of judges i would argue), that video still resonated like it did in the early 1980s. i was shocked. but there you have it.
does the THRILLER (EPIC, 1982) have some corny songs on it. absolutely. the PAUL MCCARTNEY duet "THE GIRL IS MINE" is beyond lame and cringe-worthy. the RICHARD CHEESE 2005 version with STEPHEN HAWKING is way better. "BABY BE MINE" and "HUMAN NATURE" are likewise pretty strikingly bad.
however, that hook on "P.Y.T. PRETTY YOUNG THINGS" still kills as shone with its repurposing to similar intoxicating effect on KANYE WEST's "GOOD LIFE" track off of GRADUATION (DEF JAM, 2007). of course "BEAT IT" and "BILLIE JEAN" are iconic stone-cold classics that dont need any vouching on my behalf. probably my favorite song on the record is "WANNA BE STARTIN' SOMETHIN'" which has a very "ROCK WITH YOU"-vibe from his previous outing OFF THE WALL (), my personal favorite record he did.
anyway, regardless of my opinion of this record and the merits of its individual tracks, this album crushed with pre-teens nearly 40 years after the fact in MYANMAR. i think that speaks for itself. it just devastates me that this opening of dialogue between cultures that i experienced seems to be on the way out just at the moment it was getting started.