A little kid’s thriller


by Nikki Mantell on July 13, 2009

The year the Walkman came out was the same year as the release of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. Maybe more accurately, it was the year the Walkman came out in my world – the world of a Grade Fiver at Chelsea Elementary whose parents finally broke down and bought one for her birthday.

To say it was revolutionary would not be an overstatement, speaking of both the first ever portable, personal listening device, and the world’s best selling album of all time.

Pop in the tape, put on the headphones, and suddenly a black kid from Gary, Indiana was singing straight into the skull, into the heart of a little white girl in the country. I thought the earth had shifted on its axis the day those first base beats of “Billie Jean” pumped into my ears.

My days as a Grade Fiver living in my parents’ home in Chelsea were spent mostly kicking around alone in the woods. There was only one other kid living within biking distance on our dirt road, and Harper-Lee Overli was too into Barbies for this tomboy. Afternoons and weekends (not all, I did have friends but that required asking for a drive) were spent hiding under a low canopy of branches that served well enough as a fort, carving out stick swords, and generally roaming the forest.

I actually knew what Micheal Jackson looked like, thanks to the half hour “Video Hits” show that came on just before dinner on one of the three channels we got on our rabbit ears.  His white glove was mysteriously exciting, and something just went pop inside me when those coloured squares lit up as he danced across them.

City kids probably got to hear him a million times on “ghetto blasters” playing on the corner.  We didn’t have ghettos, we didn’t even have corners.

The Walkman meant never asking your sister if you could listen in while she played her music, it meant never being yelled at by your parents when you tried to play yours. For the first time in your kid life you had control over when you could listen to music. It meant actually having music that was… yours.

On my Walkman, Micheal Jackson was singing to me, and only me. I felt like my life in the sticks was connected to something bigger, and MJ went everywhere with me. I wasn’t some bored little kid scuffling down a dirt road in rubber boots, I was strutting through scenes in a movie based on my life and “Thriller” was the soundtrack. And this was how I wanted my life to sound.

I didn’t become a musician, or a dancer in some hit show who needs to wax on about the great inspiration that was Michael Jackson. I took breakdancing lessons at Chelsea school just to learn how to moonwalk and thanks to Ms. Glover’s drama class at Philemon Wright High I know all the dance moves (and words) to the song “Thriller”.

But he was there when I first fell in love with music.

To a black kid who gave his entire life to creating great songs, thanks from a little white girl in the woods.