Like many of my agnates who were teenagers in the 1980s, I have a a long musical relationship with Michael Jackson. I appreciate him.
And like most people all over the world, music is a nutty and mysterious trigger. Hearing AC/DC’s Hell’s Bells brings the scent of my friend Virgil’s 1980s basement space heater to my nostrils. Pretty much any U2 song has me in front of my TV watching Mary J. Blige singing One on the Grammys in 2006. I’ve adopted Teenage Dream as a love song for my wife, whom I met when we were in our 40s.
There doesn’t have to be a logic to all this. It’s music, and music is magical.
Billie Jean, a song that came out in 1982, has been forever adopted as a song devoted to controlled, mini crying jags over my mother, Jeanne M. O’Neil, who died last year. My family and I worked to bring her through her final months on Earth, as she suffered from a couple falls and the general deterioration of a brilliant 83-year old woman.
We covered the normal tasks that accompany these things— caregiver management, physical therapy help, nursing home research, talking to her & loving her, and then the journey through hospice.
It’s a lot of work. I love work. I thrived on the tasks. But on every Tuesday during this time period, late winter and early spring of last year, I’d wake up early and drive out to Winfield to get the kids to school. Then I’d exercise, clean up, and roam coffee shops in the western suburbs, working and taking calls in the current fashion of many a remote worker.
Getting away from the hospital rhythm and the language of medical wartime did something to me. So by the time I got my first vente skim latte, sat down at a small table, popped open the laptop and Outlook, I’d breathe out deeply.
With my earbuds in, and my Nike baseball cap down low, I’d put on Billie Jean. Turn it up to 11 and put my head down. The crisp start, the classic 8 beat, the snare that grabs, the entrance of every instrument. The lyrics were nothing, except for the misspelled “Jean”, which was all that mattered. The whole thing was just a cipher. My own code of grief and relief and exhale and steel for more. Four minutes and fifty three seconds of ear-bam.
Music is such a great jot of humanity.