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Tracy Briggs, Published July 07 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Sorting through Jackson 5 nostalgia

Last weekend, I took on the dreaded task of cleaning out closets.

I find it really hard to do.

As a pack rat, getting rid of stuff goes against every fiber of my being. You never know when those size 2 stirrup pants from 1986 might come in handy. Fashion designers might suddenly rediscover the “Flashdance” look while I simultaneously lose 20 pounds.

It could happen. And I’ll be ready.

It’s really no different with my kids’ clothes. Even though it’s too small, how can I part with that adorable froggy jumper from their toddler days?

As I took on my daughters’ room, my 7-year-old, Laura, decided she wanted to help. We put on some music and got to work. The choice of music that day was a no-brainer. I put in an old cassette tape, “The Jackson 5’s Greatest Hits.” Michael Jackson had died a couple of days earlier, and Laura was full of questions as we watched the old and new video clips.

“Why do people like him so much?”

“Why was he only wearing one glove?”

“Why did his skin turn white?”

How do you explain Michael Jackson to a 7-year-old? How do you explain Michael Jackson to anyone? I decided to let his music do the talking.

As I sat sorting through the old clothes, I listened to “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” when I suddenly started to tear up.

I was surprised at my reaction. I always liked Michael Jackson, but I was never fanatical about him. In addition to the Jackson 5 cassette, I owned “Thriller” and “Bad,” but like so many of us, I lost interest in the 1990s as he became increasingly eccentric. Yet, as I listened to his clear, young voice I got very sad. What a loss. How could such an amazing, joy-filled talent end up the way he did: dead at 50 after a sad and bizarre few years.

Every song that day seemed to bring back a memory. For those of us born in the 1960s, Michael Jackson’s music plays like a soundtrack to our life. I remember singing “Rockin’ Robin” as a kid while walking to the Fargo South pool, as a young teenager dancing to “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough” in the school gym, and as a college freshman watching the “Thriller” video on MTV.

I tried to hide my tears from Laura because it seemed so silly. But when she noticed, I just told her the music was making Mommy sad.

Ironically, I remember seeing my mom wipe tears from her eyes while watching an Elvis special following his death. I didn’t get it. She never listened to his music. Why did she care? But I think I get it now. Elvis’ music probably evokes the same memories to her generation that Jackson’s does to mine.

Laura tried to reason with me about Jackson’s death.

“Mom, don’t feel bad. He was 50. He was going to die soon anyway.” Then to cheer me up she put on her music: a Jonas Brothers CD.

I couldn’t help but smile as I watched my daughter doing exactly what I was doing: folding clothes and singing to the music she loved. Like a little mirror image.

The only difference was the music. She knew every Jonas Brothers song by heart; I had barely heard of any of them. I guess they are her Jackson 5. It’s just the beginning of her musical soundtrack. In years to come what songs will evoke memories? What song will remind her of her first boyfriend or a favorite group of college girlfriends?

She’ll never understand what Michael Jackson meant to us baby boomers and Gen X’ers, just like we won’t fully understand what Elvis meant to our parents.

Music helps define the generations.

I experienced it firsthand that day amid outgrown clothes and great old tunes.

Briggs is a mother of two and a personality for WDAY AM 970