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Man in the mirror

To some, he is nothing more than Wacko Jacko. And, clearly from the headlines breaking everyday, Michael Jackson has done much to deserve it. He has been accused of child molestation ' not once but twice. He has transformed himself through a series of horrifying cosmetic surgeries from a smart black boy (picture above) to something that closer resembles a white woman (picture right). He lives a strange, secretive life surrounded by animals, kids and a few lonely friends on a ranch he calls Neverland.

And his music' Well, it's just not what it used to be.

But, once, it was really something.

In 1982, Michael and his music moonwalked their way into the hearts of 26 million people. That is the number of people who have bought Thriller, till date. Twenty years after its release, it continues to be the biggest phenomenon the music industry has ever seen, second only in sales by a million copies to Eagles' Greatest Hits.

Forgive the generation that grew up on N'Sync and Britney Spears their ignorance ' they are too young to know better. They see only the pale ghost of a man the world once knew.

To those even a few years older, MJ was everything.

His Jackson Five days may have missed many in our part of the globe, but for those on the wrong side of 20, Thriller is likely to have been one of the first LPs they picked off the shelf. They would have got goose bumps the first time it spun and Vincent Price's devilish cackle was released. They would have been torn by the vocal tussle over a girl between Michael and a strange man. (Forgive them as well; MJ fans too were young once and knew not who Paul McCartney was. They soon found out!)

Once the vinyl stopped spinning, they gently, lovingly guided the needle back to the opening grooves, to hear it all over again.

History (not to be confused with the misguided 1995 effort HIStory) was made.

Two years later, the magic was back. Forget the maudlin melody of Heal the World. (It later provided fodder for wisecracks everywhere. 'Feel the World' was a joke just waiting to happen.)

Turn your attention instead to a tune authored in 1985. Michael co-wrote the original 'we care' song ' We Are the World ' with Lionel Richie, to raise money for famine-afflicted Africa. It is one of the fastest-selling singles ever.

He followed it up two years later with another smash hit ' Bad. Though it didn't rival its predecessor in terms of numbers, the album packed in some memorable tracks, including I Just Can't Stop Loving You, The Way You Make Me Feel, Man in the Mirror, and, of course, the title song.

It wasn't just the tunes, it was some classy showmanship too. MJ invented the music video as we know it, the first to have a storyboard to go with the theme of the song.

By the time the cable revolution came to India, it was too late to catch the thrill of the first real video. It was too late to be awed by the eerie zombies of Thriller, which broke every rule in the book.

But the country still watched with adoration and glee when Black or White hit the tube. Not only was the catchy song an instant success, it brought to the screen the cherubic face of McCaulay Home Alone Culkin, and what was, for its time, the use of stunning technology to morph a seemingly endless stream of faces, one into the other.

And that was probably the last time Jackson stole his fans' hearts, the last time he would razzle dazzle them with his own blend of vocal hiccups, smooth dancing and (crotch) gripping videos.

It was all downhill from there. For the Thriller generation, it is still hard to shake the memory of the old Michael, the man in the mirror with a heart and some sweet, sweet soul.

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