Monday, June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson, The Steelworker's Son

I was surprised to learn from CNN that the father of Michael Jackson, the man who drove them to music, is a retired steel worker. And when it was further revealed that he was born in Gary, Indiana, wow, I said to myself, there goes Michael Jackson's steelconnect.

I could easily surmised that Joe Jackson, the father, had worked in US Steel, Gary Works. Fifteen miles from Gary Works is Bethlehem Steel, Burns Harbor Plant. This is where we stayed and trained from February 28 to May 9, 1986 in the operation of Blaw Knox 5 Std cold rolling mill which our company. In fact, days before our training ended, some of our co-trainees from the production group were allowed to visit the Gary Steel plant. When I learned that I was not included on the list to go there, I decided to visit my relatives in New Jersey. I took a Greyhound bus from Howard Johnson in Portage for a short trip to Chicago's O'Hare airport. I could not forget that ride, for I rode alone, and I remember too well where we made a one city stopover: Gary, Indiana.

Gary, Indiana is a steel city near the border of Illinois (near Chicago) and Indiana. It is in fact a city built by steel. It was named after Elbert H. Gary, then the president of US Steel who in 1900's, built this steel mill along the sand dunes of Lake Michigan. Soon after, four other big integrated steel mills, namely, US Steel, Bethlehem Steel, Inland Steel, LTV, and National Steel were built along the shoreline of Lake Michigan stretching 50 miles between the Illinois Stateline and Portage.

I have fond memories of this tiny county, Portage. During our stay there, our official address was 164 Oak Tree Park, Portage, Indiana, a subdivision of mobile houses where mostly retired and old Americans live.

In those early years of steelmaking, steel was king in Indiana. In its heyday, Gary Works accounts for a little more than half of US Steel group total operating production. For many years, it was also the center of automobile industry, not Detroit, Michigan whom we knew is home to the Big 3 auto companies.

I don't know if these steel mills are still there and operating. Starting in the 80's, US steel industry has declined and until now, it has not yet recovered to its once lofty position as one of the world's greatest steel manufacturer.

MJ's father, Joe Jackson, may have seen the writings on the wall early; just as we also experienced and felt in our days the downfall of National Steel Corporation. So he jumped ship and dedicated his time and effort to developing his children and making one of them, Michael Jackson, a music icon, a pop legend. How he pushed his son(s) to stardom is another story.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Michael Jackson of My Time

It's not difficult to relate to the worldwide outpouring of grief and tributes to the fallen music icon whom they call the " king of pop". After all, he lived in my time and I grew up with his music and artistry. He was 5 and I was 8 when he started to anchor as lead singer of a "brothers act" known as the Jackson 5. The rest is history.

In my teenage years, we would mimic his falsetto voice and studied in guitar their songs which we would sing in private and in gatherings, including caroling. To cite my favorites, Happy, La la la Means I Love You, I'll Be There, Ben, Maybe Tomorrow, Music and Me, and of course Little Drummer Boy, and Give Love on Christmas Day which I would still sing every Christmas.

His One Day in your Life came out in my senior year in college, at the time when we were grappling with the thought that soon we'll be entering the real world and part with friends. His melancholic " Out of My Life" somehow reflected my own love life in those days, so how could I not feel sad and sentimental when now it is being played and replayed all over again?

Then came the 80's and by now going solo, Jacko hit the top. Discos were filled with his signature danceable hits, Billie Jean, Beat It, Thriller, the highest selling album of all time, with over 50 million sold out copies. To me he revolutionized or even originated the MTV.

As a young professional by then, we hooped and wooped it out. They say he broke up the barriers of race and culture, black and white, as his songs transcended all these. He also somehow broke up political ideologies. I was in Communist Soviet Russia in 1984, the year the Thriller album was released. Anything Western, including music, especially American were of course a disdain to the Communists. But I would often hear Billie Jean in the air waves, and that alone was already phenomenal.

Heal the World, the song he said he would dedicate to the Filipino people was a message universally addressed to the world (in addition to the 1984 We Are The World Single of USA for Africa which he and Lionel Richie and Quincy Jones composed). Heal the world, make it a better place for you and for me. This is the song which our group, Philipine Institute of Chemical Engineers (PIChE) , Iligan Bay (Philippines) Chapter sang with glee and passion during the fellowship night of the PIChE National Convention which we co hosted in Cagayan de Oro City.

I write this tribute to Michael Jackson, not the man (for I didn't like his private life) but the musical genius who had touched those of us who lived in his time. He was up there in the hierarchy of music legends, along with the other genius whom I adore, the Beatles.

We've been together for such long time in music. Now he's out of our lives. His was not a small way to change the world. We'll surely remember him and his place, one day in my, in your life.