As a teenager growing up in Toronto, I went to at least one concert a week. You name it, I saw it. Performers like The Rolling Stones, Rush, James Taylor, AC/DC, Hall & Oates, Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, Carole King, and Bob Dylan passed through Toronto and put on incredible shows.
But nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to Michael Jackson in concert.
I was not only fortunate enough to see him in concert, I also covered the show for the newspaper I was working for at the time. My first reporting job was in Thunder Bay, Ontario and I was sent to Minneapolis, Minnesota to review and photograph the Michael Jackson Bad Tour.
I was the small town reporter working in Northern Ontario shooting photos with the big guys – Associated Press, Reuters, Canadian Press, all the dailies, all professional photographers from around the world. Was I feeling a little overwhelmed? Absolutely! This was brand new for me and I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing.
Prior to the show beginning, we were sent to a room where we checked our equipment, like soldiers making ready for battle. Load cameras with film – this was before the digital age – and double-check camera lenses longer than my arm.
Well, that was what the professional photographers were using. Me? I had my Pentax K-1000 with 80-200 lens. It was downright embarrassing equipment compared to the other guys, but it was the workhorse camera for every cub reporter across North America. This was the camera I purchased for college and the camera I was still using five years later. Along with my one, sad, little Pentax, I also borrowed a second K-1000, just in case.
And then it began.
We were escorted through the arena crowd to the "pit", the area between the stage and first row of seats. A no man's land where we could shoot the first three songs. Fans parted like the Red Sea as we made our way down. All I could think of was "THIS IS AWESOME!"
Suddenly the arena went dark and a giant screen lit up with an animated pair of shoes doing the moonwalk. A deafening roar came up and there he was. I have to admit that I had no idea what song he was performing. I was just too focused on being focused. I do recall having a huge smile on my face as I took shot after shot and then suddenly we were being rushed out of the area. That would have been it for the majority of photographers, but I also had to cover the show. So, in record time I left the arena, dropped off my camera equipment in my car, and rushed back in to find my seat.
Now, it was time to enjoy the music.
I'll be the first to admit that I was there because Michael Jackson was the number one performer in the world, but I wasn't a huge fan. I have always been first and foremost rock and roll. Michael Jackson was too mainstream, too polished, too Top 40 for me.
But when you talk about production value, dedication and plain raw talent, nothing and no one compared to Michael Jackson. He was born to perform and he really seemed to love what he did. And while I have always been impressed by his dancing, I had forgotten how well he could sing.
Some of the highlights included Billy Jean, complete with a moonwalk; the Thriller dance routine; Beat It, which included a magic act ending in Jackson hovering over the crowd; and Dirty Diana, the Prince of Pop rocking out with a bleached blonde female guitarist.
As Michael Jackson got older, he unfortunately, became better known for his outlandish appearance and activities.
But I'll never forget the experience, the crowd, the talent, and the greatest performer who ever lived.