I was in K-Mart. There was a steel bin of tapes in awkward, hard plastic sleeves. Thriller was laid out on its side. At first, I thought it was a mistake. The record couldn't just be out there for anyone to get so easily. I grabbed it out of the bin and brought it close to my eyes to make sure there wasn't some strange duping going on.
"What is that?" my dad asked me, suddenly curious as to my interest in music over the Star Wars toy I had left in the bin for the record in my hands.
"It's good," I told him. "I need it! Please!!"
My dad was suspicious. He eyed it for some time. I could see his eyes rest on the $9.99 sticker. I thought for sure it was over. I had to use every ounce of my persuading skills.
"What kind of music is this?" he asked a bit confused by the cover.
"It's the #1 record! Everyone has it!! Trust me!!! There are no cuss words. It just talks about love and peace and there are lots of people who have it--Zhan has it! Other people have it too! I can learn from this record. It can help me."
"How can this music help you?"
"I will study harder with my math. I can listen to the music and do math."
"You cannot mix dancing with the mosque."
"But Dad! It's really good. Can I please I have it? I promise I will be so good. I will score a goal in soccer. I'll do lots of math. I will get an 'A' in math."
"You have to keep studying. Do not mix."
"I won't mix. I just need to listen to it a couple times."
I don't know if there was any time between listening to the record, getting the red jacket with all the zippers, or learning all the dance moves; but there I was in 1983, practicing the Thriller dance in my living room with all the kids in my neighborhood in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. I was in my socks on the hardwood floor, trying to get the right amount of slide in my zombie wiggle. My mom clapped her hands. All I saw and heard was the rhythm. I had to get it right. Just like I saw in the video over at Zhan's house. If I move my hands here on this note, then I have to raise my elbows--now!
I bought every record after Thriller--even Dangerous! I would listen to the songs and memorize the lyrics. If he came on television, I would wait hours for his spot to appear. When I heard that a Bahai friend had a live tape from Germany when I was well into my teens, I still had to have him pull out the tape to get a chance to see him wow the crowd and myself.
"He is so good," I told my friend.
"Yes," my Bahai friend agreed. "He is a great representative of peace."
"Yes, he is helping to spread peace."
I didn't think Michael was a messenger of peace exactly, but after he said that, it began to make more sense. His songs were really positive. It was like watching everything a human being could be with music--the dancing, the melodies, and that voice! I would spend hours trying to sing like the guy. Later, I would hear lilts of Michael on records I made with different music groups. Each time I heard the King of Pop come through in me I would smile. I would remember what a role model he had been for me, how he was more than an icon for a young Iranian immigrant in America, because he represented the power of music on a world scale, crossed every boundary, and could not be categorized. He was everyone and everything. That type of freedom is something I have not seen any artist rival ever. Michael Jackson is truly a legend beyond words.