I’ve always said that this was my first concert, but I’m pretty sure I’m wrong. I saw the Oak Ridge Boys at the Ionia Free Fair around the time of “Elvira” and the internet tells me that must have been on August 5, 1981. (I think I also saw Cheap Trick there, which would have been August 2, 1983).
But the Jacksons Victory Tour was the first concert that I was super excited about. I was 12 years old and I was a very big fan of Michael Jackson. Like everybody else on the planet I had been completely captivated by Thriller. I had watched all of his videos and cheered for him on the American Music Awards and the Grammys, but this was the chance to see him in person! At the time of this show I don’t think I had yet listened to Off the Wall and I had definitely never heard Destiny and Triumph (still haven’t). All I knew was that I was going to see Michael Jackson!
Getting tickets was something else. First of all, they were $30 each which may seem cheap now but was crazy at the time. Especially for my recently widowed mom. And you couldn’t just buy them. There was some convoluted process whereby AAA members could purchase blocks of four tickets. My mom’s best friend had AAA and she had a babysitter who was about my age and liked Michael Jackson too. We came up with a plan where the babysitter would stay in line all night and buy the tickets for us. In return, my mom’s friend would buy her a ticket.
This seems preposterous to me as I think about it today. We dropped an 11 or 12 year old girl off in the evening to wait in line all night long with a bunch of strangers? With $120 in cash? Her parents let her do this? Really?
We got our tickets though! And the babysitter wasn’t abducted or assaulted or robbed or anything. So when August 18 came we all drove across the state to Pontiac together. The Silverdome, where I had previously seen a demolition derby and a Lions game with my dad.
Our seats were in the nosebleeds. But it didn’t matter. I was in the same room as Michael Jackson. And there were lasers and fireworks. And it was awesome. That’s basically all I remember about the show.
Watching footage from the tour on YouTube today, the preposterous “Sword in the Stone” introduction doesn’t even look vaguely familiar. I remember my mom explaining to me that most concerts weren’t as elaborate as this one. Looking at the set list, I wonder if I was disappointed by so many songs I didn’t know.
At the time I had no idea that Michael had been bullied by his father into doing this tour with his brothers instead of embarking on a solo tour at the height of the record setting popularity of Thriller. The video footage makes it clear that his brothers brought very little to the table, musically or visually, and they certainly did not add to the draw. Nobody was there to see Tito, Marlon, Jackie, Randy or even Jermaine, who had a minor hit that summer with “Dynamite.” Michael could’ve sold out stadiums on his own, and everybody knew it.
But none of that mattered to me back then. I had seen Michael Jackson in real life and he blew me away.
We drove home after the show, but I was too wired from the experience to sleep. The babysitter was spending the night on our couch and we would drive her home in the morning. My mom went upstairs to bed, and the babysitter and I stayed up late talking about everything. I wanted to kiss her, but I was too scared to make a move. Not even the spirit of Michael Jackson could embolden me. But maybe Michael Jackson has a different effect on girls, because she leaned in and kissed me.
I turned 13 five days later.
The Jacksons Victory Tour 84
August 18, 1984
$30 (includes $2 service fee)
Section 338 Row 22 Seat 25
Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
Things I Do for You
Off the Wall
This Place Hotel
She’s Out of My Life
Let’s Get Serious (Jermaine)
Tell Me I’m Not Dreamin’ (Jermaine and Michael duet)
I Want You Back / The Love You Save Medley
I’ll Be There
Rock With You
Workin’ Day and Night
Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)
Video: The Victory Tour in Toronto
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I previously wrote about MJ back in 2003: Michael Jackson Is Weird: So Fucking What?