The Chicago Reader has posted a piece from its archives about the day Bad was released. It's not only a great late-80s pop-culture time capsule but a fascinating snapshot of how music fans saw Michael Jackson.

Pete, lithe and black, with his hair squared like Grace Jones's, takes a black magic marker and draws an erect penis on Jackson's image. His friend Mikey, a stringy Puerto Rican, giggles. Their box, a silver radio about half the size of Pete, is relatively quiet. From it comes a barely thumping bass.

"You think he's gay?" asks Pete, bursting with laughter.

Mikey can barely answer; he's holding his sides. "I used to think he was just, you know, weird," he finally says, all grins. "'Cause, you know, he was a born-again Christian or something like that."

"That's pretty weird!" cracks Pete in mock shock.

"You know what I mean, man," Mikey says. "He had a giraffe as a pet or something."

Most tributes to Jackson have made some sort of distinction between the musical prodigy he was early in his career and his later life as a plastic-surgeried, baby-dangling weirdo who liked to sleep with children. The article is a glimpse at the moment when Jackson's eccentricities were beginning to overshadow his music:

It certainly isn't for Amy LeBlanc, a 12-year-old accompanied by her mother, Donna, who isn't buying Bad. "I don't know," she says, clutching a Rose Records bag containing recordings by the Beatles and Ministry. "He just doesn't sound real anymore."

"Oh, she was absolutely wild about him!" Donna says.

"I was?" Amy asks, with the kind of embarrassed, condescending look only a child can give a parent.

"Don't you remember how upset you were when he burned his hair?"

"I was?" Amy asks again, scrunching up her face.

"Well, you have Thriller," Donna says.

"Yeah but, I mean, it was good. He was kind of a fad at school." Amy is the paragon of her peers' contemporary dress: Her hair is fashionably uneven. She sports an oversize facetious letter sweater, red high-top sneakers with rolled-up pants, a Swatch, and bead wristbands a-go-go. All these accessories serve to make her look like an androgynous wisp, which makes her next comments particularly ironic.

"He doesn't look like he used to," she says of Michael Jackson. "He's wearing so much junk on his face, he looks more like a girl than his sister."

Yet, even given all the record-store shoppers' comments, we all know how well Bad went on to do.

--Ann Friedman

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