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There's another reason beyond the ones you've read this week why Michael Jackson was a significant cultural figure: He was not of the boomer generation.

Reaching the peak of his success in the early 1980s, Mr. Jackson was the first post-boomer megastar. He was a star the boomers' children could claim as their own - or would have, had the boomers not, boomer-like, intruded.

The boomers were not a generation temperamentally inclined to cede the cutting edge to their children. So what I remember most about the Thriller era is children kitted out in full Jackson gear being photographed by their beaming parents, teenagers being escorted to Jackson concerts and parents moonwalking beside their children to the music that they already under-

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stood would flood the dance floor at those children's weddings.

In response to their own parents, they had sworn they would never reject their own children's music, hair or clothes; they had come of age listening to Bob Dylan sing, "Your old road is rapidly agin'/ Please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand," and they selected, unfortunately, the second option - seizing upon Mr. Jackson because he made that hand-lending so easy.

The video for Thriller begins with a teen Michael Jackson enjoying a 1950s date with a girl. It's campy, sure - his letterman jacket, her bobby socks, a classic convertible and of course, wow, it's white - but that scene is something else: It's safe as houses.

Cleverly (from a marketing standpoint), the video reaches out to the parents first. "Hey," 1950s Michael almost says, "look at me, boomers: I am you! Relax. Your kids are safe with me." Vincent Price's voice in the video also soothes parents with its familiarity and reminds them that this is a horror movie (and a parody at that), not a true horror, which, for parents, their children's music can - and should - be.

If you want to know the day the music didn't exactly die but certainly took to its bed for a while, it's the day that Mr. Jackson had the words "Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult - Michael Jackson" appear on the screen at the start of Thriller .

Heaven forbid. I believe he was anti-zombie to the end. No wonder the boomers fed Mr. Jackson to their children.

Not that, say, Off The Wall is unpalatable, but Mr. Jackson was very much Motown and very much Broadway - the Beat It video is Cool from West Side Story minus, notably, the violence and sexuality.

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The man who offered up the value-laden cautionary tale of Billie Jean ensured that the boomers' resolution not to become their own startled parents was effortlessly achievable.

While a lot of people will tell you that Thriller was their first album, few will complain that their parents wouldn't let them play it in the house.

One can listen to Mr. Jackson's music and say he was talented and that much of the work endures. But what one won't say is the one thing that truly groundbreaking pop music makes one say: "My God, what must people have thought?"

I'm not convinced of the "groundbreaking" label applied repeatedly to Mr. Jackson this week. Arguably he broke the MTV colour barrier only in the way Ronald Reagan brought down the Berlin Wall.

Also I'm tired of people excusing the ridiculous and possibly criminal aspects of his life by insisting, "He had no childhood." He didn't have a great childhood, but it's not as if he'd been raised in an Austrian crawl space.

Eulogized everywhere as a mystery, Michael Jackson was essentially deeply middle-class. But in the same way that it's safer to embrace Madonna as subversive and look no further, he is now being immortalized as an enigma.

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He's the unthinking man's eccentric.

The truth is that, like many unhappy people, Mr. Jackson tried various things to make himself happy. Of course, he had the resources to try far too many things for way too long, so the results were exceptional, but the things he did try - an amusement park, a chimpanzee, cosmetic surgery, drugs and lots and lots of shopping - are exactly the things middle-class Americans believe will make them happy.

That's not eccentricity; that's excess. Something that as a culture we're much more comfortable with.

Mr. Jackson, while gifted, always felt like a controlled explosion detonated to pre-empt more unpredictable, devastating explosions - just what a pop-savvy parent might unconsciously want.

"Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts," as Paul Simon (a boomer) wrote. Perhaps one generation let their parents do the heavy lifting.

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