The Reach of Jocko

Michael Jackson left Neverland DOA. Millions of THRILLER fans around the globe mourned his passing with flowers deposited before US embassies. My younger friends in New York reported that on the night of his death club-goers danced to a frenzied and endless cascade of Michael Jackson hits from the Motown years on into the 21st Century.

THRILLER was his Mount Everest and the hit-spawning monster sold over 100 million albums. This epic success earned him worldwide recognition, although I never understood how far his influence had penetrated the masses, until I was crossing Sulawesi’s Lake Poso in 1992 in the middle of the night. Most of the passengers were Indonesians, although one German woman was traveling on her own. Her name was Ulrike.

The long prau motored close to the shore of the 1500-meter high lake. Around midnight rising winds forced a stop at a remote village. The hamlet had no electricity. The locals cooked food by fire. They lived in wooden shacks, A young boy strummed Indonesian love songs on his guitar . Somehow Ulrike and my conversation turned to Michael Jackson.

“Michael Jackon is #1.” She was clearly a big fan.

“For dance music, yes, but there’s not one song of his that you could play around a campfire.” I protested to be difficult.

My thesis was immediately proven wrong by the young guitarist playing BEN, Michael Jackson’s first solo #1 hit from a movie about killer rats.

We were halfway around the world from Neverland without a radio or TV, but Jocko’s song had reached these people. The young guitarist’s next song was a slow version of BEAT IT. The boy’s mother placed another log on the fire and the flames rose higher, as everyone gathered around the fire to join in the chorus.

We all knew the words. That was the strength of Jocko’s reach.

And few people can beat that.

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