THE REACH OF JOCKO by Peter Nolan Smith

Four years ago Michael Jackson was found dead in the bed of a rented mansion in LA.

Millions of Jocko’s fans around the globe deposited flowers before US embassies and consulates to mourn the superstar’s passing.

I was in Thailand.

I saw a Thai cop cry.

My younger friends in New York reported that on the night of his death club-goers danced to a cascade of Michael Jackson hits from the Motown years to his CDs of the 21st Century.

THRILLER was his Mount Everest and this hit-spawning monster sold over 100 million albums. Its epic success earned Michael Jackson worldwide recognition, although I never understood how deeply 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 Indonesian, 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 my conversation with Ulrike turned to Michael Jackson.

“I danced to Michael at many nightclubs.” The DJs at Studio 54, the Bains-Douches, and Mudd Club loved THRILLER.

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

“For dance music, yes, but you can’t play one of his songs around a campfire.”

“What about BEN?”

“A song about a rat, no way.”

A young boy picked up a guitar. He sat by the fire. His fingers plucked notes.

They came from BEN.

“Fire, Michael Jackson. Song.” Ulrike was keeping her argument simple.

“Okay. One song, but none of the others can be sung around this fire.”

The young guitarist glared at me and played a slow version of BEAT IT.

We were halfway around the world from Neverland without a radio or TV. Jocko’s songs had reached these people on Lake Poso. His mother placed a log on the fire and the flames rose higher, as everyone gathered around the fire to sing the chorus.

We all knew the words.

I sang with Ulrike. We sang with everyone around the fire. The world was small. Michael Jackson was big.

“So?” asked Ulrike.

“I was wrong.”

“And you were right to admit it.”

Ulrike was right. The boy was right. I was right too, because it doesn’t matter whether you’re white or black.

Michael Jackson was the King of Pop.

Then, now, and forever.

From the North Pole to the South Pole.


To hear BEAT IT please go to the following URL

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