This is a special episode of Surfing Pizza. Look, I’m just gonna stand up and introduce myself. My name is The Pizza, and I’m a Michael Jackson fan. I shouldn’t hide it. Michael Jackson has one of the most impressive vocal ranges in pop music; he’s an incredible dancer; and he’s recorded some of the greatest songs in history–iconic, magical, and he made motherfucking Thriller. Unfortunately, ol’ MJ’s always had some problems too. Yep, that’s what we’ll call the whole allegations/plastic surgery/baby dangling/noses thing: problems. I have ’em, you have ’em. This is normal. This is completely normal.
This is how it happened: I was getting into music, and I had a double deck Sony boombox. I wanted to listen to something that set me apart. I scrawled down some tapes I wanted, writing down Metallica, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, and Guns N Roses–all had popular songs on MTV in 1991. My parents didn’t think these were appropriate for an 11 year old, so they bought me a Michael Jackson tape—Michael Jackson, who at the time, the weirdest thing he had done was buy the Elephant Man’s bones and a monkey. The military drag, the pancaked and rearranged face, the llamas and leather jackets–it was freaky, but it was kind of cool too. And then the music, the videos– Beat It. Smooth Criminal. Dirty Diana. Rock With You. I totally dug all of it.
Then for Christmas, my grandmother gave me a Michael Jackson poster. This was not just any poster, but a promotional poster hanging in the record store. After explaining to the clerk how much I liked Michael Jackson, my grandmother asked if she could have the display poster. You can’t deny a grandmother’s request, and he gave it to her. And when I received this poster, I knew instantly that it had a very special and very different value. This wasn’t just something you could buy in the store. This was something collectable.
That’s how I got into collecting Michael Jackson toys. I’ve spent the last 3 paragraphs explaining how I casually amassed a huge collection of Michael Jackson crap. This is normal. This is completely nor—I’m a freaking weirdo. So hell, pull up your iTunes, put on your CDs, dig out your box of manky tapes–whatever it takes to play some Thriller, and let’s take a look at my awesome Michael Jackson shit.
We start with THE GLOVE. And socks too:
Everything Michael Jackson begins with the glove. And sure, I might have actually worn this a few times on Halloween. I might help deliver my children wearing it. The glove comes from a sketchy ad in the back of a magazine to mail away for a “glittery glove”, since Michael Jackson’s name was trademarked. The socks are an official item though, from the LA Gear ad campaign.
Next, the AM/FM Radio and Electronic Microphone:
Many of the MJ toys feature this canary-vest photograph. The AM/FM Radio features a smooth, airbrushed Jacko, while the Electronic Microphone is more rugged and shows facial hair. Another funny thing airbrushed out of this photo is that in the original, Michael is rocking a huge, gaudy women’s brooch on the front of the vest.
The radio gets one station, and through the magic of radio waves or gamma rays or something, the microphone transmits your voice through the radio so that you can sing along with your favorite singer, who is of course, Michael Jackson.
These wallets are some of my favorites, and I like the Thriller one best. I’m not sure that any of these are official merchandise.
Disney Adventures and Moonwalker for Genesis:
For all kids, there was that summer where Disney Adventures was essential reading material, where you got all your information from. Word on the streets was that Water Country USA had the best water slides, and that there were 25 things you didn’t know about Michael Jackson. Like he had a Monkey named Bubbles and brother named Tito.
And Moonwalker, that was the entire reason I opted for a Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo. It was one of the first games for the Genesis as well as one of the most frustrating games ever made. It’s also gotta be one of the weirdest games–you go around throwing fairy dust at goons and dogs to save little kids who are hiding in trunks of cars.
Next, a super pairing in the 80s–MJ and ET:
The ET Storybook:
Jackson and Spielberg were friends, and Michael Jackson was obsessed with ET. Spielberg famously said that if ET hadn’t visited Elliot’s house, he would have visited Michael Jackson’s.
In something that could have only happened in the 80s, Michael Jackson narrated the story of ET for the ET Storybook. He even recorded a song for the record called Someone in The Dark, also featuring the voice of ET. Yep, there was a MJ/ET Duet. But the record label hadn’t given Jackson permission to sing on the record, as he was under contract with CBS, and the ET Storybook was yanked from the shelves, making this a somewhat collectable and rare item.
The merchandising crazy continues with…
Temporary Tattoos and Stickers:
So we’ve got some temporary tattoos and a super sticker. The second set of tattoos in the center actually have nothing to do with Michael Jackson. I just bought them because the caricature on the card is obviously supposed to be Michael.
Comic Book and Rub On Transfers:
The comic book is from a series of Rock and Roll Comics that featured books on The Beatles, Dylan, KISS, and New Kids on the Block, among others. All were unauthorized, lending the publisher’s slogan, “Unauthorized and Proud of It”.
The thing I always remember about this comic book is that there are some racy ads in the back, since the publishers of the comic, Revolutionary Comics, also did a series of XXX comic books.
And more innocently, the Rub N’ Play Transfers, which magically transfer from the card to a piece of paper by rubbing them. It’s like stickers, only better.
Trading Card Gum and Buttons:
Wow. I have a lot of Michael Jackson gum. It’s about 25 years old now, and by the time my children inherit it, it will be like 50 years old. And each piece will be worth $1000 each. That’s a semester of college right there, kids. And they say I’m not saving enough money for the future.
The gum came in packs of Michael Jackson trading cards, which came with 3 cards and 3 stickers–and yep, I have complete sets of both. You might notice that Michael’s wearing lipstick on the wrapper of the cards. That’s because this is a rare and collectable misprinted wrapper.
And finally, I’ve saved the awesomest toy for last–
Cool Bear is a from Michael’s Pets, a toy line of plush animals based on the animals at the Neverland Ranch. You have probably never heard of these. Why didn’t Michael’s Pets become cherished and beloved dolls of the 80s? Probably the whole awkwardness of the crotch-grabbing, Peter Pan-looking, llama-owning thing. Parents took their kids’ hands in this section of the Toys R Us and guided them towards the more normal toys. Like trolls.
Each animal came with a cassette tape with a story about the animal, though the tape did not feature Michael Jackson’s voice. Cool Bear was the main character in the series, the one modeled after Jackson himself.
There’s the complete line of animals on the back. All of them are pretty rare, although you see them sometimes on eBay. I also owned the frog at one point, but sold it because it sorta weirded me out–you know, being almost 30, sharing an apartment with a Michael Jackson frog. It was big too. It seemed to be in every room I was in at the same time. How I came to deem Cool Bear as normal to have is just one of those things the brain justifies. Like eating fried Twinkies. Making out with that person that one night. Shopping at Wal-Mart. The brain justifies it. This is completely normal.