The legend lives on

Updated: 2009-07-11 06:57

By Nicole Wong(HK Edition)

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The legend lives on 

Two rare photos showing The King of Pop in Yue (Guangdond) opera costume during a video shoot in Hong Kong with local braodcaster TVB back in 1987. Ta Kung Pao

As heartbroken fans around the world mourn the death of Michael Jackson, devotees and admirers in Hong Kong have their special ways to remember the King of Pop. From reveries and memories to public memorials, local fans pay tribute to the genius and legacy of Jackson on the Hong Kong culture and music scene.

Among the many mourners in this town, perhaps no one takes to heart Jackson's passing more deeply than American musician Howard McCrary. A Grammy-nominated musician who moved to Hong Kong in 2005, McCrary met Jackson in 1979 and toured with the Jackson 5 early in his career.

The collaboration developed into a close friendship that carried on throughout the last 30 years. Jackson hosted the McCrary family at the Neverland Ranch twice. The two last met at Jackson's 45th birthday party, a private affair at a hotel in Los Angeles, where McCrary sang and celebrated the occasion with the Jackson family.

"I remember Michael as an angel of a guy. Whenever we got together, be it with friends, family or for a project, he's always very soft-spoken, genuine and kind. He was never aggressive, and I never heard him use a bad word about anybody," McCrary recounted.

On the day Jackson died, McCrary got an early morning phone call from his daughter Sarah who told him the news. He even hoped for a fleeting moment that the whole thing might be a publicity stunt, but McCrary knew his anguish was real and that his lifelong friend was gone. The only way he could find to ease the pain was to write Jackson a letter.

"It's the only way to reach out to him," McCrary said. "Every musician I've spoken to in Hong Kong grieves over Michael's death because we know we'll never get another star like him. As a friend, I've always believed in his kindness and his love for people, despite all the rumors and allegations against him."

While McCrary and his fellow musicians have no plans for a tribute concert, the singer-songwriter is composing a song in memory of his friend. "I had a dream where Michael came to me with the lines of the song. When I woke up I went to the piano and dictated it at once," he said.

The memories of Jackson are particularly vivid for music lovers who grew up in the 80's. Local music critic Yuen Chi-chung was one who spent his early teens swept up in the excitement of Thriller and Jackson's ascendancy to fame. Yuen recalls the superstar as one of the dominant icons of the early 80's.

"Jackson was an almost omnipresent figure in the culture at the time. From TV shows to comic books or even government publications, Jackson was the ultimate superstar icon. Even people who didn't listen to music caught the buzz, when Thriller turned out a big hit in town."

At the time Yuen was an avid lover of American Soul/Funk, so Jackson's 1982 classic was a natural addition to his playlist. Along the streets, youngsters mimicked Jackson's moonwalk at the bus stop, on the train and amid the throngs of pedestrians along the streets of Hong Kong. As a means to express his admiration for African-American musicians, Yuen got himself a deep suntan.

"I thought it'd be cool to be black," he contended. "At that point Jackson didn't have an immediate impact on the Hong Kong music scene, because producers had no idea how to instill elements of "black" music into Canto-pop. The prevalent influence was the emphasis on music video and dance."

"There are more appearances of group dance in music videos. Some producers started to borrow a few tricks about audio effects from Jackson's videos, and used them in local productions," Yuen noted. "Later in the 80's pop stars like Alex To and Danny Chan tore a page from Jackson's book in their dance and performance style."

Local fans have celebrated their idol's life and music in different ways and in different places in recent days. At a tribute in the Olympian shopping mall on Tuesday night, the Hong Kong Michael Jackson Fan Club chairwoman Jessie Chan remembered the greatness of the King of Pop and his affect on music lovers.

"Members of the fan club made a small percentage of the well-wishers. There are many Michael Jackson fans in Hong Kong," Chan remarked. "He's probably the most popular Western artist in Asia. It's as if we'd seen the death of a god, since his accomplishments can never be equaled."

Jackson fans bid an emotional farewell to the superstar while watching the live broadcast of the Los Angeles Memorial early Wednesday morning. Eva Chow, a 30-year-old teacher, stayed up to watch the memorial so as to share her grief with legions of mourners from all over the world.

"It gave me some consolation to see that Michael is well-loved as a musician and the greatest entertainer in our time, despite all the troubles surrounding him towards the end of his life," Chow declared. "I fell in love with him at 4, when I watched him dance in a music video. He's the brightest pop star you'd ever see."

Louisa Wong, a 25-year-old graduate student, also mourns the loss of the one and only King of Pop. Wong became a Jackson fan in her early teens, and was particularly drawn to the social commentary in some of his later works. His dancing also inspired Wong to take up pantomime.

"He's the dancer to end all dancers in pop music. It's dreamlike the way he blended music and dance with soul in his performance, and you can read his mind from his movements," Wong said. "I'm an introverted person, so I took pantomime rather than dance lessons to learn to express myself through body movements."

Michael Jackson leaves a legacy that goes beyond his music. It is a legacy that carries on in the lives of those he affected and changed with his music and his incomparable presence as the undisputed King of Pop.

 The legend lives on

Left to right: Some girls are in tears at the MJ memorial held in a shopping center in Kowloon on Tuesday night, while guys show their respect by wearing their idol's trademark black-n-white outfit plus a black hat. One of the local fans holds an MJ doll in stage performance costume while another puts a red rose next to it to show love for their idol. Edmond Tang

(HK Edition 07/11/2009 page7)