Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Gone Too Soon

Okay, so it seems as though most of the world stopped today to pay tribute to Michael Jackson, who, for those who have been on the moon for the past nine days, died suddenly in his home on June 25th. I have watched transfixed as people have reacted with a startling sense of loss - I have seen images of people all over the world have created makeshift memorials - a lot of them on the Internet. If my office was any indication of the rest of the world, it stopped. It was eerily silent there today. I wish I could have enjoyed it more, but my heart was heavy. I can't exactly explain why...but that won't stop me from trying.

For myself, I know that his death will be one of those moments I will remember when someone says "where were you when?" I was in the BART station, on my way to see Danielle in Oakland, when I overheard a man talking on his cell phone. It spread much in the way startling news does in 2009...hushed reactions followed by furious texting/facebooking/tweeting. I was maybe a little surprised at how deeply it affected me - it took me days to process it, if I have fully processed it now. I was glued to the television, and once I got home, Walter and I would often exchange glances as the reality of what had happened settled upon us. We've been able to share with Alex what Michael Jackson has meant to us - and watching Alex dance around, happily yelling Beat It, or asking to hear "Michael Jackson Monster" (you know it as Thriller), I think about the childhood we are providing him, and the childhood that eluded Michael - the childhood that he chased for most of his adult life. I hope that he was able to recapture some of his childhood through his own children, for his sake.

It seems in death Michael was able to accomplish what had eluded him in the last years of his life - his star has burned white hot over the past two weeks, as folks remembered the child who stunned us with a big voice and dazzlingly quick feet, to the fun guy with the Gheri Curl who sang Rock with You (I begged to be able to hang the album, which y'all know folded out to be a full sized poster, on my wall), to THAT guy, that dancing machine that moonwalked across my television in 1983 when my entire family watched the Motown 25 special that night. And while I was waiting to watch George Michael sing Careless Whisper, Michael Jackson worked it out. And after that, it was dizzying, Friday Night Videos, saving up to buy albums, yes, albums. Then there was watching We Are the World, trying to find my favorite artists. It's only with age that I realized how big that was...and how that young man of 25ish wanted to use his talent for something more, something good. Looking back, it's easy to see that *that* kind of stardom, for anyone, is dangerous. How can you top yourself? How hard must it be to try and be the best entertainer, the best humanitarian, the best dancer when the records you are chasing are your own?

Yes, of course, years later, he started to let his Freak Flag fly beyond what made any of us comfortable. I'll go on record now that I never thought MJ was guilty of anything but startling poor judgment and stupidity. But honestly? I think that he just *knew* that WE knew how innocuous he was, and I think the downward spiral happened after the trials. Not just because he was, you know, acquitted of heinous crimes, but because he could not believe that the public, the very group of people that he worked so hard to entertain and please, had turned on him. Scorned by the public, he retreated into himself, into his life, into his children. I had stopped listening to new news of Michael Jackson, managing mostly a tsk tsk at what his life had become, wondering why you never saw Michael and LaToya in the same room. I had mostly forgotten up until the last two weeks, that Michael Jackson was an insanely huge part of my pop culture, and my life. I had forgotten that watching him dance transports me back to the 80's once again. I had forgotten that I tried to learn ever dance to every video he did. I had forgotten that I loved Michael Jackson, loved his music, considered him a genius. As Walter has noted, in the 80's, it was Prince, Michael Jackson, and Madonna, and I think they, like my grandmother, were supposed to live forever. It has been very easy to do my Michael Jackson Memorial Programming on Facebook, because that is a songbook that is rich with rhythm and rhyme, poetry, and love. And fun - I dare any of you to play PYT and not snap your fingers!

I cannot help but feel in some ways that I let Michael Jackson down. Like any child, his pleas for attention got bigger and bigger as long as they went unnoticed, and by the time we noticed, by the time we paused, it was because a stranger in the BART in Oakland was saying how sad it was that Michael Jackson passed. I suspect we will never know the official cause of death - the Jackson family will keep that as private as possible. I also suspect that it will involve prescription drugs that should have never been outside of a hospital. I think his death was ultimately caused by the inability of anyone to tell this child "no". Maybe if I had done less tsk tsking and more forgiving - forgiving him for letting us down, for his bad judgement, and choosing to remember his good...you know, what I'd hope anyone would do for me, maybe I wouldn't feel such a loss. It's one more reminder that our icons, however iconic, are human. Michael was a fragile human being, and in that, perhaps he'll make a better angel than old man.

Rest in Peace, Michael, knowing that there will never be another you.