Thursday, June 25, 2009

Gone Too Soon

Let me start by acknowledging I am no more qualified to eulogize Michael Jackson than anyone else. That's exactly why he is a legend: Because we all have a strand of memory tied to Michael Jackson. Whether you had a friend who could Moonwalk, or your first love wore only one glove, or the first fright of your life came courtesy of the "Thriller" video.

John Mayer once said, "I'm a big believer in a different Jimi Hendrix than most people." I think I'm a big believer of a different Michael Jackson than many people, so I'm going to post my favorite song of his as my tribute to him.

When I was a kid, I was obsessed, OBSESSED, with Michael Jackson. I just found my VHS of Michael Jackson: Moonwalker in my garage last week. I was more than a fan. True story: While all the little girls in my third grade class were drawing pictures of fairies and princesses or whatever little 7 and 8 year old girls draw during free time, I wrote out the entire tracklisting on the then-new Michael Jackson HIStory boxed set. And I'll never forget, when my "friend" (or so I thought), Allison Tisack, saw what I was doing and said, "You're so weird." It only solidified my imagined bond with the King of Pop. That happened in the early/mid '90s, when Jackson's inarguable legacy had already been tainted by tabloids and tarnished by his transgressions. Yet I had no shame. All I knew was that he made the greatest music my single-digit-aged ears had ever heard. It was funky, it was infectious, but it had SOUL. And man could he dance.

What I think says even more about Michael Jackson than his music, or his actual words, is the response to his death. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are ablaze with tributes. R&B and pop radio are awash in adulation. Yet had the news been anything else Jackson-related, the response would have been eye rolls and yawns. Don't forget, this is the man Jay Leno built a late-night career on. Yet Michael Jackson is responsible for the best-selling album of all-time (and arguably one of the best, in terms of quality, albums of all-time). So while statistically, one in every 60 people on the planet own a copy of Thriller, on any other day you'd be hard-pressed to find one in 60 people with kind words about Michael Jackson. Yet here it is now: a world almost wholly mourning the loss of a genius.

And he was a genius. Like John Lennon, like Elvis, Michael Jackson was iconic, and fucked up. I'll save why I think he lost it for another time, but the truth is: Genius and madness are fraternal twins. They're definitely closely related though not exactly the same. In Michael Jackson, they occupied the same space. But what's important is what he gave the world, and not the price he paid for giving it.

In his later years, he set fire to the image he'd once worked so hard to maintain, eroding his credibility and leaving only soot-soaked signs of his past. But he will always be an icon. It wasn't easy to stand by him, and many of his true fans deserted him. But I truly believe we never stopped listening to his music. The music, so often unlike the man, spoke for itself.

What has died with Michael Jackson is so much more than potential, though I know I would have loved to see a comeback and it seemed likely with the London tour dates. What has died with Michael Jackson is us. It sounds trite, I admit it, but a collective part of our cultural consciousness is gone. Michael Jackson was the crossroads of so much in our lexicon. A comment on Michael Jackson was a comment on race relations, celebrity, aesthetics, art, and how we dealt with it all. And as has been made abundantly clear, many if not all of us have a Michael Jackson story, a personal connection with the man or his music.

Meryn, who still plans to walk down the aisle at her wedding to "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough."

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