Friday, June 26, 2009

RIP Michael Jackson.

My appreciation is here.


update: I've cross-posted this article here from its original Ile Oxumare home.

"How Does It Feel? When You're Alone And Cold Inside"--MJ, Stranger in Moscow

I remember when I first heard the Jackson 5. It was back in Chicago in the late 1960s, and they were so joyously infectious, and little Michael was the same age as me! He became the background noise of my youth and young adulthood, ever present. Sure by the late seventies I was a nascent jazzhead, but who didn't like the Jacksons? "Blame It On The Boogie," "Don't Stop Til You Get Enough," I remember the excitement I'd feel if I was entering a club and heard those songs playing over the distant dancefloor.

After I moved to New York City there was "Human Nature" and the unbelieveable world-gripping love-affair with "Thriller" and his absolute mastery of the human body through dance. Yeah I listened to my jazz and I was getting into New Wave but who didn't like Michael Jackson? I listened to "Bad" and was amazed at the technology of his sound. The last Michael I bought was "HIStory" and oh my God there he is singing the word "SHIT!"

I'm not really one for Disney-esque gloss and by then, well everybody loves Michael Jackson, but I stopped being so interested in his music and the "King of Pop" hype machine being stacked around him like so much plastic, so I probably can't name a single one of his songs since then. But he was always there, in the background.

And now, shockingly, he isn't. He's gone!

There is of course, the other Michael Jackson story, the one that began somewhere between his driven, task-mastering parents and that love song to a rat. The other story is the one where the adorable black boy grows into a strange powder-white not-quite-a-man, his face carved into unnatural shapes, and his reputation stretching the limits of belief. The weird Peter Pan obsession, the ugly theme-park garden estate, the sleeping with children, the peculiar marriages and strangely named children, the weird public faux-pas like babies being dangled off balconies, and the face and hair every year seeming stranger and stranger. His voice always a boyishly innocent falsetto, his singing evolved into an odd ritual of yelps and whoops.

I remember in New York City somewhere around the time his friend Diana Ross was trying to ingratiate herself to the citizens of our city in the early 1980s and she gave those unforgettable storm- and mob-plagued Central Park concerts (both of which I attended), there was an ugly ugly headline on a local African-American newspaper: "THE WHITE LADY AND THE FAGGOT." The white lady of course was Diana Ross and MJ was "the faggot" and I have long since forgotten why this now-defunct newspaper hated them and their friendship so much but it must have been a lifetime of dealing with such harsh judgments that pushed MJ so deeply into a unbreachably private life.

I hope in some way that the strangeness of MJ's last two decades was its own kind of hype. Was he happier than he seemed? I hope his family loved him and treated him well behind the walls of public persona. Was his world the lonely hard-edged place that seems to dominate the lyrics of "HIStory" or was it something filled with the joy of love and creativity and artistry?

It's always sad to lose one's musical idols, and the cost of living to middle age as I have done is outliving many of those responsible for my own life's soundtrack. Of course the music these amazing people created stays alive and ever-present. But as much as I have wondered in disbelief what the hell he was up to, I never thought Michael Jackson wouldn't be there in the background.

Goodbye Michael! Thanks for your music. Peace and blessings to you and all of those who loved you.

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