I’m not an emotional person. When you get to my age, have buried your parents, endured a divorce and suffered your fair, or unfair share of hurt and pain, you learn to process disappointment with a certain sense or resignation; yet I cried when I heard the news about Michael Jackson’s passing.
I cannot begin to describe the profound sense of sadness or emptiness I experienced, the only thing I could liken it to, is losing a close friend, or someone in my own family. The truth is, in many ways I had; after all, we had all grown up with Michael and his brothers.
The news hardly got out before the media hysteria was in full effect and I switched from network to network to watch all the announcers jockey to see who could break the story faster and with their own spin. In the midst of the mayhem, I kept looking for a black face who would not only know the words that poured out so vociferously from these media darlings, but who, more importantly understood the meaning behind those words.
I didn’t want someone who could spew the Michael Jackson story as some late breaking, headline grabbing story of the century, with an eye toward embellishing themselves, or prefacing their next career move. I wanted someone who could tell me with emotion in their voice and the same profound sense of sadness I was feeling, that we had just lost Mike, a beautiful and rare talent. It’s never enough to know the words, without knowing the meaning behind the words.
I had just turned 15 when I moved to the United States, it was the year after Dr. Martin Luther King had been killed and several cities still bore the scars of the riots that had ensued. I remember my father took me to Newark, New Jersey to show me some of the areas that had been burned to the ground, I am still not sure why. Maybe he wanted to introduce me to the dynamics of race in America, or what anger looked like. This was also the year when the Jackson 5 made their debut and as they say the rest was history.
My friends will tell you that my favorite expression is “God has a sense of humor” because he always seems to have a way of overturning what we have come to accept as the norm and set things on their heads. I say that because by the time I got ready to graduate high school the Jackson 5 were more than a household name in America and in fact when they played Madison Square Garden in New York there was total pandemonium in the city. Imagine that, less than 5 years after that awful day in Memphis a group of 5 black brothers brought the Big Apple to a standstill. How could someone who wasn’t even born at that time now tell me about Michael Jackson as if I am a novice.
Clearly the press thinks very highly of itself because they are always creating their own version of reality and telling us who we should be in awe of. With Mike we did not need their help, his talent emanated from somewhere deep inside and left us truly awestruck in ways they can only now struggle to understand in a vain attempt to put into words the feelings that Mike engendered in us all, when all they need to do is just shut up, listen, watch and marvel.
I would like to tell them; we don’t need a lesson in Michael Jackson from you. We are the ones who bought the albums, danced to the music and bought every issue of “Right On” as soon as it hit the newsstand, as we decided which brother we liked the most or which ones we had crushes on. We learned all the dance moves, wore the funky clothes and watched Mike grow before our eyes until his talent propelled him to a solo career. We don’t need any “breaking news” to tell us about Mike.
We were with him when this same media tried to destroy him with their quest for the inglorious details of the charges against him, which we did not believe for a second. And we even felt his pain on the most intimate level as he endured his own psychic trauma as he sought to bring his music to an even wider audience, even as forces such as MTV, Motown and even well intentioned family members tried to deny or contain this talented man, who broke through all the boundaries that others tried to set for him.
Mike was ethereal, gentle, calculating and supremely talented. His music flowed through him like an endless stream, one he could not contain but simply channel. He was our Mike and we knew his pain even as he morphed before our very eyes into this new and strange being. And he was strange, I say that without judgment because he was not like us and I have no idea what it was like in his world, how lonely, how isolated. I only know that my eight-year-old grandson was mesmerized when we dug out an old video of “Free Willie” to watch one cold Saturday evening and he saw Mike perform the theme song. This was the first time he had ever seen Mike but I quickly had to find other videos on You Tube for him to watch, such was the power of the man.
I am told Einstein operated on a level so much above our understanding that he would go to work wearing two different socks; clothes were so irrelevant to him. I would like to think Michael operated on the same level, his only sadness being, in his humility; he still cared what we thought about him, wanted us to love him back.
Mike has left us now, I am sure I will cry some more in the days to come and I hope his funeral doesn’t become a three ring circus because he deserves better than that from the people who really admired him, not the ones who came late to this party, even if they are holding microphones.