I am met with Michael’s death in an uncomfortable example of juxtaposition. Only the day before, I was in audience of Taylor Swift, awed at an emerging pop icon. Now only hours ago, I was lounging in a chair when I learned of the news. Alison broke it to me, but I was skeptical. Amanda assured me somewhat when I asked if she could check the news; she said he was hospitalized, and I figured he was just exhausted from rehearsing for his London shows in the coming month. I couldn’t convince myself though. Occupied by my calculus assignment, yet growing more uncomfortable by the minute, I found the nearest computer to check the news. One source, TMZ, seemed to be the only one confirming his death. I took hold onto that hope. Maybe this one source was wrong.
The earliest memory I have of Michael is with my dad and sister in the car. Somehow his name came up, and my dad made a derogatory joke about Michael. I didn’t say anything — maybe laughing nervously in faux agreement — and that wrestled my conscious. It was probably the first time I had heard something grotesque from my dad, and I pondered about what drove him — anyone else even — to say something like that. I was told that he was weird. I had heard that he looked like a woman. I could not understand how people could harbor disdain.
It was early September when I was supposed to be in bed. The volume was just above inaudible. After some channel flipping, I tuned into Michael Jackson’s anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden. He was performing with his brothers, and before this show, I had no interest in Michael. I only recalled what I felt when my dad said what he said. It was late, and I didn’t want to sleep. I thought I’d investigate and make my own judgment on this man.
As a fan, you might write off my opinion. In my perspective, it’s rather clear: Michael was certainly eccentric, but that has never been enough reason or impetus for me to judge or discriminate. It’s uncomfortable thinking that many of us feel it is ok to poke fun or invest in insults because someone is especially odd. What standard or scale are you using? Where do you cut off who is “cool”, “normal”, and “weird”?
That September night I remember Billie Jean. I remember seeing Michael float in front of thousands, adding more mystery to mysterious lyrics. It was incredible. The next day, in first hour gym, I was in front of my locker vainly trying to mimic his movements. Michael could dance, and we all loved it, which was confusing. How could extreme love and hate exist toward him?
Michael quickly became my middle school idol. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, in the sense that I had placed an idol before God. It is something to be proud of, in that it, in some sense, guided me along my faith journey. Michael, in the Hebrew, means “who is like God”. I’ve never known whether “who is like God” is meant in the interrogative or affirmative case. Nonetheless, Michael was my god in middle school. My idolatry, though I am not proud of it, is a testament to the depth of his influence.
In the 8th grade Michael came under attack of allegations of child molestation. Initially I went to his defense with a tight blindfold around my head. I stepped back, though, because that was an incredibly immature move. I admit that, even to this day, I am not completely confident in maintaining Michael’s innocence. More than likely, though, I think that Michael never committed such a lewd act. Defending Michael, for me, came in a variety of forms: I analyzed the news clippings and whatever the opposing camps released, promptly rerouting thwarted thoughts and incongruent beliefs; I delved into Michael’s personal history, noting his childhood and making a case for his personality on that basis; I barely earned a spot in a district-wide talent search, showcasing my re-creation of a Billie Jean experience Michael would have performed live. ((They called me a wild card act, uncomfortable since Michael was controversial news at the time.)) I remember answering an interviewer’s question: “Why are you doing this?” Quickly, I answered: “. . . to show support for Michael.” Although, I like to think, not on purpose, the interviewer said aloud as she wrote, “. . . to show support for the program.” ((The talent search raised money for a special education school in our district — something Michael definitely would and probably has similarly done for many.))
Death, in my experience so far, has been something that never affects me at the onset. The initial days tune me into an analytical trance. It takes time for me to digest who has left. It’s been the same way with Michael. There’s no Michael-sized hole in my heart, but I definitely feel and mourn for a similar sensation. I came home from my night class and turned on the news to see a crowd of pedestrians and fans crowding into the Apollo. I would have been there. I can’t believe he’s gone. I wanted to see him grace the stage for us one more time; not only for us, but for him too. He comes alive onstage. You can see the cogs click together, a clear indication that he is in his element in front of an audience.
We’ll never know. We’ll never know who Dirty Diana was, whether Ross, a groupie, or neither; whether Michael fathered to children from a relationship with Billie Jean; the truth behind his skin discoloration ((I maintain that he suffered from vitiligo. My best friend suffers from a small case of the disease.)) and surgeries, of which he claims are no more than, I believe, three; what the shows in London would have been like, and the magic and shock that would have precipitated. Perhaps most terrible of all, we will never have the chance to reconcile with the man that the media adored to scorn. Michael Jackson is a real example of a childhood lesson some of us fail to apply; some might not even know what lesson would apply, and that’s a shame. I could write so much more, but I am drained. I might sum up the rest of what I wish to share in this: Though forever chained to what tabloids had to chide, let us more quickly remember Michael for his sensitive and careful nature, his musical genius and extraordinary show.
In the period between his 30th Anniversary performance and up until his death, Michael never, to my cursory knowledge, performed live. When he did appear live, it was often to receive or present an award. There was one common element in those appearances: Sometimes someone in the crowd, sometimes a chorus, would scream, “Michael, I love you!” Michael, laughing and smiling kindly, although seeming trite and involuntary, yet substantial and meaningful, would recite back: I love you more.
We love you more, Michael. I only hope to meet you someday, and if I do meet you there, I hope that lights will guide you home to an eternal comfort from a world where so many wished you none. Much love to you.
Final Note: It’s a promiscuous thought to entertain, whether Michael brought this death upon himself. The London shows, to me, seemed like a burden (there were 50 lined up over the next year). Perhaps Michael was trying to get out. I’m disgusted to think that, and I hope that it’s not true.