Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A few words about Michael Jackson

After it was all over, I watched parts of Michael Jackson’s memorial service at the Staples Center in L.A.

I was feeling kind of numb about the service—not particularly sad, yet not apathetic—for a number of reasons, until I saw his daughter speak so bravely about her beloved father, and that’s when I mustered some emotion for his family. Regardless of whatever else is being said, three children have lost their loving father, and that is the tragedy we’re witnessing. I believe that we’re a fickle bunch, we humans, who fall out of love with stars when their reputations are blemished. I’m as fickle as the rest. Like many of his fans, I’d like to move on, but I’m just not able to forget the testimony. I do realize he was found “not guilty” but the testimony from children during his trial was so compelling, I can’t help but believe there was some validity to it. Michael Jackson lived a life full of controversy with serious allegations, charges, a trial, and expensive financial settlements. His odd friendships with young boys and older women indicate to me that he was a lost soul, and that he didn’t know, outside of the entertainment world and his immediate family, where he fit in. He was a handsome and healthy young man, and his compulsion to change his appearance indicated a deep-seeded unhappiness with his own reality. How sad that he couldn’t find the same joy in his being that all his fans realized. The saddest part of this whole story, for me, is the loss of genius and unfulfilled legacy that might have been realized not only had he not died, but had he not been living a life of virtual exile for the past decade. The tapes of his final rehearsals were exciting and full of promise. I am curious to see if his children have inherited his talents. I hope so, but I also hope the world is “a better place” for them.

Michael Jackson’s family, friends, and fans loved him despite the controversies. To me, he was an entertainer, a brilliant one, no doubt, who was mired in personal difficulties and always trying to make up for all that he never realized in childhood. My children were born in the 70s and 80s and grew up on his music. I was born five years before MJ and also grew up, in a way, on his music as well as the music of The Beatles, the Beach Boys, Chicago, Simon and Garfunkle, and many others. My uncle was the associate producer of the Ed Sullivan Show, and I remember the excitement when The Jackson Five performed. Michael Jackson’s music is woven throughout the memories of my teenage and early adult years.

The spectacle of his memorial service is appropriate given his significant contribution to the music industry. Musically, he is on equal footing with Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and The Beatles. From early childhood, it was clear that he was more than gifted. His voice was a perfect instrument and his dance skills were unparalleled. Even Fred Astair never moved the way Michael Jackson could. It seems hypocritical to me, though, to canonize a man who was certainly flawed, and who might have preferred to be thought of as a regular guy than an icon. He never could be a regular guy, not after all the fame, money, and isolation. I think he wanted a better life, and to be a better man. His song “Man in the Mirror” might have been his cry for personal redemption: “I’m talking ‘bout the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

No matter the reality of his life, it’s clear that he was truly loved and I wish him, and his family, the peace and healing in death that he was not able to experience in his living years.

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