Posted by: Lauren--NY | July 2, 2009

Bring Salvation Back

“In a world filled with hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream. And in a world filled with distrust, we must still dare to believe.” ~Michael Jackson

For five minutes, I thought it was ridiculous.

For the first five minutes of the news coverage, it seemed like your run-of-the-mill celebrity-palooza, bumping real news from the headlines in order to talk about something more ratings-grabbing, more sensational.

Then it sank in.

If I’m being completely honest, I made my share of Michael Jackson jokes over the years. It was such easy material, and during that circus sideshow of a trial, you just had to do it. Still, I didn’t believe he was guilty (and I still don’t) and the sight of that frail ghost of a man shuffling into court in his pajamas broke my heart even more in light of what he once had been. Of course, he was tortured even then, practically a slave to his father’s ambition as a child, along with the verbal and physical abuse—and, later, a slave to the demons that resulted from that. But the extraordinary accomplishments of this individual should not be overshadowed by the more bizarre aspects of his life, and by the fact that he seemed to get younger as he got older, beginning as a strangely professional, hard-working child, and eventually living a child’s dream in the only way an adult male in his forties could—he bought himself an amusement park and turned his life into a twisted, fantastical dreamland because he couldn’t deal with reality. We shouldn’t forget the musical genius that he was because the last decade of his life was so heartrendingly sad.

My personal reaction to Michael Jackson’s death has been a bit deeper than I would have expected, had there been any sort of warning. It hasn’t blinded me to the fact that cable news should probably move on, should probably cover the Yemen plane crash and the fact that we officially “left” (heh) Iraq, the situation in Gaza, the situation in Myanmar, in Eastern Congo, how New Orleans is holding up, what Al Franken’s victory (finally) means. You know, news. However, his fans are crowding the streets as I type this, and his record sales have skyrocketed, and people are stunned. Anything that causes this kind of a public response deserves extensive coverage (if not quite this much), at least until after the funeral.

Anybody who listens to “Who’s Lovin’ You” and can’t grasp what a prodigy he was has got to be missing something important, but his career as an adult is what made him the legend he is. Just limiting it to how much Justin Timberlake has ripped him off might be enough, but it should be pointed out that it wasn’t just the incredible performances—he choreographed “Thriller.” He was clearly influenced by James Brown, but he created dances no one had ever seen before. Everything every boy band in the nineties did was based on his choreography, and every rap and hiphop artist—as they have lined up in droves to admit since his death—owes something to the music he wrote, performed, and choreographed. Thriller wasn’t just a good album. It was an amazing album, one of the great stand-out creative pieces in a self-indulgent decade of music marked by mediocrity.

The racial boundaries he broke down might be the most important thing. MTV absolutely would not, under any circumstances, play a black artist until Michael Jackson. Their cover was that they were “a rock station,” and that was to be interpreted as “true rock and roll is only played by white artists, and that’s what Middle America wants to see, so that’s what we do.” It’s to his agent’s and producers’ credit for doing the pushing and the legal threatening, but it was the draw of Jackson himself that demolished that barrier, and that paved the way for Tupac and all the rest of them. He also revolutionized the music video, upping the budgets for filming them and the attention that was paid to them. MTV, racist bitches that they were when they were first presented with his solo work, has benefited from Michael Jackson like no one else, except perhaps the public. The public which he obviously loved…and I think that love really saved his ass on numerous occasions, because he didn’t have much else to live for.

You know, as much as I knew all this before he died, and I was an admirer of his, I was never really a fan (my taste in music tends to be a bit older) . I turned up the radio when the Jackson 5 came on, and I played tracks from Thriller. But I didn’t think about Michael Jackson too often, because it was just more comfortable not to. Now, however, as his fans converge in the streets in Harlem, Los Angeles, and his birthplace of Gary, Indiana, and as his music is played on the news and people line up to share their emotion-filled memories and their heartbreak at his loss, those walls have come crashing down for me.

I was born a little bit late to have the same relationship with Michael Jackson that Generation X had with him, and I would never try to talk that down or compete with it, or make it anything other than what it was. But I remember when “You Are Not Alone” came out, and dancing around to tracks from Thriller in my dance class in childhood. I remember singing “I’ll Be There” with my chorus in sixth grade, and how jealous I was because we took the low part and the seventh grade girls took the high part, and I fancied myself a soprano even though I couldn’t really sing. I remember my mom teaching me how to moonwalk when I was a little girl. The guy transcended our culture in a way that is undeniable, and as I watch, dumbfounded, as the public he so dearly loved reacts to his death…I feel a surprising pain. Much like the morning after you work out after you’ve been lazy for a long time, and you have aches in muscles you didn’t know you had? That’s the pain I feel, in the little portion of my heart that I didn’t even know was there, the part of me that loved him right back.

And now, if I may beg, borrow and steal from Jon Stewart (as I am wont to do)…here it is, your Moment of Zen.

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  1. hi. great article!

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