Thursday, June 25, 2009

The King Has Left the Building

In theory, I understand the laws of physics, anatomy, and other well-studied sciences. I know that cells form and multiply. I know, as humans, we metamorphose through biological phases that build and eventually break down. I know that to everything there is a season. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But I never expected Michael Jackson to die.

Blame it on Neverland. Or maybe it was the childlike behavior that endeared many and struck others as odd. Maybe it was his borderline obsessive love for children to the point of controversy. No matter the case, I’m struggling to grasp his death.

Being that I was born not long before Thriller came out, my generation is probably the last to really “connect” with Michael Jackson. Kids coming up after me can’t relate to the anticipation of a Michael Jackson video primetime premier that would have the school abuzz the next day. They don’t know about witnessing pop culture history during Motown 25. And the groundbreaking interview with Oprah at the ranch in 1992? I’ve got in on tape right now. Michael Jackson is more than court cases and plastic surgery.

Oh, and don’t get me started on Moonwalker. We owned Moonwalker, along with at least two MJ documentaries, on VHS. I’m not a music historian or anything, but how many artists built full-length movies around their own music? (Okay, besides Prince.) My brother and I watched Moonwalker so much that my eyelids instinctively knew to close one second before the mounds of Joe Pesci’s tarantulas showed up onscreen. We practiced leaaaaaning like Michael during “Smooth Criminal.”

Over the years, I’ve been saddened by the news surrounding Michael (then buoyed when he emerged, spry and fly as ever, on somebody’s award show). He reminded me of a trembling puppy in a corner as the media and paparazzi surrounded him. The man seemed truly puzzled when questioned about the appropriateness of his relationships with young children. Maybe Mike could’ve used some counseling, I don’t know. I just remember when he gleefully climbed a tree while being interviewed by Martin Bashir in 2003, I thought, “My goodness, this is real for him. He really thinks he’s a kid.”

Jheri-curled, light-skinned, dark-skinned, or ghoulish, Michael Jackson was sexy, but eccentric and contradictory—all the makings of a musical genius. He exuded a passion onstage that didn't translate to his quiet manner offstage. His real life showed no signs of the suggestive nature of his dancing and some of his lyrics.

For Michael, a legendary career starting in youth was not without a price. He often lamented the loss of his childhood and appeared to spend much of his life trying to recreate it. What saddens many of us today is wondering if he succeeded in that feat; did he ever find happiness?