Saturday, June 27, 2009
Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got
Till it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
The refrain (above) from Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" is perhaps the best way I could make sense of the news of the loss of our "King of Pop," Michael Joseph Jackson.
In recent years, many of us (including myself) have turned our backs on Michael Jackson. With his numerous plastic surgeries, his eccentric, childlike lifestyle, and more importantly, the allegations of child molestation, it grew more difficult to see him as the perfect entertainer and not as the reclusive "freak." But the fact that we will never see him perform again leaves an undeniable pain, shock and sadness to all of us who were raised on Jackson and his music.
On Thursday, June 25th, 2009, at 2:26 p.m., Michael Jackson, the man who changed the face of popular music, was pronounced dead at the age of 50. Although the exact cause of death is still unknown, it is believed that he went under cardiac arrest. Simply put, his heart just stopped beating. And when I initially heard the news, so did mine.
I was meeting with a colleague in Manhattan when news of Jackson's untimely death broke during the evening rush hour. At first, I laughed thinking that this was some sort of sick joke. Then I thought (and still want to believe) that it was a promotional stunt created by Jackson himself for the upcoming tour in London. But while riding home on the D train, as it rose above ground and onto the [Brooklyn] Bridge, many of our cell phones were buzzing with text messages that confirmed his death. I still refused to believe it.
As I walked through the streets of Brooklyn that same night, I could hear songs like "Thriller," "Off the Wall," "Billie Jean," and "Smooth Criminal" blasting, almost simultaneously, out of car radios everywhere. This forced me to accept this loss and I just wasn't prepared to ever do that.
For those of us who grew up alongside Michael Jackson, his death almost seemed impossible because in our eyes, he was like a god. And throughout my childhood, he was a god!
I can still remember watching Jackson on Motown 25 as if it were yesterday. The special aired on my birthday and although I wasn't old enough to start school yet, I remember almost every detail of watching Michael Jackson that night. As I sat in front of my Zenith floor TV, I just tuned everything and everyone out. My foster mother kept yelling at me to move back and not sit so close to the screen, but that only made me inch forward even closer. I wanted to touch him as he "moonwalked" across the stage with his shiny black shoes and glittery white socks. I tried to copy his incredible toe stand only to fall on my face but I didn't care. He was absolutely mesmerizing.
I owned every piece of Michael Jackson' memorabilia you can imagine--including a red belt with the glittery white glove as the buckle and a Michael Jackson doll that my dog Shady got hold of and eventually chewed off its legs.
But perhaps my favorite keepsake was the music itself. I would spend hours just staring at the vinyl covers for Off the Wall and Thriller and I eventually read all the liner notes cover to cover. As a teenager, my older sister created her version of the Thriller album cover in a free hand sketch. I especially remember how she depicted Jackson and Paul McCartney floating side by side in space for the track "The Girl Is Mine."
Jackson's voice possessed a "man-child" quality to it, in that despite his youthful sound, he could bring the right amount of passion and maturity to any song. And of course no one moved quite like he did. With influences ranging from James Brown, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire, and young breakdancers everywhere, he combined them all and made choreography an essential component for the careers of many aspiring pop stars. Thriller alone changed the course of music. This album gave us big-budget music videos, higher earnings for artists, culture, fashion, swagger, MTV, BET, VH1 and for the first time, a black man had full command of the entire world--long before Oprah and President Obama.
In recent years, he began to lose a little bit of that luster and agility. He didn't sound flawless or move so well and the thought of him not being "perfect" was too much for me to grasp. However, I would have definitely been one of the millions of fans screaming in the crowd at one (or several) of his London performances that was scheduled to begin in just a few weeks.
With over 750 million albums sold worldwide, Michael Jackson was not only a widely successful black artist, but he was the most successful artist--period. He broke every record that he set out to break and artists alive today have yet to catch up to him. He was the consummate perfectionist in all that he did and because he gave so much of himself in every performance and in every song, that is what I will remember the most.