07 July 2009

michael jackson memorial

Like everyone else on earth, I watched the memorial service for Michael Jackson today. And like everyone else, I have a few thoughts on the service. I have more thoughts about what Michael Jackson means, thoughts that to me are more important and more weighty, but I'm still trying to sort those through intelligently.

I was appalled at the network commentators' comments. NBC began by talking about the "trouble" in Jackson's life, and how conflicted we all are - great entertainer, sketchy man. I felt like it was simply inappropriate to make that move while announcing the goddam memorial service for the man. show some respect, for once. The most appalling move was ABC's decision to include Martin Bashir as a commentator; Bashir's documentary Living with Michael Jackson was a disaster for Jackson. It was a low piece of trickery, in my opinion, an opinion I have held since I viewed the documentary and addressed it in my masters thesis in 2003. Bashir was not a friend to Jackson, and granting him the space to speak about Jackson - again, at his memorial service - was a very, very poor decision from ABC.

A gold casket is not a very good idea, even for the King of Pop. The blanket of red roses covering it was beautiful. I am mixed about the presence of the casket at the memorial; somehow, it felt a little creepy or voyeuristic, but at the same time, it felt appropriate. a sort of State viewing, I suppose, though thankfully someone had the good sense to keep the casket closed.

Kenny Ortega has worked with Michael for over 20 years. This surprised me; I had NO idea. I know Ortega primarily as the director/choreographer of the High School Musical franchise. My estimation of those films has just ratcheted up a notch, now that I know of Ortega's association with Jackson.

Berry Gordy clearly missed the memo that this was a memorial for Michael Jackson, not a tribute to Berry Gordy. Similarly, I suspect the Jackson family (a group of leeches if I ever saw one) insisted that everyone pay tribute to the wonderfulness of the Jackson 5 and the family. I got very tired of hearing the accolades for Michael consistently appended with some remark about his family. Michael had a very vexed relationship with most of his family, in particular his father and several of the brothers.

As I have felt all along, where are his friends? I mean the people he was truly, truly close to. The people who loved him unequivocally, consistently. Of all the coverage of Jackson's death, there have been far too few expressions of genuine sorrow, love and loss for the man. Lots of lamenting the loss of the superstar. It makes me feel lonely for Jackson. Brooke Shields was genuinely upset. Miko Brando, in his interviews, has been visibly upset. That poor little girl, Michael's daughter Paris, was visibly upset. Most of the others....felt a little put-on. Too focused on THE MAN THE LEGEND THE STAR!!!!

I wish there had been a children's choir performing. I think Michael would have loved that. It sounds like the punchline to a sick joke, but I really do wish there had been a children's choir. Let THEM sing "we are the world."

I know Mariah Carey covered "I'll be there" back in the day, but jesus - did we really need her again? What was she to Michael, or he to her, that she should weep (or sing) for him?

That congresswoman was incoherent to the point of offensiveness; she got Jackson's kids' names wrong. what the hell.

I had a moment when I wished that Boyz II Men would appear, singing "It's so hard to say goodbye." I think, of all the sad pop songs I know, that that one is the saddest, and most funerary. I also wondered why we had no clips of Michael singing "Never can say goodbye."

I was surprised at how sad *I* felt. I have felt sad since I learned of his death (on my birthday, of all days). I can't pretend to be some huge MJ fan (though like every kid who grew up in the 80s, I had Thriller and Bad, and I was quite a fan when I was a very little girl).
In 2003-2004, I wrote my masters thesis, which had a chapter on Michael Jackson. I spent more than a year (closer to two) immersed in Michael Jackson, JM Barrie and Peter Pan. I watched video clips and documentaries. I read book after book, article after article. I listened to the music for the first time in years; I downloaded tons of Jackson 5 and Michael songs, and listened to them frequently (as I have done ever since). I defended my decision to write sympathetically about Michael Jackson over and over. Spending that much time "with" him clearly sunk into me more deeply than I realized. All this week, I've been recalling snippets of information, trivia and anecdotes, about him that I didn't even know I knew. Jackson's life - and the way he is discussed - touches squarely on a number of issues that matter a LOT to me, personally and intellectually, and all of those issues have been stirred up and are swirling around in my brain. Then too is the simple sadness of an early death; a sadness for his children, for his fans.

The moment at the memorial that most got me - aside from that poor baby Paris speaking about her daddy - was John Mayer and his dumb guitar.

John Mayer is mostly just a tabloid name to me; I don't know his music, nor do I really want to. And when he started playing, I thought: "How cheesy is this! hardly one of our great guitarists..." But then what he was playing began to sound familiar. It was a little like falling down the rabbit hole of memory - there seemed no reason why I should ever stop falling. The more the song went on, the more I felt at sea; I could hear this song in my mind, but I couldn't place it. And then the announcers said it was "Human Nature," from THRILLER, and suddenly I realized I knew that song from when I was a very little girl. I know that song from when my age was in the single digits. It was a song that - without me knowing why, or even, really, that it was happening - always made me feel a little sad, a little longing. It makes me think of green clear summers, sitting in the coolness of my family's livingroom, on that ugly red semi-shag carpet, listening to that song on the record player. It was instant nostalgia for moments I had forgotten all about.

And it occurs to me that Michael Jackson was an important part of my childhood. Thriller was probably the first "real" record I ever owned. I remember getting BAD after I broke my toe and had to take a couple of months off of gymnastics. I was eight years old. My parents bought me a chin-up bar, and installed it in the doorframe of my bedroom; i used it more like a practice single bar than for strength training. I listened to my cassette of BAD and swung like a monkey on that bar. I have very, very vivid memories of dancing around the livingroom to Billie Jean. I remember how transfixed we all were by MTV, and how much a part of that Michael Jackson was. Those light-up pavement stones in the Billie Jean video have been a part of my brain for nearly my entire life. I had a purple vinyl purse that said I heart Michael Jackson. I had a microphone with an antenna to play through the stereo speakers, with a picture of Michael on it. I remember when MTV would do a WORLD PREMIERE VIDEO! for Michael's new videos - the one for "black & white" caused such a stir.

I feel badly now, that I denied Jackson. I listened to Jackson songs secretly during and after my thesis, when Jackson was nothing but the punchline of jokes. I've had "smooth criminal" and "billie jean" in my iPod for years, sheepishly. I always, ALWAYS liked "Man in the Mirror" (I loved it, would listen to it while playing on my chinning bar back in 1987). I heard "Man in the Mirror" playing in a Kmart in late May or early June, and was surprised. But I liked hearing it, though I reported hearing it as a horror, as another shocking sign that the 80s are Back. To console myself, I think of the thesis I wrote, which was a pretty decent piece of cultural criticism. I've been thinking, since early June, that an excerpt of that thesis needs to be polished up and sent out for potential publishing. I feel that even more strongly now.

what I feel most now, though, is very deep, sincere sadness. I'm sad that Jackson died before he got to show off his new tour. I'm very sad that he doesn't get to see this unbelievable outpouring of affection and admiration. I'm sad, and afraid, for his children, who he worked very, very hard to protect and keep hidden from public view, so that they could have something like a normal life (or a more normal childhood than his own). I'm worried that they - and everything else Michael - will be exploited by that bastard of a father, Joe Jackson, and the rest of the family. They used and exploited Michael since he was five years old; it's time to give that a rest.

there is more to say about Jackson; there always will be. but for now: "human nature."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this article. Michael Jackson was a big part of my childhood as well. The video I seem to remember the most (aside from Thriller of course!) was Say Say Say. I confess, I once owned a pair of very shiny black pants - it went with my baseball T-shirt that featured his beautiful face, and let's not forget, the Michael Jackson glitter glove!