About a month ago I played a Michael Jackson tune for the kids. They were immediately hooked and seemed to know right away …they knew that they were listening to one of the world’s greatest of all time.
I never had to tell them- I just confirmed it for them by nodding my head- “yep” when they looked at me with their mouths open – in awe and then when I showed them who exactly it was that they were hearing by pulling him up on a music video from You Tube. Seeing is believing so if you thought he sounded cool… just wait.
Yeah… I know that look on their faces… I know it all too well.
I’ll never forget the moment.
The moment I realized that he existed- that I shared the planet with Michael Jackson. I was twelve years old and I saw him perform on Carrie Smith’s television set. We had the house to ourselves- a New Years Eve sleepover and her parents weren’t coming home anytime soon. I screamed my heart out. In fact- It ached so badly at the sight of him- i was unable to ever recover the girl i was before I knew of him.
One minute i was a normal twelve year girl, and the next- I was unable to think a complete thought without him in it. Nothing in this world was more important than knowing every last detail about him. I day dreamed endlessly about being with him, and then being him. He embodied the word “cool” and he could dance and move and sing and look like nothing I had ever seen, or would, ever again.
I loved him. No- I mean, I really loved him.
It was 1982 and it was just months away from the moonwalk debut when he sang “Billy Jean” – and “duh”, of course Billy Jean was not his lover- ugh!!!- she was just a girl that said that he was the one… (the thought still gives me physical angina to this very day). People are so stupid. I wanted to crack heads.
Unrequited love is very painful, and can be incredibly transformative when you are struck between the eyes with it at age twelve.
I was positive if he knew the depth of my devotion he would choose me. After all, no one would ever love him like I would. ever. I can’t imagine for how long I moped as I pushed dinner across the surface of my plate each night at the table. Taking me away from my “boombox” was like unplugging the life support system from my body. I played my cassette’s until they warped. I practiced my moves privately. religiously.
I wore penny loafers. If I stood on the tips just right and held my dresser’s corner edge and squinted as I looked in the mirror – my moves were getting closer… try as I might I would never successfully issue a moon walk. Not even on my best day. I was increasingly frustrated and forlorn but I would never.give.up.
I was obsessed.
By the 1990’s I’d resigned myself to my rank. I was no different than the rest of them… I was just another number in a sea of endless fans. The frustration drove us all to the edge. It must have. We needed to take him down- find something wrong with him to bring him back to our level and dispel the magic and mystery. NO ONE can be that amazing. NO ONE. HIT after endless HIT. It’s like he was not even REAL.
I know it was a drug overdose… I know all the media’s input on the subject… but I say that by the time we killed him he was likely relieved. We all get left behind to simmer in our righteous stew with all the contempt we created for him. We thought he was weird? I’d say we only made him as weird as we treated him.
He must have felt like an exotic endangered animal. We’d all wanted a piece of him- at any cost to him. We did what any angry mob of obsessed fan’s would do- and he had it coming to him too. We killed him because he was not one of us. We killed him because his light was so bright we were afraid it would shine out the ugly in the rest of us. We killed him the way we will kill anything we covet and can not have.
When my kids asked me why and how he died – I had to really ask myself how I would tell them what really happened. I’m unwilling to tell them what popular culture would like to believe and so I will think about my answer carefully.
What really happened to Michael Jackson? Someday I’ll have to tell them why we killed him.
Right now, I’d rather they simply know that legends like him can actually “live” in the world, and that it’s possible to honor something impossibly beautiful and rare without destroying it.