On The King Of Pop: Michael Jackson

Dear Reader,

When I first heard about Michael, I broke down for a few moments as if I knew him. A tear or two fell. I sat there somber, hoping against hope that someone would shake me awake. But as the minute hand crept closer to due north, my hope waned. Reality set in. He was gone.

Like most, I didn’t know what to do. I watched CNN, MSNBC, MTV and BET simultaneously while refreshing my browser tabs for the LA Times, CNN.com and a few other media Web sites throughout Thursday night. I talked to as many of my close friends as possible. I checked on my mom. I started Facebooking and Tweeting his songs and videos. From “ABC” to “Butterflies.” I watched videos from the classic era from “Thriller” to “Scream.” Finally, I calmed.

I came up with the Five Random Questions because I didn’t think I wanted to write anything. I wanted everyone else’s thoughts and reflection. But I felt I needed to write something. So I started reading again — because I couldn’t write. I started trying to write, then stopped. Then I read some more — because I didn’t know what to write.

Michael doing what he did best.

Michael doing what he did best.

Then it hit me after I came across these specific words from Vibe Editor Danyel Smith’s piece on CNN.com: “It comes down to the fact that Michael Jackson gave. Whether he chose to or did it because it was all he knew, he sacrificed himself in the name of his art.”

What did I think of when I read this? Fear little. Love big. Give more. Expect less.

The middle two, Michael knew how to do without pause. Hell, sometimes he gave too much and put himself in precarious situations (we all do that, right?). Fear little and expect less? He knew how to do them, but didn’t always follow through. That showed in and because of his eccentric nature, utter weirdness and the awkward accusations.

Sure, Mike was a Peter Pan come to life. He built Neverland Ranch and never wanted to grow up. Like Paul McCartney said, Michael was a manchild. But isn’t that what we’re most attracted to anyway, where we tend to find the most joy … in children, especially those that cease to amaze? Are we not sucked in by their gravitational pull like our feet are to this earth beneath them?

In retrospect, Michael Jackson is the one true child star whose post childhood star exploded through the universe like a comet. And we got to witness the changing landscape of Michael’s comet throughout the 80s and early 90s before it began to flicker.

He kept moving us and giving us greatness, reason to stay tuned or tune back in. He gave most of us greatness in our youth. Whether it was us 70s and 80s babies or our parents. Most of us have our own childhood stories of Michael. They’re fond cherubic memories that we still carry.

I remember watching people pass out on television as Mike performed. Sometimes, he would just walk through a room, and a woman would drop mid-scream. I couldn’t understand it, but I knew then that he moved people like few others did.

I remember mis-learning the words to “Man in The Mirror” and singing them with the deepest conviction in front of my mirror at 8. As I said in the FRQs, that’s my favorite Michael song, because it tells you where you can find yourself and how you can start to make a difference — through self-reflection. Sound familiar? This whole self-reflection thing has been rummaging around my core since I was 8 — because of that song.

Most of us have similar experiences. And maybe that’s why Michael is on our hearts the way he is now in death, because we’ve carried him with us for so much of our own experiences.

And now we’re finally accepting the enigma we had for 50 years for what he did. He gave each of us who listened, learned and loved everything he had to give. The better. The worse. The best. And the worst.

Most of us marveled at his genius. But some who gazed also gawked at the unmistakable absurdity of his eccentricity, his troubled soul and his alleged exploits. We all taunted, jeered and/or questioned him at one point or another. Some swore and/or wrote him off “forever.” On Thursday, many of those people soiled their faces with tears and their hearts with sorrow as though they were his most loyal fans. Yes, there are plenty of unrelenting people full of hatred that don’t quite get it.

But there are more former taunters in Michael’s comet-viewing coliseums around this world — mourning, reflecting and celebrating his life.

...

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Why? Because they knew the manchild’s greatness, too. It’s undeniable. Many of them lived through the 80s and watched Michael transform from black boywonder to “I don’t know what he is, but he’s larger than life” global icon. As Michael altered his complexion and facial features, they — the taunters — knew that he was half-crazy. But they also knew he was half-amazing. They knew Billie Jean wasn’t his lover.

They, like us, wanted a glittery glove. They wanted a red leather zipper jacket. They, too, wanted to Moonwalk like a Smooth Criminal. And on Thursday evening, they began mourning, like us.

Some of us ponder why? Why should the people who turned their backs on Mike for so long be allowed to celebrate him now that he’s gone? Why should they be able to switch sides, and throw roses at his feet in death.

Well, why not? Let them change their minds, and allow their heart’s longing to sing “Remember The Time” force its way through their ridiculous, yet re-convicted vocal chords. Now’s not a time to hate. It’s a time to be grateful that we were able to witness.

It’s a time to reflect and realize that the man moved a race — the majority of the human race — with his songs, his voice, his weirdness, his nerdiness, his movement, his style, his grace and his words. But mostly, he moved us because he was himself and he gave us the best and worst of who he was.

He did so from his youth until he was a grown manchild. Very few, if any, of us can say that. His life was the unadulterated, unscripted version of The Truman Show. And the world watched. It’s still watching now.

Maybe, in death, Michael Jackson is an enigmatic macrocosm of life trying to force us all to see a man for who he was in his completed, crazed state. To see the flaws despite the triumphs and the triumphs in spite of the flaws. Yet, in the end, enough of us still choose to love him for what he gave us.

That’s just what I see. Maybe I’m overthinking it like I do everything else. I don’t know.

What I do know is that I’m about to find my brush, turn on “Man in The Mirror,” head to the bathroom mirror and sing my heart out because that’s how I first learned to find myself. Through self-reflection in 1988.

And it’s time to remember and reflect some more. We miss you, Michael.

Peace be still,

Damon

P.S. These Words.

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23 responses to “On The King Of Pop: Michael Jackson

  1. God, between you and Bassey, I’m crying again. My words are coming. But right now they are stuck in my throat. Beautiful.

    (I have to say though, I never taunted Michael. Seriously. Maybe bc of the generation I was born into, but brown face Mike wasn’t my most familiar, the transition wasn’t as noticable to me, and NeverNever Land wasn’t a big deal when I came up…)

    • @brownblaze:

      It’s weird how right around when Bassey posted hers, I finished writing the first version. She posted and I read, and some of the similarities …

      she was far more personal. But man, it’s weird.

      Then again, these are experiences we all have lived. All things we remember. The familiarity of it all shouldn’t be strange, huh?

  2. Beautiful letter, Damon. Bassey’s letter is amazing, too.

    The one thing that struck me from Bassey’s letter is when she said something to the effect of “I didn’t realize how much I cared”. That is IT for me. If you would have told me I would cry for 5 hours on the day Michael Jackson died, I would never have believed you (I typically don’t cry when celebrities die; Aaliyah is the lone exception). But lo and behold, I’ve been crying off and on all weekend (I was a mess on Thursday). Like I said on Twitter, I almost felt dumb for crying so hard over a person I never met.

    But Michael absolutely was the soundtrack to our childhood. He’s been there from the beginning, ESPECIALLY if you’re an 80s baby like me. He was NOT supposed to die this soon. I remember crying and watching the news coverage and blurting out “But he wrote THRILLER!” Like that’s supposed to exempt him from dying. Lol Like I said I never realized I cared so much and I never realized how important he was to my life until now.

    I have to agree with my girl BrownBlaze that his physical transformation wasn’t that noticeable to me. The “Bad” MJ is the first MJ I remember because my Dad had his album on vinyl and I used to skate in my basement to that song CONSTANTLY. I didn’t really even begin listening to The Jackson Five and “Thriller” in depth until I was like 13 or 14. My iPod, before its untimely death last year, had a gang of MJ songs on it that I listened to faithfully. So I loved MJ in all his forms.

    How fortunate we are that us 80s babies can say we had the greatest entertainer in history to provide the soundtrack for our lives. That we got over 20 years of his genius that we got to watch unfold. Only our parents are more fortunate than we are in that they literally grew up WITH him. It makes me so sad that my future children will live in a world without Michael Jackson, but they will certainly know him as well as I did.

    Lastly, the death of the King only makes me despise Soulja Boy and the “Trap Gon Ham” coons and others like them more. WHO will our kids have writing the soundtrack of their lives? Beyonce? Father I stretch my hands to thee! No other help I know!

    At least we still have Stevie and Prince!

    • @thesenioritaofslay:

      It’s the only vinyl album I owned as a child. There were two copies in our house — my mother’s and the one that belong to my brother and I.

      I do remember watching Thriller and Beat It before the Bad album. That said, the physical transformation stuff didn’t really hit me until I was going through adolescence… I was either 11 or 12 when i saw The Jacksons: An American Dream …

      That’s when it hit me. When you really saw the transformation in this window of time. I still didn’t know what to think of it then. I think I captured my thoughts around it in my first letter to MikeJack, Letter No. 31.

      You can’t hate him for it. You can be weirded out by it. But to me it’s no different from tanning, weave, lip injections, butt injections, relaxers and all of the other things we do to make ourselves (white & black people) look like each other. We are a strange people. No doubt.

      … on what’s left? Eh, there will never be another like him. I still laugh at how people compare/contrast Michael and Prince. It’s like trying to compare/contrast Marvin Gaye and Al Green. It’s unnecessary. All are great in their own capacities.

      They’ll never be another MikeJack, Prince or Stevie. They’re too synonymous with their own brands that artists are always compared to them… that’s an ultimate compliment.

      The great thing about Soulja Boy and the other fools is that they won’t be relevant in five years. And their music will die off, and likely forever be lost. I think these most of these kids will wake up and see it for the trash that it is …

      Think about Master P. His music has little to no relevance in the history of black music. Sure he carved out a niche of sorts, and built his own empire, but it crumbled because there was no depth to it. No reason to really remember it.

      Same will be said of Soulja Boy & company.

  3. Great letter Damon. I haven’t read that much out there yet because I’m just not ready to right now. I don’t get caught up in celebrity, to me they are no different or any more important than everyone else. However, Mike was the exception. I have stated to my friends on numerous occasion that he is the ONLY star that would have the ability to make me cry if I would have ever had the opportunity to meet him.

    I already had 100+ of his songs on my ipod, I didn’t have to rush out to itunes to buy them on the day of his death. I’m not knocking the people that did and I too believe that the naysayers and the taunters have the right to grieve too. It is just a shame that he had to die for them to recognize and respect him for the amazing genius that he was.

    I think that if we keep him alive in our hearts then he will never really die. Yes, he won’t physically be here but if we play his music for our kids/younger family members and teach them what great music is then they will be okay. Yesterday I almost broke down when my little 6 year-old cousin started moonwalking across the living room (ok he really was just walking backwards but HE thought he was moonwalking so that’s what is important).

  4. This was a great letter and I think it summed up my ‘relationship’ with Michael pretty accurately. Although I was young I remember pretty vividly seeing the ‘brown-skinned’ Mike. However, ‘Bad’ was the album that was in heavy rotation when I was a child. I can remember on my birthday my mom telling me to get my shoes on, that we were going for a ride. Lo and behold we pulled up into the parking lot of the St. Louis Arena (now torn down) and it hit me that she had gotten tickets to the Michael Jackson ‘Bad’ tour. Saying I was so excited would have been an understatement.

    This past Friday I felt numb all day, and it was my fiance’s birthday. Late that evening he and I were driving around and I told him that I never thought the death of someone I didn’t even know would affect me like this. But, in actuality, I did know him, very well…

    I will admit that I had my doubts about Mike when he allowed himself, for a SECOND time, to get caught up with these little boys. I said some things that weren’t nice about him, but I always meant it all in jest and never judged him. I never wrote him off or desired condemn him. I was just stunned that he could allow alot of these things to happen to him and given the fact that I loved him so much I called myself giving him tough love by saying the things I said hoping that I would be proven wrong and he would finally show the world that he was a man that was tough and wouldn’t stand for the okey doke any longer. That he would one day tell the media where to shove it and no longer have to live his life in a fish bowl. That we could know for a fact that these boys’ families were out for blood and would be found guilty for extortion. That Mike could actually be happy and rid himself of those days being so lonely. Now he’s gone and I am still crying. I feel like I lost a family member and a small piece of my childhood. He was one awesome human being that will forever be missed and never duplicated. This man has to be enjoying the wonders of Heaven because he has touched this world too much and united too many people. God be with us all.

  5. Watching the BET Awards just made me mourn this man even more. God I am so hurt by his passing… 😦

  6. He doesn’t have to wonder whom to trust anymore. He doesn’t have to be lonely and lovelorn anymore. No more excruitiating pain from years and years of doing pointe w/o pointe shoes, or hip pain from that kick. No more enablers or opportunists. He is not at the mercy of wolves in sheep’s clothing anymore. MICHAEL JACKSON IS FINALLY SAFE.

    also, it was so painful to sit through that Joe Jackson interview. He literally acted like he didn’t care at all but that’s nothing new.

    • @garcelle

      I thought Joe Jackson acted pretty non-chalant too. But, I can guarantee you, when he’s alone and thinks about all those beatings he gave Mike back in the day and the way he helped break Mike’s spirit, he cries….

  7. Hey, y’all.

    @damon: Good letter.

    I will definitely miss MJ. I’ve loved him since I was a child & still do. Sometimes my siblings & cousins gave me such a hard time about my loyalty to him because I REFUSED to pay attention to the negative stuff. You couldn’t tell me anything bad about MJ. I was a die hard fan and pleaded his case each time. He was strange, eccentric and sometimes displayed suspect behavior but I tried to never judge him.

    Although all of the negative stuff is resurfacing in his death through the media’s chronology of his life (I mean it really can’t & shouldn’t be omitted…it was a part of his life), I’m happy to see that he will always be remembered MOST for his work as an artist & entertainer. I think this is what he would have wanted. Just today on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, they played an excerpt from a 2007 interview he did for Ebony/Jet with Brian Monroe in which he quoted Michelangelo…

    “I know the creator will go. But his work survives. That is why to escape death I attempt to bind my soul to my work.” -Michelangelo

    I think this quote being used by MJ is proof positive of what Danyel Smith said about him always giving of himself through his work (both artistic & charitable); to actually put your heart & soul into everything you do & enjoy doing so…wow.

  8. wow, amazing!! this is the best tribute i’ve read yet. your metaphor of michael as a comet is brilliant. he was definitely a troubled man (i think fame got him..) but i don’t think any allegations were true. it’s sad to me to think that collectively what we [the world, the fans] did to bring him up and rise to fame also could have contributed to his death in his later career of just being downright harsh and cruel (wacko jacko)… i mean, all that collective thought, allegation, trials.. that’s gotta put some STRESS in your life.

    • @floreta:

      Debra Lee read the letter apparently. lol. She used the comet analogy last night during th show …

      Anyway, thanks for the kind words.

  9. Great letter. It should be ranked at the top of them all.

  10. Very good letter. Just like many who posted above, I never knew a “dark-skinned” Michael Jackson. To me it was like knowing what grandma looked as young woman, no clue. All I knew was the “I’m Bad” Michael Jackson but I dug his music regardless. I said a few of the MJ taunts as an elementary student but man, when all the radio stations played his music I remembered how much I enjoyed his catalog and how I kind of miss those songs. They were the soundtrack to my childhood. Even more, I made peace w/ Music Videos for 1 night and watched MTV’s MJ music videos and remembered how much I liked them and also remembered when MJ’s videos made World Premieres on FOX Thursday Nights. No one can recapture that, possibly ever.

    • @oates: Jay tried last night to capture that same kind of feel with DOA …

      at least he cut his hair in the video.

      • That was my first time hearing that DOA song and I was very impressed. It almost had the feel of “The Takeover” almost as if he was taunting those guys. I’m s$#t talker, so I definitely dig that.

        • @oates: my opinion … It’s an OK Jay-Z track. He kind of simple assaults autotune like Larry Johnson spat on that woman.

          It just doesn’t do it for me. There’s a verse in their where he’s name-dropping so much that he sounds like he paying homage to The Game, the rapper.

          Crazy dope beat. Flow? eh. I’ve heard Jay come way better than that including the Takeover, which was truly murderous.

  11. natural nubian

    very very nice damon. i’m still kinda numb from the shock, but i’m just glad Mike has peace now.

  12. Very well written…
    I cant say or type more…

    Thank you…….

  13. D, you pretty much summed it up for me. Still in shock, but now I pretend he’s in a Hummer or some such blasting “Leave Me Alone” on some gargantuan speakers.

    BEFORE HIM THERE WERE NONE; AFTER HIM THERE WILL BE NO MORE.

  14. I, too, was numbed by the passing of MJ. I, too, shed tears over a man I did not know. He was the soundtrack to my childhood. Certain songs bring back certain memories. It is a shame that society antagonized a man..a HUMAN Being. He gave his all, but he was still God’s child too. Amazing, now that he is gone, the things that have come up..The second child who made the allegation has recanted the allegation here recently. It was a featured story on many major networks..It is a shame..I don’t believe he bleached his sin..from all accounts, virtually impossible..vitilago yes, bleaching no. I do believe he tried to achieve a sense of beauty with the plastic surgeries. It is hard to believe you are beautiful when you don’t feel it inside. I thank God that I was allowed an opportunity to see his genius, and I thank God he has has been called home.. Beautifully written piece..Blessings to MJ, his family, friends, and his fans….

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