The whole planet was dancing this weekend. One humongous, gyrating mass of human beings grooving together with Billie Jean, with Dirty Diana, with Ben. Fifty of the most triumphant and simultaneously excruciating years one human being can spend on this earth, ended in an instant on June 25th. Our beloved Michael Jackson is gone. We are shocked, we are heartbroken, but we ain’t gonna cry.
When John Lennon passed, I was young so had to ask my stepdad what the big deal was. He said, “it would be like if Michael Jackson died.” Back then, I didn’t know how death made you see in a flash the moments between a person first coming into your world and when they leave forever, condensing those moments into an irretrievable period that reminds you of the brevity of life. I didn’t understand how the death of a young person snips away what could have been a glorious future, leaving you to mourn both what you’ve lost and what you’ll never have. All I knew was that Michael Jackson being removed from the planet would be one of the worst things to happen.
Decades later, I’m an adult forced to process the death of a person who was both a stranger and a constant presence. Michael Jackson was a mess of contradictions. He wasn’t only talented, but genius. He wasn’t merely eccentric, he was bizarre. More than just strange-looking, he became extraterrestrial. He was as astonishingly asocial as he was loving.
But he was also an unearthly creature who could move like an acrobat, a ballerina and a machine gun all at once. A singer who sounded like an angel and a sprite. A supernova brilliant enough to have the entire planet follow his every move, yet generous enough to try and heal it. A being who crossed every bridge humanity has built to keep us from each other – racially, economically, artistically, even sexually. Michael Jackson was too big to die.
Alas, our hero was mortal and the man is gone. But his extraordinary work is eternal. And really, what Michael’s life was all about during this half-century love affair was his art. With his passing, the world forgot about the monster the media and the man himself worked to create, and got back the Michael Jackson we adored. Seeing once more the smiling boy singing “I Want You Back” on Ed Sullivan still makes our hearts skip a beat. The opening of “Billie Jean” is as miraculous as the first time we heard it. The moonwalk is as jaw-dropping as the day we watched as kids.
The Saturday following his death was gorgeous in Boston. As a friend and I walked through the streets, the news about Michael was on everyone’s lips, his songs were on every radio station in boutiques and coming at us through the rolled down windows of every passing car. A Latino man blasted “Thriller” from his radio, my black friend and I danced on the street and were waved at by an older white woman shimmying her hips across the way. In the evening, we went to the greatest dance party ever, where Michael and his brothers dominated the playlist. The entire day was a reminder of what was special about the man. No matter who you were, when Michael Jackson was on, you had to move, there was no choice, dancing was imperative. And when his music played, you couldn’t stop smiling. This is what Michael Jackson gave to us. Joy, love, connection and music. And so we celebrate not only his life, but our own.
In an interview, Michael admitted to feeling at ease only on stage. Around other people, not so much. All he wanted was to entertain, to be loved by us in a way he never seemed to be loved by another person. But his eccentricities and crimes pushed his audience away. Understandably, we made him a freak and an exile. We branded him irrelevant, the truest way to kill an artist.
But if you’ve been around long enough, you know people don’t do bad things because they’re evil, but because they’ve got a lot of pain. Of course, your allegiances lie with the victims, but one can’t help but feel for someone whose life has been horrific. And so, part of this celebratory funeral for Michael Jackson is about forgiveness.
I don’t want to be sad, in part, because I believe Michael Jackson sought in life the kind of release he now knows in death. I’m sad for the people in his life who truly loved him, and hope there were many. I’m sad he never had the chance to redeem himself. But I’m thankful he was with us.
I have trouble with the concept of an afterlife and am still struggling to decide what happens to the spirit when it leaves the body. But right now, I hope there is a Heaven and that this phenomenally gifted, phenomenally generous, phenomenally tortured person can see us down here singing and grooving to his music.
Yes, you meant something to us, Michael. We were moved by your story and your work. We do love you. And will never stop dancing.