I stepped out of my room this morning to find my Dad watching a policeman on TV saying that Michael Jackson was dead. It caused a surprising rush of emotion. It’s been years since I put any of his CDs into my player, I don’t have MJ on my iPod, but his is the defining sound of a whole generation of music. My generation.
Suddenly his songs are on the radio and they are the beat of young feet attempting impossible dances powered only by glasses of juice, teenagers in oversized jackets with padded shoulders messing with make-up and love. Dangerous. Old times, utterly forgotten until now, old friends, some of whom I have totally lost touch with, Facebook notwithstanding. But the moon is full and here come their ghosts again – Liberian Girl. Beat it. Billie Jean. We Are The World. Bad.
The opening strains of The Girl is Mine on the car stereo actually brought a lump to my throat. I felt weird about that until I reached the office and realized I wasn’t the only one. I’ve heard confessions all day of learning breakdancing, owning Thriller boots and sporting scary MJ haircuts, of upturned collars and braided coats. Two minutes ago, I finally managed to get on Facebook briefly and so many status updates echo my own.
He was bigger than himself, a project rather than a person, an anthem more than a song. Everything he did was uniquely his own, whether you liked it or not, which is why he spawned lookalikes and movealikes from the stages of Vegas to the back streets of Bhatinda. In the dime stores and bus-stations, people are probably talking of him. One entire part of the Tamil film industry must be in black mourning today.
As with all those in the bright lights – I would guess moonlight rather than sun, as far as MJ was concerned – we saw good side, bad side and terrible side. Those are hard to tell apart when your only source is the media. The words “icon”, “legend”, “end of an era” will rattle around the news and radio stations of the world for a week or so, or until the funeral, whichever comes first. The anti-newsers will write editorials saying “oh what a circus”. Someone will write a Shine On Crazy Diamond for him. Other celebrities will call him a “gifted artist”, some may go as far as “wonderful human being”. The crowds who gathered to spew hate during his courtroom appearances may well be the same ones carrying the tearful “Heal the world” banners.
The only thing we know for sure, firsthand is his music, and I hope we’ve heard too much of that to argue or to judge. He was Michael Jackson, indisputably. But what did he see when he looked at the man in the mirror? He went through so many transformations, what did he want to see? Did he see it last night?
As a friend said on Facebook “Wherever he is, I hope he finally got the nose he wanted”. Perhaps he’s turned back into that kid with the afro from The Jackson 5, and it really doesn’t matter to him now if he’s black or white.
Many songs by other people have got mixed up in this little tribute. That’s just emotional turbulence tossing up things that are not tied down or stowed away in the overhead locker. It’s hard to express the way it makes me feel, the depth of it. This is the first really big musical end, the Elvis moment, of my time.
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