While he lived, he was quite possibly the most listened to person alive. The most sampled and copied. The most played. The youngest person to make people move. The person most people tried to move like.
He made us move like zombies, like water, like freedom. He made us trip and fall backwards trying to moonwalk, and trip and fall forward trying to see if the lean in ‘Smooth Criminal’ was possible.
He showed us his mad genius world in videos, songs, movies, tv specials.
He injected sex into our hips. He got us wearing shiny gloves and overwought leather jackets. He taught us to walk with such rhythm that we lit up the sidewalks.
There are sung phrases that are of our collective history and can incite any crowd of several generations into vicious emotion or movement…1, 2, 3; I wanna rock with you; Make that change; Billie Jean is not my lover; the way you make me feel; Sha-mo (or whatever he was saying…); Mama se Mama sa… The opening chords to Thriller and Pretty Young Thing have made us move in ways we didn’t know were possible. His young voice out of nowhere singing, “When….I, had you. I treated you bad, and wrong my dear…”
He broke race barriers in the pop world which opened doors in the political world - he crossed over and back. He morphed.
When the signs started to become clear, that the boy wasn’t right, that he was too isolated, underdeveloped, imperfect - we laughed, we stared, we assumed. He was our first boyfriend before he became our crazy cousin - always family.
We didn’t see the pain, we saw the bizarre, and we are vultures for scandal.
Still, he kept producing for us. As he got lighter he brought us an image of black Egyptians. He made us scream, cry, faint, and mob.
When it became clear that the boy’s face we had loved had become the face of a man who didn’t love himself; we judged him. We tore at him and he fell apart. He was living proof of the impact of our rabid pop culture, an early sacrifice to the new mechanisms of fame which allow no privacy, no time to learn, no mistakes.
Still, he kept producing for us.
When the rumors and the truth were all too prevalent (the children, both his and others), and he wasn’t getting the psychological support and accountability he needed, we turned from him and derided him. We made the distinction of loving the child, but ridiculing the man.
How many times did his heart break before this? How many times did he experience happiness, community, belonging and love in his life, in his off-the-stage life?
My entire life is framed by his songs. I have had ecstatic moments to his music while high, while drunk, while sober, while sad, while in love, while in heartbreak. It seems silly to feel this way over a pop singer, and yet its crucial to feel this way over an artist who reshaped how we understand music, movement and communication. He was at every good party I ever attended (which is where I have felt more release and unity with other people than just about anywhere else).
I suspect he always will be.
I don’t know if he experienced peace in this life, much less joy. When I heard the news today, I looked out the window and a rainbow stood complete from one horizon to the other. I don’t know if nature follows the news, but I hope that one was for the kid and the man, and he’s over there.
For real, rest in peace Michael Jackson. Thank you.