July 6, 2009

Gone Too Soon, A Michael Jackson Story

michael jacksonThe day started with me tuning into Morning Joe towards the end of the show and hearing that Farrah Fawcett had passed away. I expected Fawcett to go and was relieved that she found peace in her long struggle. I left the television playing in the background because Obama was going to speak after his meeting with Angela Merkel and I wanted to catch the press conference. At some point I decided that I was going catch up on some of the stuff that I had on DVR. I watched “So You Think You Could Dance” and wondered why Vitiligo was not letting his spirit fly free on the stage, he was so handsome but so inconsistent, frustrated I turned it off. After arranging to meet a friend for dinner I went to the TV to catch the weather and whatever was breaking. I turned to MSNBC and saw the news banner stating MICHAEL JACKSON IS DEAD.
At first I could not believe my eyes, and thought that it was another case of the media getting it wrong, Michael Jackson didn’t DIE!! After the past eight years I was used to the media fouling up the facts. I thought to myself check out these idiots reporting Michael Jackson dead when it’s Farrah who died. So I went to CNN, they too were reporting the news of Michael’s death. I felt myself entering a full state of disbelief. Was he sick, I questioned openly. I thought of plane crashes and car accidents, telling myself and believing that maybe he was only severely injured that’s what they meant. They would come back to correct the report and say that Michael was injured in an accident and would be okay.
As I learned more about the situation and saw the crowds gathering outside Michael’s home and the hospital I started to think maybe it was real. Maybe Michael Jackson was dead. Still seeking more confirmation and convincing myself they were talking about some other Michael Jackson I turned to MTV and they were playing Michael Jackson videos that brought it home for me. If MTV was playing all Jackson videos then it had to be true so I turned back to Keith to get the details, he had stopped breathing in his home and died at the hospital of cardiac arrest. I started screaming internally, why Michael, why now. The scream became a cry and began to fill my living room. NOT MICHAEL. As I waited for further confirmation from the family, I began to digest the reality of what was Michael’s death. If it was true, I wanted to be among the first to wish him safe and happy passage. I logged on to Twitter and typed: Michael you are finally free, we love you always, Rest in Peace.
Michael Jackson was a special and magnificent person. Obama, ever wise, in his statement said that Michael was a tragic figure. He is absolutely right. Michael was a tragic figure. I think that Michael was extremely misunderstood, lacked a love for self and that is tragic. There would be no more music, no more videos, no more information, and that too is tragic.
By the time I heard of Michael, the Jacksons were coming to an end, but the music they created was still played on the radio. I heard “ABC”, “Ben”, “I’ll Be There” and “I Want You Back” and saw the television show. Then came his solo career and although I was barely ten years old, I fell in love, and it was a true and pure love. I rocked when he sang “I Wanna Rock With You”. You felt his soul in every song, and he didn’t dance too badly either.
“Girl close your eyes and let the rhythm get into you, Don’t try to fight it, There ain’t nothin’ that you can do, Relax your mind, Lay back and grove with mine, You gotta feel that heat, And we can ride the boogie, Share that beat of love”,---(“Rock With You”-- Off The Wall)
Now who wouldn’t melt after hearing Michael’s beautiful voice singing those delicious lyrics? I fought to stay up to watch Friday Night Videos because the new Michael Jackson video for “Billie Jean” was going to be played. I had never seen anyone move the way Michael did and the song was catchy. I spent many late nights in my basement trying to recreate his moves. We couldn’t wait for his Pepsi commercialMotown 25 was a spectacular television moment, The Jacksons performed first, I loved little Randy. But when the brothers left the stage, Michael gave a flawless solo performance. He sang with passion, stood on his toes, spun around, and kicked his legs and moon walked across the stage. We began screaming in my house…everyone went wild young and old. I lost my mind.
Back then, Michael was a handsome brown skin man with a magical smile. At first I didn’t understand why someone as handsome as Michael would want to change his appearance. But let’s not try to act like it was something that only Michael would have been interested in, lots of people in my neighborhood and school during those days was trying to lighten their skin and straighten their hair. It was the eighties and being black, having a big nose and lips, and “kinky” hair was not in. The images of beautiful were fair skin, small nose, and silky hair. I grew to understand why Michael might want to identify with what was promoted as popular and pretty.
Let’s remember he was teased as a child about his looks, by family and fans, he said he had bad acne and he didn’t like looking at himself. Many children developed low self-esteem because they were teased about their looks. A self-hate taught in families by siblings and even parents. The effects of this was profound in the African American community and was documented in the Black Doll/White Doll Experiment (google it). These are the times Michael grew up in, why wouldn’t it have had an effect on him? This is the residue of slavery that Americans, Black Or White, do not want to confront. Being darker myself I was often tormented by the lighter skinned, straighter nose, smaller lip people. I sometimes cried wondering why did “god” have to make me dark, why couldn’t I be white or at least light skinned with a tiny nose, and of course long hair; if I had the money who knows what I would have done in those days. Although I have come to accept my looks, those days had major impact on the way I see myself and how I live my life.
While people praised his music they talked about his transformation as if it were abstract. I had an argument a couple of years back with a very dear friend about why we had to own Michael Jackson; he belonged to all of us. Whatever action Michael took upon himself was a direct response to the pressures from society including his family; we could not really fault him. Now look around, everyone is transforming themselves with breast, butt, and cheek implants, the weaves, tummy tucks, lipo, botox, and yes, nose jobs and maybe bleaching---Michael Jackson was just a step ahead. Didn’t that Miss California have breast implants?
Michael came forward and said he had a skin disorder-vitiligo. He said he worked on his nose and had to get corrective surgery. Michael’s explanation was not enough, he was called a liar. I think that was the first time I heard people call Michael a liar. I remember explaining to my daughter who was born in ’89 and was introduced to the lighter Michael, the Free Willy Michael, I remember explaining to her that Michael was black because she really thought he was white, I showed her pictures of what he looked like before the surgery and vitiligo; she was confused for about five minutes and then went on singing and dancing to Michael, that’s the way I felt.
When he purchased the Beatles song book Neverland, and he demanded he own his masters-- he was chastised, this wasn’t seen as a shrewd business moves but obsessions—he was labeled as frivolous and weird. One word about the hyperbaric chamber, some say that Michael spread that story about himself, but who put it in the papers, and on the news. Why was that news? How anxious people were to call him a wacko.
It wasn’t just the skin thing, the surgeries, the bones, or the chamber; we questioned whether he was gay or straight. The more popular he became the accusations against Michael evolved from crazy to criminal. Why did he have all the children around? He explained that children were real and he felt more comfortable around them. He felt robbed of his Childhood since he spent those years entertaining us. He created Neverland as a way to re-live his youth and give children the fantasy world, you know, like Disneyland. Mostly underprivileged, sick and special needs children visited Neverland ranch sort of like what Don Imus does at his ranch except Michael didn’t make them work the way Imus does, or the way Michael had to when he was a child. Michael allowed children to go to Neverland, forget about their condition and just have fun. But again they said he was being devious; he was a molester who was using his popularity and Neverland Ranch to lure innocent boys.
Casting Michael as pedophile, to me, was like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole, you can make it fit but there is going to be some irreversible damage in the process, and I believe his death is a result of that damage. When you compare his body of work and his message of love, hope and change, the good that he did not just for music but for the world, it just does not fit with the allegations. I think the worst advice he might have ever gotten was to settle the case brought in the nineties because contrary to the OJ trial where some feel he made a guilty man look innocent, Johnny Cochran, in the Michael Jackson settlement made an innocent man look guilty. The settlement gave his haters ammunition, it is the evidence they point to as proof of guilt. But why didn’t the prosecutor bring charges against Michael during that fiasco? Remember no formal charges were ever filed against Michael. They say Michael was guilty because he paid off the family, would you accept Money if someone molested your child. If the case had validity wouldn’t bribing the family be more cause for the LA District Attorney to bring charges? This was a civil case, meaning someone was suing for money, these people didn’t call the police they called a lawyer. Was the LA District Attorney’s goal to secure a settlement for the family or prosecute criminals? It seems like the district attorney in that case acted as an enforcer for some extortionists and maybe he got some money from the settlement, maybe when they were running low, they came back for more in 2005. Michael was found innocent of all charges brought against him in the court case but yet people still try to paint him as a Smooth Criminal.
With his changing appearance and the speculation on his sexuality, Michael became fodder for the comedy circuit. Michael was being teased and it was very ugly; it broke my heart every time I heard a comedian make a joke about Michael molesting a child. Why was child molestation funny? I hope none of those who still label Michael never get charged with a crime they didn’t commit, and I hope if they do they have the money to fight the case. I hope they get off and do not have to spend years in jail trying to prove their innocence, like many of the people we see being freed by DNA after getting twenty five years or worst.
He was the most famous entertainer; he had millions of people screaming MICHAEL all over the planet, fainting at his concerts. He had the attention of the world, I am sure someone didn’t like that; maybe they felt Michael was too powerful or too rich. Every time he gave an interview his words were twisted. He warned us about the misleading media and that “just because we read it in a magazine or see it on the TV screen don’t make it factual” scolded us about becoming a Tabloid Junkie. He told us he was a “victim of police brutality”, but certain people felt he was guilty of any accusation lodged against him, even Oprah chimed in, does this mean she is really In The Closet. The media tried their very best to paint Michael as a freak but the freaks were the ones who spread the false stories about him, those who felt the need to report the crazy stories about him, those who leached off him sucking the life and money out of him, and those who built their careers standing on Michaels neck or stabbing him in the back.
Michael begged for his privacy--he would not get his wish, the media and fans continued to hound him, and all Michael could do is just write a song about it.
“Ain't the pictures enough, why do you go through so much? To get the stories you need, so you can bury me
You’ve got the people confused, you tell the stories you choose, You try to get me to lose the man I really am,” (“Privacy” –Invincible)
But we were obsessed with the man and his message; it was the dancing and the music. Michael knew the right beats, the right rhythm, and the right words to get us singing and moving, but he was also a great Humanitarian. Along with all the fun he took time to challenge us. He wasn’t just singing about Girlfriend and baby mama drama, he was telling us “always think twice”. He told us to get Off The Wall and Get On The Floor, and Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough. He was telling us to live life to the fullest, to empower ourselves, and he was asking us to confront global crisis, he forced us to think of more than our individual selves. He told us We Are The World and lets Heal The World, he talked about Africa long before it was popular to adopt babies from there. He was telling us we could change our condition, long before Obama made his call for “Change”. Through his many alterations Michael forced us to confront the issue of identity, and while he may have been unhappy with the Man In The Mirror he was telling us to love ourselves and learn our history. He was instrumental in helping a generation understand that they could dream big and it was ok to be odd. He sang for All The Lost Children. He bought awareness to cancer and attention to homelessness and hunger. He told us not to discriminate, and not to shun those afflicted with aids. He was against war and wanted only to spread truth, love, and peace. He set the standards for how a star can use their celebrity to bring attention to suffering in the world. He asked us to help him “because I can’t do it by himself” words from the song “Cry”. Michael used his craft as a tool giving his voice to many causes.
I wanted to be The Lady In His Life and was glad when he declared “She’s Out Of My Life” because that made room for me. I was thirteen sitting in my junior high daydreaming how Michael would show up at my school, the school would go crazy of course but I would be amazingly calm. He would come to my class wearing his red zipper jacket, the glove, black high-water pants, white socks, black loafers and his trademark shades, this way no one would be confused as to who he was. He would ask for ME and I would “calmly” walk out with Michael, get into his limousine and we would drive off into the sunset. Oh yeah, I had it Bad for MJ.
There was his groundbreaking video, but “Beat It” paved the way and “Ghost” was thrilling. When he asked “Annie are you ok”, it was like watching Broadway and his choreography has never been matched, no one went upstairs like Michael. Remember The Time we waited for the world premiere of his latest video. Check out that swerve move in “You Rock My World”, when he is in formation with his dancers, the guy was in his forties there. I love them all. “Who Is It”, stands on its own because of the mastery of his writing ability; again Michael poured his being into the vocals, laying a groovy beat and dynamic lyrics. Singing about a lover that left him he sang;
“I Am The Damned, I Am The Dead, I Am The Agony Inside The Dying Head
This Is Injustice, Woe Unto Thee, I Pray This Punishment, Would Have Mercy On Me” (“Who Is It”— Dangerous)

I just loved his voice in this song; you could feel Michael’s passion in every painfully delivered word. He gave all of himself through his music and moves. Michael was many things; he was Pop, Rock, R&B, Soul. He was masculine, feminine, singer, dancer, lover, gangsta, and the voice of consciousness. He was private, political, philanthropic, extravagant and normal. He embraced all that was American; and embodied our hopes and possibilities. Michael was loved globally but was probably the loneliest person in the world. He gave his soul to his music because that was his most honest and direct communication. The stage is where he shared his heart, leaving Blood On The Dance Floor. If we wanted to know how Michael felt about what was happening to him, you only need to listen to his words:
“tell me what’s become of my rights, am I invisible cause you know me, your proclamation promised me free liberty, I am tired of being a victim shame, you’re throwing me in a class with a bad name, I can’t believe this is the land from which I came”----(“They Don’t Really Care About Us”-- HIStory)
He felt like a Stranger In Moscow, abandoned by his country. But through it all he continued to produce music and spread his message of love. His “Invincible” album was just that, it did not get the notoriety but it is a brilliant piece of work. It includes “Butterflies”, “Speechless”, and “Whatever Happens” some of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard, and for someone who hadn’t toured in about fifteen years, he was able to sell out arenas, proving he was still relevant and still appreciated, and now he’s Gone Too Soon.
To me he didn’t look healthy in the rehearsal video put out by the promotion company; he looked passionate; but also disoriented in parts of the video. Plus, how could a man 5’11”, supposedly weighing 112-120lbs, eating one meal per day, exercising and dancing for six hours per day, and suffering from severe insomnia, how could that person be in good physical or mental health. Its obvious Michael was sick, and many people were ignorant to his suffering. I was surprised Michael lived till fifty years old because of the constant pressure he was under. My daughter said Michael died of a broken heart and I believe that may be true. No matter what the result of any autopsy, or toxicology report, or fights over his estate and his children, even with his millions of fans, Michael died a tormented, lonely man, sacrificing a normal life in order to spread his music and message to the world. I can see by his last rehearsals that the commitment to his fans and love for the music was still strong, even if his body wasn’t. We stripped him of everything and forced him behind a wall, and then even the walls were not enough. There would be no solitude for Michael and that was selfishness on our part. He told us of his agony, but still we did not listen, we couldn’t be satisfied with what he was willing to share. We literally wanted a piece of him, forgetting he was human. I guess I really didn’t believe he would or could die. I wanted him to live forever but Michael gave of himself until there was nothing left in the flesh.
There is a lot of questioning, is he bigger than ElvisThe Beatles or Sinatra. They were all big--huge, but Michael Jackson holds the biggest selling record of all time. Michael was also a member of The Jacksons one of the biggest acts in the late sixties and seventies. He holds the record for the most Grammys for a single album, influenced fashion and countless performers who took the stage after him. Michael redefined videos and saved MTV, couple all of that with his humanitarian work. Michael was colossal. What makes his accomplishments more significant is the fact that he was a Black American. Although we like to say it was not a factor, he was born in the fifties when blacks were fighting for equal rights and the vote. Michael accomplished his level of success despite being black, his success continued despite his transformation - HE DEFIED LOGIC.
For those still wondering whether he was a good guy, I point to the fact that Elvis married a fourteen year old, and was a known prescription junkie, but we don’t question whether he was a good guy. Sinatra had affiliations with the Mob and Sinatra is a good guy. Marilyn Monroe was a promiscuous mistress, a drunk, and pill junkie, Marilyn Monroe is still a good gal. Woody Allen married his daughter; I could go on and on.
Michael Jackson was a great guy, his spirit now lives on in his work, and we must keep his legacy alive and well. He raised the bar and no one has duplicated his success or influence. Let’s keep him dancing and singing as we tell HIStory because he deserves immortality.

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