Or, “Oh, Excuse Me, Er, I’m Sorry, I Didn’t Realize That Was A Tiger In Your Gatefold”
Last night, the place for me to grieve would have ideally been on a dance floor — much like back in 2002 when I performed the “Beat It” dance at Mia‘s birthday party at Higher Ground. Instead, I found myself working the box office at the Dinosaur Jr. concert, a prime locale to overhear the snarky comments and predictable jokes from a bunch of drunken cooler-than-thou indie rock agents. Perhaps only a Nirvana tribute show would have been worse, but there probably would’ve been a bit more respect for the dead in such a situation. Instead, I had to opt for an Irish funeral and a lonely, tear-drenched ride home alone on the train. But thanks to all of you who sent text messages during my shift.
It’s hard to express my devastation upon hearing this news, the shock, and the sadness when I realize how long we all watched Michael deteriorate. His rise and his prime were so dazzlingly spectacular, so I suppose its fitting that his decline rendered us equally transfixed. It was easy to see him as a cartoon because he was already firmly a legend by the time he was 25. We watched the tale unfold, a story of a broken king, his kingdom and his body crumbling around him in the wake of his delusions — some self-made, others foisted on his featherlight frame.
Perhaps it was foolish to hope that for a few hours, at least, Michael would be spared the snickering and the criticism and be recalled as a man and as the wonderfully multitalented artist that he was. In popular culture there is Before Thriller, and there is After Thriller. Hell, there is before Michael was five years-old and after! But it is a lot easier to wrap our minds around the scandals and the spectacles than it is to remember how MJ’s songs moved us and shaped our lives. It’s not easy to conceptualize how one person could be so talented, so early in life, and so utterly transform how we participate in our culture. Suddenly, a song was a global event, and we were all on the edges of our seats to hear that song together, to watch and to dance along.
I’m going to direct you to Soul Sides now for a good selection of songs and video and some solid links, because they do it so well.
We will never hear or see anything like Michael Jackson again. It is hard to imagine what in the world could possibly come next. Fortunately, it will always feel exactly the same when “I Want You Back” or “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” comes on and everyone hits the tiles. Everyone gets it. Everyone feels like a star. We could roll the events and mystery of Michael around on our tongues for time immemorial (and probably will). But what ends up being true is that his best music makes us all want to dance. All of us.
God bless you, MJ. Now you can rest.