Today was most obviously a national holiday. A holiday filled to the brim with music.
On the cover of the rapidly going downhill Baltimore sun, was Michael Jackson, pre-total redo of appearance, shouting expressively into a microphone. The article went on to describe the life of Michael Jackson in full, multiple page glory, focusing on the highlights of his pop music career, and celebrating his contributions to our culture. Multiply this by every local newspaper in every city, and nearly every television station.
The explosion of appreciation of Jackson's work did not stop with the media. I work at a summer camp, and remembering the pop legend seemed to be at the top of every other staff member's agenda. Hits like Billy Jean, ABC, and Thriller blared from every set of speakers around camp. The teacher of the art class that I assist with tried to teach the moonwalk to campers as they entered the classroom. And I felt proud to already possess the knowledge that Michael Jackson was indeed the small one in the Jackson Five.
But just days ago, didn't we laugh at this man whose memory we now revere? Didn't we, old and young, shake our heads and crack joke, ruthlessly perhaps, about how weird, crazy, and perhaps criminally creepy he had become, how far he had fallen? Wasn't he accused of, and tried for child molestation? And didn't it not really matter to us that he was acquitted of those charges? Wasn't he featured in an Eminem music video, jumping on a bed with little boys, with his nose falling off? We carry these memories in the pits of our stomachs, brewing, wondering whether it makes us cruel.
This afternoon, a fellow counselor quietly mentioned the bizarreness of Jackson's late appearance to me, and I announced, almost triumphantly, that he resembled Lord Voldemort. The words felt ugly on my tongue, yet somehow, they relieved a bit of the tension in my chest.
"Still too early to say that?" my co-worker asked.
"Yeah," I agreed.
Whenever someone attacked any part of Jackson's history today, someone else stepped in to defend him. I wish that people were so loyal after everyone's death. . . But then, they are in most cases, aren't they? I wish that people we so loyal to each other before anyone has to die.
I believe that when Michael Jackson died, a basic instinct was set into motion in all of us. Our disdain for the strangeness of what Jackson has become, was overwhealmed by the need we all felt to save the man who had created the songs we sing along to, the dance moves we cannot even hope to replicate. Or at least, we wanted to save his memory.
Last night, immediately after Jackson's death, when I checked the New York Times online front page, the Times featured a story similar to that on the front page of the Baltimore Sun, celebrating Jackson's life, and mourning his death. I had no doubt at the time, as the shock of the news filled me, that this was the appropriate way to handle the event. But tonight, as my own doubt settles into all of my being, the Times website instead features an article examining the facts of Jackson's death, and whether misuse of drugs or medications was involved.
Eventually, we'll try to understand the full picture of Michael Jackson's life, as we attempt to after the death of any person who in any way touches our lives. We'll acknowlege his great accomplishments, the reality of how his life fell appart, and the fact that he was not entirely free of blame for what he became. For the first time, now that he is dead, we will perhaps see him as truly human. As for me, I feel right now that I'd rather just hold onto today's feeling of awe at a life full of brilliant accomplishment. I'd like to believe that these feelings make us better people, and that each of us has the ability to see the positive each other where we deserve it, and when the occasion calls for such understanding. Maybe it's still too early for the rest.
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