I’m trying to resist the temptation to say, “I can’t believe it’s already been five years.” Because that’s what everyone says about such things, right? But such resistance would be disingenuous. Because truly, it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it’s been a half decade since Michael Jackson left the world behind.
As if his musical legacy weren’t enough, I think it’s a fitting testament to his gravity and presence that Michael’s death on June 25, 2009 is one of those moments people seem to anecdotally recall in ways not dissimilar to the assassination of JFK. It takes a very large person indeed to leave such a lasting vacuum of emotion. For me, I was getting ready to attend a summer afternoon party at a nearby friend’s house when I got a text from an acquaintance. “Did you hear about Michael Jackson,” she wrote. I hadn’t. But after just a few quick keystrokes on Google I suddenly learned that what I hoped was just a rumor was, in fact, truth.
I write this without any trace of exaggeration or hyperbole: I could spend the next several hours composing thousands of words about the greatness that is Michael Jackson. I count him as one of the finest entertainers and songwriters to ever inhabit the space of human existence; an individual who transcended so many seeming limitations of talent and expectation that words pale against the blinding light he cast during his half century on this Earth. And so, in the interest of brevity and my own personal sanity, I instead present a few interesting links and lamentations.
First, I beg you to read an essay from a 2009 issue of Paste magazine written by Nick Marino titled “What I Miss About Michael Jackson.” Marino eloquently summarizes what made Michael so much more than a mere performer, and his bittersweet elegy was perhaps the most fitting of the year. Want a taste?
The moonwalk? It was jaw-dropping, one of the last dance moves to become a cultural phenomenon. Everybody saw it, everybody knew it, everybody was stunned by it. (When he debuted the move in 1983, during a 25th-anniversary concert celebration for Motown Records, the audience responded with a bewildered shriek—they’d never seen anything like it.) This was not like the Macarena, a wedding dance, an asinine hand jive drunken bubbas could do in the stands at NFL games. The moonwalk was otherworldly. We didn’t know a body could move like that—our bodies couldn’t move like that. The moonwalk belonged, and still belongs, to Michael. Have you ever seen anyone else attempt his signature move? It’s pathetic.
And then there’s this, his halftime performance at Super Bowl XXVIII in 1993. Notice how long he stands at the center of the stadium for the better part of two minutes before moving a muscle. And then, when he does move…well, the whole thing speaks for itself.
Finally, I humbly present a blog post I wrote in 2010 after watching the most excellent documentary This Is It.
The Truth About Michael Jackson (or, The Time For Easy Answers Has Passed)
Here, in a few words, is the paradox of Michael Jackson that is so difficult for us to understand:
The issue, really, comes down to our refusal of the reality that none of us is capable of being defined (or, more importantly, defining others) by any one particular facet of one’s personality. I am no more wholly “Nick From Medford” than I am “Nick, Cydnee’s Boyfriend.” Or “Nick, Guitar Player” than I am “Nick, the 29-year-old dude who lives next to me on Mill Street.” I am all of these people—these personalities, these manifest versions—combined into one. Separate, but equal. It is a strange duality indeed, and while I always strive for unity between my own fickle nature’s forces, I am increasingly confronted with the realization that it is impossible to express oneself fully at any given time.
I need look no further than those I know. Surely there are elements of other people’s personalities—my sister’s, my brother’s, my parents’, my best friend’s—of which I am at least partially, if not wholly, unaware. So doesn’t it only make sense that I too have such places and elements of personality, of which others are not wholly (or even partially) aware?
Of course it does.
Now, consider Michael Jackson. He was a human being, therefore he was subject to the same whims and impossibilities that govern all other human beings, myself most certainly included. If one also considers that Michael Jackson was not only a human being but a remarkable one at that—in talent, fame, and fortune—one is forced to contemplate what such exception does to the unpredictable and sometimes calamitous human spirit. Because of his place in the world, Michael Jackson’s dualities were obviously larger and far more noticeable to others (i.e., complete strangers and enemies) than they are to most of us, myself most certainly included.
How, we seem to ask ourselves, is it possible that such a beautiful and talented creature—a force of poetic human potential and positive energy such as the world only sees every few centuries—be equally scarred by such dark demons of self? How could Michael Jackson have been at once so unifying and divisive at the same time?
These are the sorts of questions we cannot seem to answer about Michael Jackson because these are the sorts of questions we cannot seem to answer about ourselves. Moreover, these are the sorts of questions that will continue to haunt us in his memory (and our own evolution) unless we begin to understand the larger frame of knowledge taking shape here. If we self examine—not superficially, but really self examine, down to the uncharted core of the soul, that place we keep hidden and from which we too often hide—and accept, rather than deny, our own shared dualities and conflicts and impossibilities of self, we will fail to understand perhaps the ultimate reason for his existence. What a shame that would be.
“And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change…”