Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael, you had me at Thriller

It was close to two weeks ago, sitting at my computer at work where I saw the news crawl, “Michael Jackson is dead”. I did what I normally wouldn’t do at work, or anywhere else. I did, what I consider to be, a tasteless action. I clicked onto the TMZ website. I hate that site with its dirt slinging malicious slant but at that moment, it held words that I didn’t want to believe but needed to see – Michael Jackson had died. I read TMZ’s report, which relayed that Michael was taken to the hospital after getting a call that he wasn’t breathing. I still didn’t truly believe it. After all, I was reading TMZ – ready to spread whatever they could get their hands on, true or false. I waited until I saw it confirmed on MSNBC. Then I sat there somewhat stunned and close to tears. I was alone in my little section. I wanted to bolt out of my chair and run to the nearest person saying, “Did you hear the news?” But I thought, they would think it’s ridiculous. I wondered if they would find it strange that I was close to tears over the loss of this person. My work buddy returned and I asked her, did you hear? She had. She actually heard a few people joking about it and scoffed, internally. She summed up the experience beautifully. “No matter what you thought of the man, a human being has died!,” she said steamily. (That isn’t verbatim but I hope I caught the essence).

My work buddy and I talked about his music and his impact. I told her, I didn’t know a moment of my life without Michael Jackson. I grew up with him. I remember watching him on TV as a kid and my mother remarking, “He has rubberbands as legs.” I remember him as being talented and a wonderkid. There was no one like him.

As a young teenager I saw a picture of him as the “adult” Michael and remembered thinking how cute he was. So I clipped out his picture and added to all the others I was into like Harrison Ford and Adam Ant. I remember rushing home to be there for the exact moment that MTV played the world premiere of Thriller. I was awed. And I tried to do the moves. I moonwalked. Not as badly as you would think. I didn’t wear the glove – I was a preppy after all. But like most people I knew, I owned Thriller. Mind you, in that, that was quite extraordinary. Although I wore conservative, preppy clothes, I did it because I didn’t want to follow trends. I wanted to be my own person. I didn’t want to listen to the music everyone else did. I didn’t buy Thriller because it was the thing to buy (it took me YEARS before I bought a Madonna album). I bought it because I truly loved the music – and I listened to that album way past its trendiness.

I didn’t follow much of Michael’s music later on. Not because I didn’t like it but because my focus changed. I had become heavily involved in anti-war activist work and I wasn’t tapped into anything mainstream, including music (and by that time, Michael was mainstream). I remember though, during that time, being at Moma’s Royal Café in Oakland, and Michael’s, Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough blared through the restaurant. My friend and I started grooving at the table. Then our food came. Our server dropped off our dishes and did a turn right to the beat. We clapped and continued to dance. This isn’t the typical way white suburbanites act while having brunch but such was the impact of Michael’s music. We had to “get down” because his music was so upbeat.

After that, the dark years of Michael being accused and ridiculed descended upon us. I had doubts whether the accusations were true but I did feel differently about the icon I grew up with. Then maybe because the later years were so hard, I wanted to reconnect with Michael’s “old” music (the time prior to all the ugliness) so I bought Off The Wall. It had been years since I heard Rock With You. Then it seemed like I heard the old hits everywhere. I went to Peets on Piedmont and the cashier was rocking out to She’s Got Me Working Day and Night (mind you, probably an art student with his piercings and died red, half -shaved hair). At a friend’s party I talked to a bassist about the greatness of Off The Wall and the genius of the rhythm section. Despite all the negative press of the later years, however, or whatever you thought of the person, his music touched people.

For me, Off the Wall got me through the trying time of finishing school. Having an almost choking writing block, whenever I felt paralyzed by the work, I would put on Off the Wall and danced – especially to the line, “Do what you want to do. They’re ain’t no rules, it’s up to you.” I held onto that line like a mantra because it’s true, it is up to all of us to do what we want, regardless of what people say about us.

I heard the spirit of Off the Wall over and over again during Michael Jackson’s memorial service. Reverend Al Sharpton, for me, said it best. Michael got knocked down and he got up – over and over again. Because he had passion and because he had love. Love for music. Love for the world.

My work buddy had said she felt for his children because Michael was so greatly in debt. “What debt?” I thought. What could HE possibly owe the world – a person who has given so much? The outpouring of love from around the world shows just that; that people felt they owed so much to him, his voice, his compassion, his talent and his music. I heard an interesting tidbit on the news. With the recent sales of Michael’s music, if it continues at this rate, his debt will be paid off in a week. It’s hard to hear Michael spoken about in monetary terms but such is the world we live in now. Hearing those statistics didn’t surprise me – but I thought of it in much more positive terms. I thought in a way, his fans, his friends were repaying him for all that he brought. It reminded me of the scene in Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life where all of George Bailey’s financial problems were solved when friends and neighbors all rallied around to repay him for all that he gave. In fact, the whole memorial service reminded of It’s a Wonderful Life – when you got past the negatives the media tended to portray and heard the incredible stories about this person you realized the immense impact he had the world over. He truly did have a wonderful life. He got to do what he wanted to do – no matter what other people said about him.
He lived Off the Wall.

I don't think of him in the negative shadows the lawsuits cast. I'm beyond that. His music, spirit and soul transcends space and time. I’m forever grateful to him for helping raise the vibrational level of the planet to a higher place where love can ring through. May it keep on ringin'........

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