Being unemployed and all, I was dozing in the afternoon when I started hearing reports on CNN: "Michael Jackson is hospitalized after suffering a cardiac arrest." My first sleepy reaction was pretty much the same as when I first heard on TV that Princess Diana had been in a car accident. In Diana's case in 1997, I remember thinking: "Oh, great, now we'll be seeing her give a press conference, with her arm in a cast and a sad, soulful expression on her face, thanking all of her well-wishers." And today with Michael: "Oh, great, now we'll be seeing him give a press conference, in a hospital bed surrounded by flowers and a sad, soulful expression on his face, thanking all of his well-wishers."
I couldn't imagine that they were actually going to DIE...
With Diana, while I later got very sick of all the media coverage, I had, nonetheless, as a kid been one of the millions who got up at 4 in the morning, or whatever crazy hour it was, to watch her fairy-tale wedding to Prince Charles on TV. And I followed all of the media coverage of her, much as I got overloaded with it, every year after...
With Michael Jackson... Like Diana, he was a touchstone, an emblem, of my youth.
I grew up hearing his songs with his brothers constantly on the radio.
And then as a young adult: I first started going out to dance-clubs as a freshman in college, the year after "Thriller" was released and all million songs from that album (the best-selling of all time) were all over the radio and clubs. I'd grown up in a small Texas town and had no clue how to dance, and so started paying especial attention to his videos then being shown on the newly created MTV... I absolutely hated all of the background group dancing (a trend that continues to this day in hip-hop videos---blame Michael for that!), but loooooved how he himself moved... Very lithe, and the lean backward and hips thrust forward, one knee bent while on his toes, and the brief stop-motion punctuated by a finger snap, only to start grooving again... I'd never seen anyone who moved like that! Just Michael, and then... a bunch of dorky white college kids in clubs trying to copy him! :)
No, I NEVER MOONWALKED! :)
After his 1980s "Thriller" and "Bad" and "Dangerous" albums had come and gone, though, I lost track of whatever new song or video he was putting out, and, as the public news about his personal life and multiple plastic surgeries got worse and worse, just started to feel more and more sorry for him.
He obviously was not of this world, and it's perhaps a blessing for him that he's no longer in torment, no longer forced to try to navigate between his soul and the more mundane expectations of the world.
Despite his own inner turmoil and hurt, though, he was able to give the public so much of his life and talent. With that in mind, I have especially deep admiration for the strength and beauty and joy of his contributions to the world.
This evening, I was walking around Weehawken hours after the news of Michael Jackson's death had been announced. At least three times, I walked by cars at stoplights, windows rolled down, blasting Michael Jackson songs. That is the biggest tribute of all.