Too Low To Get Under
… stuck in the middle and the pain is thunder…
The world lost an icon yesterday. Three of them this week—Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and then suddenly and unexpectedly, Michael Jackson.
Jackson’s career spanned decades, producing over 700 million albums sold worldwide, numerous sold out concert tours and the greatest selling album of all time with Thriller. From the Jackson 5 to the Jacksons to that skinny kid in loafers, tight red pants and a red leather jacket with way too many zippers and a jheri curl crooning ‘Beat it… Beat it… no one wants to be defeated’, Michael set the world on fire with his music, his bright beautiful smile, his childlike persona and great big philanthropic heart.
The tributes are rolling in and people are waxing nostalgic and celebrating his life as a musician and an entertainer. There is not an artist in the business today who was not touched or changed by Michael’s career– his work ethic, his drive, his sheer musical genius, or simply just the way he moved. I see his influence in some of today’s most popular artists—Usher, Rihanna, Chris Brown, and some of my personal favorites– *Nsync’s Justin Timberlake and JC Chasez. Even the group itself, like New Edition and Boys II Men, was a complete emulation of the Jackson 5—a brotherhood, five voices that jointly combined to create one beautiful, melodious, harmonious sound.
I was just emailing with one of my mother’s friends, with whom I am pretty close—have known her since I was 12. She was just saying how devastated she was to hear the news. Many people know that my family is very religious—my father is an Elder, my mom’s friend’s husband is Deacon and Superintendent. My mom has been known to preach a word or two herself, so I come from a pretty conservative background. Even so, when Tupac died—that hit us all hard. He was young, and talented and had something to say. And now that Michael is gone, I can’t imagine the impact that this is having on my parents. Three generations have been touched by his music—people from my parent’s era literally grew up with Michael and his brothers. I’m in my 30’s and I enjoyed the height of his career as it was happening. And my younger friends, 80’s babies, enjoy his legacy and the artists that have been inspired by him.
One of the reasons this, and the death of Tupac and James Brown and Aaliyah and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez , and all the other musicians of color that have passed touches us in such a way is because it wasn’t that long ago that black people—Black Americans—were fighting to be considered human beings and not property. For the right to ride a bus and live among other races and sit in the same places, drink from the same fountains, eat the same food, breathe the same air. To see someone from a previously (and if you listen to pop culture, still) oppressed group of people rise up out of hard, laborious living, out of the ghetto, out of poor conditions and rise to stardom. To gain the respect of not only their own people, but people of other races. Not just in the US but WORLD. WIDE. Michael was a symbol of everything black people could be, could aspire to, could become. Amid controversy and personal turmoil, he made us proud. He made us defend him. He made us worship him.
The most torturous presence in Michael’s life, except perhaps, for his own self loathing, was the press. The ever critical, ever present blinding glare of the spotlight. He ran from it, tried to escape it but you can never escape the watchful eye of the media. Kind of sad that because they never left him alone, never let him live a normal life, never let him escape, that his legacy will live on, forever memorialized in film, in song, in print. I guess that is the silver lining. The rainbow. The bright side.
It’s hard to say, even harder to do, but I’m going to try to celebrate Michael’s life, and enjoy the memory of him that lives in my mind.
Lithe, flexible, electric, in sparkly socks and penny loafers and one glove and a Fedora. And a big, bright, beautiful, hopeful smile.
Thank you Mr Jackson, for all that you gave us. Rest in Peace.