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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mama say ma ma sah ma ma kuu sah: Help me sing!

I almost called this entry "The biggest understatement and inadequate generalization in the form of a headline ever" in response to seeing a Yahoo article regarding the sudden passing of Michael Jackson that read "Superstar Died to Soon," but then I thought about what I was going to write here, and realized that the sweeping scope of what there is to say about Michael Jackson and his influence makes it hard to summarize what one wants to say about Michael Jackson in any sentiment aside from the one-word answer - "Thriller."

As crocker stalkers are aware, this blog devoted several entries (though the story remains unfinished) to exploring the cartoon-imagined-in-my-mind world of Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson living together under one roof - that of Paul's English mansion. Saddened and lonely since his divorce, Paul takes on the bankrupt and lonely Michael Jackson for one final collaboration of musical geniuses - living as roommates! Paul hopes to win back the Beatles catalog from Michael, and Michael, functioning in reality only as much as he is guided by those who may visit his fantasy world, is happy for the company of an old friend.
Prince was a visitor to, and rabblerouser in, this exclusive world, and I for one loved imagining the daily foibles of superstars who lived in such rarefied air that it sometimes made even them lightheaded.

Now I feel more obliged than ever to carry on with the tale of Prince leveling challenges at Paul and Michael, because the Michael that lives with Paul is indefatigable and, so I must believe, immortal.

The problem today became discovering Michael Jackson was not immortal in the physical world. The words spoken to me by a coworker after a seemingly harmless trip to the bathroom, "Michael Jackson died," were incongruous with my understanding of Michael Jackson. Back from the bathroom, my world order was rocked. Michael Jackson as idea, memory, commodity, influence, music, dance, insanity, reclusiveness, inventiveness, abuser, abused, amuser, amused, talent, motion, emotion, and era could not be beaten by death. Michael Jackson, with a barely audible speaking voice, could not, to my mind, be silenced. Michael Jackson, transformed by the world that so adored him to the shell of a person whose fame isolated him impossibly from the one thing he desired most - authentic love, was bigger than the body that trapped him in its recognizability and elevated him away from the common by virtue of its superior and nearly inhuman dance maneuverability.

When I heard the words "Michael Jackson died," I simply refused to believe them.

The buzz swept through our cubicles like prairie fire. Until I saw a reputable website use the word "dead" in print with my own eyes, I refused to believe it.

The experience of learning the news or almost news was incredible in its own right.
When I first heard the proclamation of Michael Jackson's death, I immediately assigned this news the same weight for my generation as a hybrid of the JFK assassination, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe's deaths. This was the surprise toppling of a bigger-than-life icon by life itself, and it was the first time I remember thinking "that just can't be true," without any hint of "oh, that's bad news," because my refusal to accept the fact as truth was that complete. Acceptance of that rumor as truth would mean the world as I knew it had lost an icon whose presence in it was powerful and persistent.

Equally interesting to observe, as my mind raced toward denial and simultaneous cultural analysis, was the way in which such major news was being shared and processed by those in my world.
Text messages drove fingers to keyboards to type URLs to check websites to then type to then update and comment on statuses about this news, this hype this rumor, and what others had or had not posted or tweeted on twitter that could confirm or validate the word of mouth born from word of fingers. Suddenly, getting the news of something pop culturally earth-shattering was a communal activity. I took part, no doubt, as I do so now. Like switchboards lighting up when Jerry Lewis hugs a small child, facebook came alive with the banter of disbelief. Interoffice banter became quotes shared from internet banter. We were in this together.

And when the L.A. Times web page finally loaded with the headline I would not believe until I saw it with my own eyes, I too changed my facebook status. Read the one-liners of others. Some RIP messages, some sympathy for Farrah Fawcett's bump down death's totem pole, some lyrics turned epitaphs. All consumed by the news of MJ's death. The news cycle was immediate, but the public online experience of the news cycle was mere nanoseconds behind. And I did it too - judged those who dared to share tidbits about themselves that referred to anything other than MJ's death as completely out of touch. Didn't they know? This was where we came to mourn now! To elevate and deflate! To worship the fallen and wink at death! To get out our feelings and have them justified by the thumbs up icon of others whose mouseclick indicated a symbol be produced to express an emotional response was being shared or approved of by their online user persona. Childhood memories were trotted out, and welcomed to the ring by a chorus of voices who also remembered the wind in their hair on a similar ride.

It was that immediate and intense response that made me look at the internet in a new light, as well as feel confident I was not over exaggerating my response. I was not skewing dramatic, Michael Jackson, as my facebook status read, gave us the only iconic moonwalk witnessed by our generation. That same moonwalk sold us and sells us: Pepsi, red leather, penny loafers, Magic Johnson, Weird Al Yankovic, Geico insurance, State Farm insurance, Disneyland, Disneyworld, Justin Timberlake, Usher, the 3rd dimension, Egypt, the Super Bowl, the occult, Macaulay Culkin, the worth of unpaired gloves, knife fights, gun fights, midnights, Van Halen,
Vincent Price, world peace, Diana Ross, and his entire family. Michael Jackson is the star who collaborated with Paul McCartney. The guy who wrote "Hey Jude" wanted to work with him. He was that big.

He was so big, in fact, that in gauging reactions to his death and talking to friends (electronically, of course) I realized Michael Jackson probably has many of the same characteristics of a language. He is a common tongue for those of a certain age range. Breaks ice, guides one to safety, gets one past check points in new territories. You know, you HAVE to know, a little Michael Jackson. At least conversational Michael Jackson. Most are Michael Jackson proficient. Many, fluent.
Those are my favorites. We converse in dance for hours and relish the long vowels of common phrases like "HEEEheee hoo!" and "OOOOOOOH!" jubilant invective, boisterous agreement with the speaker's point of view.

I realized that Michael Jackson has been there for me.
I remember watching the Billie Jean video in awe with my family, while we had MTV in the rental apartment on vacation, and had the chance to consume new digestible avenues of pop culture.
In grade school, a Michael Jackson medley show was choreographed and performed at recess, as those seeking all the glory and then some possible in the constriction of a grade school uniform could do. The costumes matched, by dress code, and so did the gloves, by sharing. At the time, we were unstoppable. The mime in the mirror choreography to "Man in the Mirror" an inspired touch in a wholly Vegas-caliber revue.
In college, the discovery of "Stop the Love you Save," a less popular, but very catchy Jackson 5 song whose lyrics we disputed while sober, danced to while drunk. Then, as now, you can fill any dance floor with white people who suddenly think they can dance if you strike up the MJ. His gifts are so vast that surprisingly, some find they can dance. If only they'd tried sooner.
When I studied abroad, the bar that began our nights was Jacko's, a bar devoted in theme and enthusiasm to the career and allure of Michael Jackson. The attention to detail in the mirror with an MJ silhouette in it paid off. American kids flocked. Michael Jackson! That's ours! We recognize him too! Buenas! Un Thriller, por favor.
And at the end of the night, when the Tequila and god-knows-what of the Thrillers had set in, we'd carouse-shout our way through the streets until we found the Irish Rover, the Irish bar that played American dance music. It was there that we were reminded to "Blame it on the Boogie" by Jacko himself time and time again. "I just can't, I just can't, I just can't control myself." In the safe embrace of MJ, we didn't even try.
After college, Michael Jackson was even more crucial to announcing the party, declaring the atmosphere festive, and inviting the dance to begin. Man in the Mirror often called us to self-evaluate once more.

I spoke to my brother about the death and explained that I could not believe it. Could not allow myself to. He pointed out that it wasn't really surprising, given Michael Jackson's personal struggles.
Michael Jackson does have the unfortunate Greek tragedy element to his story, that his fame gave him adoration but kept him from love, stole his childhood so profoundly that he spent the rest of life trying to get it back by never leaving what he never had (possibly to the grave detriment of others). For someone obsessed with Peter Pan, it was the power of Tinker Bell to live fueled by public adoration that he had, but Peter's existence he envied.

I agree with my brother, it is not surprising. But for my consideration of Michael Jackson as a pop cultural force greater than the humanity of any one human being, it is shocking to hear the human basis for the machine is gone. I hope he is somewhere happier. And dancing.
No one wants to be defeated.

I suggested a Michael Jackson medley be, if not added to my brother's impending wedding reception playlist, then expanded upon to include more of his work. I was assured MJ already figured prominently. After all, there's one surefire way to get people to dance like there is no other option, because there isn't - play some Michael Jackson. And then play some more.


  1. Excellent post. Summed it up perfectly.

  2. Wow, I'm now a follower of fishcrockpot!!! Love your writings. You need to move to NYC!!!! Forget LA.