June 25, 2009
I was just about to begin my third class in a workshop series at a construction company. About 2o young white guys in dirty khaki pants and construction boots ran around, joking, shouting expletives to each other in true “dude fun.” A guy who was clearly as obsessed with his Smartphone as I was, sat content and quiet as a mouse peering into the small screen. He shouted out, “Dude, Michael Jackson’s in the hospital! It looks bad.”
“No shit? Michael Jackson?” someone asked.
Wait. Michael who? The Michael Jackson?
I quickly dismissed it, but to be sure, I logged on to CNN.com on my Blackberry. Under Breaking News, it read “Pop Star Hospitalized from Cardiac Arrest.” I started to get queasy, but I had a class to teach. Surely, within an hour, there would be good news. He was just sick a few months ago. He’ll recover.
The class ended. I immediately checked CNN again, ignoring the my missed calls. Michael Jackson was dead. I didn’t believe it. I packed up, and headed out to the car. My mama called because she knows me best.
“Are you crying?”
“No, not yet.”
I turned the key in the ignition and heard the DJ confirm his death. After a while, his voice faded behind “Billie Jean.” It was real. The tears started to fall before I could put my car in reverse..
He was a regular human like any of us, not some invincible superhero or supernatural god. But he was Michael–special. He wasn’t supposed to die now. To me, he would be someone who would be there as he’d always been, even if it wasn’t always in the illuminous spotlight. He wasn’t supposed to die until he like, near 80. It was too soon.
Here’s my letter to him. Perhaps whatever took him to his death was stronger than the love he was drowned in by his family and fans.
Today, there will be images of you flashing across television screens. People will flip through newspaper and magazine pages with your pictures plastered in them. Countless mouses will click to blog sites and social media sites filled with tributes to you, much like this one. Fans will press play to listen to your music. Some will opt for Jackson 5 songs, while others will listen to Thriller or Off the Wall. Today, your star will shine just as brightly as it always did.
I only hope that you see the overwhelming love that was sometimes invisible to you. The love that maybe you didn’t always have for yourself because you were so busy sharing your gift with us. We can be unappreciative sometimes.
If you didn’t know or weren’t always sure, I’ll tell you. You were beautiful. A beautiful black man. Out of the hundreds of pictures posted after your death, I gravitate towards your appearance in the 70s and 80s. Caramel skin with a awesomely shaped afro and a wide grin to match its width. You were a ladies man. Lest I not forget about the infamous Jheri Curl you rocked with such style. I still remember staring at the cover of the Thriller single for what seemed like hours as a little girl. You made that yellow sweater look so good.
When the beat hit, you seemed to transform from a subtle, wiry thing to an energetic and experienced machine. From a cocoon to a colorful butterfly. Your smile and movement lit up the stage, and you claimed it as your home. You were magical. How I longed to be like that…consumed by music so much so that I could never keep still.
Your voice was so light and smooth, any song could be considered a lullaby. That’s what “Lady in My Life” is to me. That’s what “I Can’t Help It” is to me. You exuded feeling so innate and natural that even as a young boy, people believed what you were saying. That’s what “Who’s Loving You” and “Wanna Be Where You Are” were. A style so funky, one could not listen and move something on their bodies in response to you. That’s what “Baby Be Mine” and “Smooth Criminal” did for me.
Always wanting to perfect your craft though, you were a study, but you never stopped being a student. What you had was God-given and could never be taken away, even until your last hours.
You were a star.
A child of the 80s, you were a permanent fixture in my childhood. Everyone wanted a piece of you for their own. The Thriller jacket? I had the pink one. Moonwalker? I watched it until the tape broke. Captain Eon at the Disney Epcot Center? I went (though I was deathly afraid). Your world premiere videos on network television? It was a major event to see what you were going to do. Thank you for the “Remember the Time” video. Egyptians were people of color with skin bronzed in the sun. If there was any question as to whether you were “Black or White”, that video answered it.
So as I say goodbye to you again, know that you were loved by countless generations. The world’s love for you is as universal as your music. My mother grew up to your music, and my unborn children will dance and sing along with me to “Wanna Be Starting Something” as I do my Saturday morning cleaning. I’ll try my best to do that gravity-defying “Smooth Criminal” lean for them, and they will laugh because it’ll never come close to you.
Your message of love, peace and hope is not forgotten, and neither are you.
Rest in sweet peace, Michael Joseph Jackson. You are irreplaceable.