I don’t consider myself I a big Michael Jackson fan. As a teen, I listened to grunge, indie rock, punk and metal. Most of my forays into pop were before I turned 15. For most of my adult life I have listened to indie rock.
When I heard Michael Jackson died I was shocked. I thought it was sad, as I thought about David Carradine’s and Farrah Fawcett’s passing. But Michael’s death has weighed heavy on my heart for days. The day he passed, half of the radio stations were playing his songs in tribute, and I found myself choking back tears without knowing why. On a nostalgic impulse, I went to see the New Kids on the Block last night. They played an instrumental portion of “Man in the Mirror” and then covered “I’ll Be There”. Again, I found myself choking back tears.
I think I can finally articulate why this upset me this much. Michael Jackson and Madonna were the first artists that rose on the horizon of my awareness to music. Like many people my age, the Moonwalk was the first dance move I attempted. I still smile when I hear “Thriller” and “Beat It”. These songs remind me of a time when I was blissfully unaware of hanging chads, the price of gas, office politics and the outrageous cost of health care. My biggest worry was if I could find a white glittery glove.
Watching Michael do his swan dive into celebrity crazy land was painful. For Elvis, the dive came in the form of paunchy, drugged-up Elvis. For Michael it came in the form of excessive surgery and strange behavior in regard to children.
I’ve realized that Michael’s careening decline followed the same trajectory of my declining sense of wonder and imagination as I became an adult. It’s the transition that we all make between an uncomplicated sense of wonder for all the beautiful things this world has to offer to a mature cynicism with a blind eye to the simple beauty in our lives.
For years, I’ve quietly hoped that Michael would return to the stage. I hoped that he would redeem all these years of strange behavior. I was hoping that prior to leaving this existence he would give us a reminder of why he was the King of Pop.
Sadly, that was not to be. Perhaps Michael was simply a child at heart. If he didn’t behave inappropriately to those children, I can’t help but wonder if we didn’t kill a mocking bird. Everyone was more than happy to cheer him on when he was successful. But just as many people were also more than happy to pile the insults on his failures.
In interviews, he seemed truly hurt by the tabloid coverage. It breaks my heart to think of what Michael must have experienced at all that negative coverage in the tabloids. It breaks my heart to think of what this says about our culture; are we people who love to see people succeed and love seeing their inevitable failures? Finally, it breaks my heart to think about the loss we all suffer becoming adults. We lose our sense of adventure for the ordinary. We lose our open hearts.