Saturday, June 27, 2009


I'm not particularly sentimental, and I haven't been a big Michael Jackson fan since I was eleven, so I keep being surprised to find myself tearing up at the coverage of his death. I'm also surprised to find myself getting angry at the people who (mostly on Facebook) proclaim their indifference or even happiness at the news.

You don't have to know a dozen things about Michael Jackson's life to know that he was both profoundly talented and profoundly broken. You don't have to like the music to acknowledge the genius. You don't have to like the man to acknowledge the tragedy. And I think that because he became known to us as a child, because childhood -- the theft of it, the lack of it, the search for it -- was always a part of his ever-creepier persona, the tragedy is bigger and uglier.

I've been writing and rewriting a paragraph about how I feel complicit in the tragedy, how we as consumers of pop culture fueled the success and in doing so fueled the machine that ground him into little bits. And that's not the whole story, of course. But it's part of what makes me sad.

My friend M. used to teach undergraduates, and back when the first season of American Idol was on, she and her class were chatting about it, and she said that Justin Guarini reminded her of Michael Jackson, and they all looked at her like she had six heads. The only Michael Jackson these kids knew was the bandaged freakshow, the alleged abuser, the joke. So I'm glad, in all the media coverage, to see so many images from the time before. He was young and handsome and debonair! He had charisma and precision and grace! Despite the horrors of his life, he had joy.

Anyway, here's my favorite Michael Jackson song. I defy you to hear the opening bars and not want to get up and dance.

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